Can You Paint Over Varnish?

  • Find out what paints you can use to paint over varnish.
  • Learn the proper technique so you don’t ruin your woodwork.

Varnish is often seen as the final part of decorating your home when using wood. Its shine and properties make it seem like it can’t be painted over – but this isn’t quite true.

Preparing a varnished surface

You have your varnished surface in front of you, but what now? Many homeowners use varnish as a finish for any woodwork or wooden features in their homes, from skirting boards to bookcases and shelves!

But that doesn’t mean that varnish is the end result of your home decorating. It may treat the wood and look incredibly shiny and professional when done right, but you aren’t stuck with that colour.

Most homeowners would sand down their wooden furnishings and the parts of their home that have taken advantage of such a reliable and easy-to-find material. However, sanding takes time, effort, and there must be an easier way… Right?

Well, there is! With the two methods in this post, you will be able to re-paint any wood in your home. You will achieve a great new look for the wooden elements of your home, with the option of doing a little fix-up of those areas where necessary.

Painting over varnish
A dripping pot of varnish.

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How to paint over varnish

There are two ways to do this – one involves sanding and the other doesn’t. We’ll start with the sanding method because it’s more common.

  1. Sand over the surface of the woodwork that you’re looking to paint over. You should sand enough to take the shine off of the wood that would have come from the coat (or coats) or varnish. This process is called “deglossing”.
  2. You will want to use a fine grit sandpaper to do this, something around the 220 mark. Don’t miss any parts of the wood, or your paint coat will be uneven when you get around to applying it.
  3. Clean off the dust and wipe down the wood with a damp cloth.
  4. Use filler or wood putty to repair any damage and wait for that to fully dry.
  5. Apply primer, lightly sand the wood again, and apply a second coat of primer.
  6. Apply your new topcoat of paint.

No sanding involved

  1. Wipe down the wood to clean it.
  2. Choose an oil-based primer and apply it to the varnished wood.
  3. Paint over the oil-based primer with a latex-based or oil-based paint.

What is the purpose of varnish?

The main use of varnish is to protect the wood underneath it by sealing it. This prevents moisture from damaging the wood and can also be a preventive measure against other contaminants that could otherwise ruin your woodwork.

Varnish, as a product, is non-porous. This is why it is able to provide that waterproof seal over wood so effectively. There shouldn’t really be any timber in your home that doesn’t have a protective coating of some kind.

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