How to Paint Varnished Wood

Varnish is used on wooden furniture, flooring and on wooden panels to enhance the lovely natural grains on wood. This also serves as a protectant and keeps wood safe from the elements, against sun and water damage.

It’s important for any woodworker to learn how to varnish wood. Without varnish, wooden pieces will be dull, lifeless and prone to early aging.

Varnishing wood basics

Varnishing is not simply applying a sealant or wax over the surface of the wood. You need to prepare wood before varnishing as well. This guide will show you the steps on how to varnish wooden pieces.

Things you will need

  • 80 to 120 grit sandpaper
  • 60 to 80 grit sandpaper
  • Household cleaner
  • Clean Rag
  • Scouring pad
  • Wood putty
  • Scraper
  • Paint rollers or brushes
  • White primer paint
  • Water-based paint
  • Varnish (optional)


1) Prepare the wood to be painted and varnished


Spray any basic household cleaner over top of your surface, and wipe it in circular motions using a clean rag. Spray a bit of cleaner over the spot, and use a scouring pad to scrub it away to remove stubborn dirt.

2) Repair any imperfections on wood


Fill in any cracks, holes, gouges or imperfections with wood putty and a scraper. Spread the putty evenly across the surface. Removing imperfections with wood putty ensures the paint applies evenly and smoothly. Wait about 30-90 minutes for the putty to dry completely.

3) Sand the area thoroughly with fine-grit sandpaper


Continue sanding in small, circular motions until the surface of your table is smooth and even.

For an extra-smooth effect, sand the surface with medium-grit (60- to 80-grit) sandpaper after the fine-grit sandpaper. Wipe down the surface completely to remove any dust. Once you finish sanding, wet a clean rag and run it over the surface to wipe away any dust or debris.

4) Applying the primer and paint


Use a small or medium-sized paint roller. This is perfect because you can apply the paint quickly and thoroughly. Dip the roller into the paint and move back and forth to saturate the roller with paint.

Apply the primer and paint with a medium-sized brush to cover small or intricate surfaces. Stir up a white, water-based primer using a paint stick. After mixing the primer well, pour a small amount in a paint tray.

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Dip your roller into the primer and apply a solid coat of paint using wide strokes. Make sure that the surface is completely covered so that the top coat will easily stick to the surface.

5) Allow the wood to dry


Wait at least 30-60 minutes for the primer to completely dry before adding more paint. Drying time may vary according to the brand of paint you purchased. Apply a second coat of primer after the first one is dry especially if you are covering a very dark stain.

6) Finish with water-based paint


Finally, cover the surface with an even coat of water-based paint. After the primer dries, you can now paint the surface using a water-based quick-drying, slightly shiny paint.

Pour some paint into a paint tray and dip in a new paint roller or paintbrush. Apply the paint in wide, solid strokes.

An oil-based paint is not a good choice when painting over varnish. This paint may not be completely absorbed by the wood. Make sure that each coat of paint dries when applying another coat. You may need to wait around 30-60 minutes to an hour for a coat of water-based paint to be completely dry.

Apply 1-2 coats of paint to cover the surface according to the desired look. Adding more coats to ensure the color is evenly applied and none of the primers can be seen from the surface.

7) Applying a varnish

Add a coat of water-based varnish to create a shiny, durable finish. This is an optional step but something that you must consider because varnish can preserve your paint job and make the surface look awesome.

Make sure that the paint is completely dry, then an even coat of varnish using a roller or paintbrush. The varnish layer will dry in 1-2 hours. After this, you may now use the wooden surface or furniture.


Applying paint over varnish is possible when you remove the varnish from the surface and apply layers of primer and top coat paint. You may or may not consider adding a top coat of varnish but no doubt that this will protect your wood from the elements and from scratching and impacts.

  • January 5, 2019
  • DIY