Varnish Over Shellac – 3 Quick Steps To Apply

Varnish Over Shellac

Suppose you have purchased a brand new cherry door as your exterior door for your home. If you’re familiar with wooden furniture, you must know they need to be polished.

To enhance the color of your door, you applied a shellac finish. Yet after a while, you see it is leaking rainwater. So you must waterproof your door quickly.

You can waterproof your wood with various finishes such as polyurethane, lacquer, or varnish. It’s your call which finishes you’ll apply based on the type of your wooden material.

Here, we’ll talk about the varnish finish. You may wonder if you can put varnish over shellac or if is varnish needed over shellac or not. Fear not because your questions will get answers here.

Let’s dive into the answers, shall we?

What Are Shellac And Varnish?

If you want to know that a varnish finish will adhere to shellac, you must first know the features of both of them. Eventually, you’ll have an idea after reading their features whether you should use varnish over shellac or not.


Shellac is a product made of nature. If it’s mixed with alcohol, it’s a superb finish. It seals the wood perfectly. It is why numerous people use seals as a coating over their wood.

Shellac also extracts the raw color of your wood. So your wood will appear vibrant and vivid if you put shellac on the wood.

Additionally, it doesn’t add plastic-like qualities. Instead, Shellac produces natural smoothness on your wood.

You can apply shellac without difficulty and comfortably for its “ease of application” feature.

Shellac dries pretty quickly. Thus, you don’t have to worry about it not being dried for days.

Now you may ask why shellac is not recommended to be applied as a finish. There are cons to putting shellac over your wood.

Shellac is not water or heat-resistant compared to the other finishes. So if water spills or sun scorches, your shellac-finished wood will be damaged or spoiled.

Shellac is not as durable in contrast with the other finishes as well.


Varnish comes from resin. It is melted into a liquid so that you can put it onto the wooden material.

Varnish gives a sheen, glazed and transparent look on your wooden furniture. In addition, it produces a tough and complex material with a shiny touch on your wooden furniture when varnish cures.

It has the feature of durability as well. Varnish protects the wood from damage and scratches for a more extended period.

Varnish enhances the raw beauty of your wood. Generally, it is used for outdoor furniture, paintings, or decorative stuff. Furthermore, it protects the interior furniture as well.

Varnish can resist water and heat. In addition, it works excellently as a waterproof finish on your wood. Therefore, various researchers recommend using varnish as a top sealer.

You can easily apply it to your wood surface with a brush or cloth. However, the downside of using varnish is it dries slowly compared to other finishes such as polyurethane.

Can You Apply Varnish Over Shellac?

Can You Apply Varnish Over Shellac

Regular shellac often comes as waxed shellac. The varnish doesn’t adhere to the waxed shellac.

However, you can put dewaxed shellac to remove the wax from the regular shellac. Varnish can stick to the dewaxed one.

Therefore, you can apply varnish over de-waxed shellac. Zinsser seal coat is 100% dewaxed shellac, which you can apply to the regular one.

Anyhow, you can apply oil-based varnish without poly to any of the shellac. Doesn’t matter if the shellac contains wax or not.

You can put the recommended coats of shellac following a couple of coats of oil-based varnish. It will produce an appealing and long-lasting surface.

However, you may still remove the wax from the shellac before applying varnish. It will prevent you from adhesion troubles.

Is Varnish Needed Over Shellac?

Now you know what varnish and shellac are, and you can put varnish over shellac. But the main question is whether you have to apply varnish over shellac or not. Here you will see our research based on this topic.

As we know, shellac seals the wood perfectly. Yet, there are lots of downsides to using shellac as a finish for your furniture.

Thus, it is suggested to use a topcoat finish over your wood. A top coat finish will make your wooden object durable and attractive.

Let’s see how varnish as a top coat will help your wood, shall we?

More Durable

A wooden surface with varnish as a finish can last up to 10-20 years! Whereas shellac can go damaged in just under a year.

Therefore, if you want to make your wood more long-lasting, varnish over shellac is a must.

Water And Heat Resistant

Varnish exceptionally works if you use it as a finish for your outdoor furniture. It is unaffected by saltwater, heat, and cold. It also can survive in all weather conditions.

As for shellac finish, if water spills, then the wood will have ring-shaped spots on the surface. Further, you can damage the shellac finish if alcohol or water is spilled on your wooden furniture.

Thus, it is recommended to waterproof your shellac finish with another top coat. You can use varnish for this.

More Protection

Varnish protects the wood from UV rays. Additionally, it prevents your wood from getting scratches or spots.

Varnish gives additional protection to your wood, and shellac cannot.

Lustrous Look

Shellac gives natural beauty to your wood. However, varnish offers a transparent, glossy, and sheen look to your furniture. In this case, the varnish finish gets +1 point more than shellac.

How To Apply Varnish Over Shellac? – 3 Quick Steps

How To Apply Varnish Over Shellac

You have gained information that a varnish finish is miles ahead compared to the shellac finish.

Now you may ask how you can apply varnish over shellac. Here are some steps you can look over before applying varnish finish over shellac.

Before applying varnish, you must put dewaxed shellac to remove the wax from shellac. You have to sand the dewaxed shellac to wipe away any extra dust or oil.

Step 2 – Apply the layers of varnish

In this stage, you can put varnish over shellac with a clean foam brush. You can apply 1-2 layers of varnish for your door or furniture to get the best results. However, you have to put 2-3 coats of varnish for a tabletop or kitchen top.

Step 3 – Sand between the coats

Varnish needs a great deal of time to dry. You have to wait at least 24 hours before applying the second coat of varnish. You can sand between the coats, although it’s not a must. For a proper finish, you can sand between the coats of varnish.

You don’t have to sand the last coat of varnish.

How to Varnish with a”pro.” Applying Varnish


Are Varnish And Poly The Same?

Polyurethane comes from plastic material which can be water or oil-based. Varnish comes from resins and oil. Typically varnish is older than poly.

Poly is usually used for indoor surfaces such as hardwood floors or furniture. Whereas varnish is better known for finishing quarter sawn red oak.

How Do You Know if it’s Shellac or Varnish?

To discriminate between shellac and varnish finish, you can first use a cotton swab to apply ethanol to your wood. If the ethanol breaks down, it’s shellac. On the other hand, if the ethanol reacts at a slow pace, you can be sure it’s varnish.

Final Words

As we’re coming close to the end, let’s review a little.

If you want durable and captivating wooden furniture, then you must apply a top coat over shellac. But be careful! Before making a decision, you should understand what you want from your wood.

If you have outdoor wooden furniture, the varnish is the perfect option for you to resist water and heat thoroughly. Also, it gives a transparent look on your wood.

We hope you found this guide on varnish over shellac helpful. You can always re-read if you still feel confused.

Happy coating!

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