What’s the difference between a varnish and a stain?

If you have timber surfaces inside or outside of your house, you’ll need to treat them with care in order to ensure their longevity. Wood can be an extremely strong and durable material when it’s looked after properly. Luckily, there are some useful products you can use to make your wooden surfaces as healthy and as happy as they can be— now, and well into the future. Varnish and Stain are two of these products, and the following article will help you distinguish between these popular treatments so that you can make the most informed decisions about your wood! 


What is a stain?

As the name would suggest, a stain is a substance that will change or enhance the natural colour of your wood. Stains penetrate wood deeply to highlight the grain, intensify existing tones, or change the colour. Wood stains do provide a level of protection from the elements but their primary function is for  decorative use, coming in a wide variety of colours.  Where extra durability is required use a top coat treatment in conjunction with a wood stain in order to get the best results, for example an Extra Durable Wood stain or a varnish.



What is a Varnish?

While a stain deeply penetrates wood, a varnish remains on the outside of your surfaces, forming a protective barrier. A varnish is usually clear and transparent, and it will harden along the outer layer of your wood. Some varnishes do include colour to enhance or alter the wood shade. Varnishes provide wood with additional durability, so they are often used on areas that get plenty of wear and tear.  Varnishes come in matt, satin and gloss finishes but always be sure to check that your choice is best suited for outdoors or indoors.

How to prepare your timber surfaces for wood stain and/or varnish:

All good stain or varnish jobs begin with a good foundation. Regardless of the age of your timber, you can follow these steps to ensure they’re prepped as best as they can be:

1. Use a natural bristle or soft nylon brush to remove dust and any loose fragments.

2. Sand your timber until the surface is smooth. If possible, complete this step outdoors to minimise the dust in your workspace.

3. Dust the wood with a clean and dry brush. 

4. Clean your work area. This is especially important if you’re working in the same space where you sanded your wood. Allow the wood dust to settle before cleaning. 

5. Use a clean, damp cloth to wipe the area clean. Ideally, use methylated spirits. Never use white spirits as this leaves a greasy film.

6. Allow the area to dry for a few hours before applying your coating. 

7. If you’re applying a wood stain, the nature of the product will determine the best type of brush to use.  Use a synthetic brush with water based products and a natural bristle brush with solvent based.  The same goes for a varnish, which you may choose to apply on top of your stain when the stain has had time to dry.

The best way to find out which products are best for you and which tools you’ll need is to speak to your local Sadolin stockist. For more expert tips and inspiration, you can also visit us on the web.


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