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How to tint varnish

Updated February 21, 2017

If you have wood surfaces that need refinishing, or you simply wish to change the colour of wood furniture, flooring or another surface, then tinting varnish may be a good option. Instead of staining a surface, waiting for it to dry and then adding a clear coat on top for protection, applying tinted varnish allows you to get both tasks done at one time with impressive results. The process of tinting varnish is not difficult, but it takes a little knowledge of colour and patience to get the best results.

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  1. Choose the colour you would like the item to be when you are finished with the task. Making your own tinted varnish requires some forethought about the exact look you wish to accomplish. You will need to add oil stain to a clear oil varnish to create the exact colour you want. Natural wood colours can be accomplished by adding coloured oil stain to the clear varnish. Mahogany, for example, can be made using burnt sienna and maroon oil stain to the varnish. Adding ochre and burnt umber stains can create antique oak. Dark cherry only requires the addition of burnt sienna, while the addition of yellow ochre will lighten the cherry hue. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination, but be sure you like what you have before applying it.

  2. Select the colours of stain you wish to use for tinting and pour no more than one to two ounces of colour into a gallon of varnish. Adding more than this small amount to a gallon will make the varnish opaque and the wood will look painted instead of stained. Mix the stain and varnish together by stirring vigorously, or close the can and have it shaken to thoroughly combine it. Remember that the colour you create will have different effects on different colour wood surfaces, so keep in mind that you can go darker with a wood, but not lighter and the original colour of the object you are staining will have a serious impact on how your new varnish appears.

  3. Brush or spray on the varnish in thin coats, allowing for each coat to dry before another application. If you put the varnish on too thick with a brush it will leave brush marks. You should also use a very soft bristled brush for application. Each coat will darken the results; so only apply what is needed to accomplish the desired colour.

  4. Tip

    When using a paintbrush to put on the varnish, always brush in the direction of the wood grain. Don't overlap the coats while applying or you will end up with darker stripes in the finished product. Keep an even amount across the entire surface.

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Things You'll Need

  • Oil stain in desired colours
  • Clear oil varnish
  • Paint stirrer
  • Paint brush

About the Author

Lee Morgan is a fiction writer and journalist. His writing has appeared for more than 15 years in many news publications including the "Tennesseean," the "Tampa Tribune," "West Hawaii Today," the "Honolulu Star Bulletin" and the "Dickson Herald," where he was sports editor. He holds a Bachelor of Science in mass communications from Middle Tennessee State University.

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