Home expert opinion What is the difference between a Stain and a Varnish

What is the difference between a Stain and a Varnish


Staining wood is a great way to change or add colour to the timber, it can also help to enhance the natural colour of the wood, highlighting the different grain and textures.

The look you are after will determine whether or not you use just a Stain (which adds colour) or a Varnish (which will help seal and protect the bedside table). The below information will hopefully help you to determine which product would be best for your project.


Stain is the first step you can take to bring out the wood’s beauty. Complex, hidden grain patterns lie under the surface, and they might never be found without the use of stain. It adds definition and colour. A water-based Stain is a mixture of water and pigment, when it’s applied to wood, the solvents or water evaporate, leaving the coloured pigment behind. We would recommend to use a water-based Stain for a new pine bedside table as water-based Stains dry faster, are easy to clean and are available in a range of colours.

Water-based stain like Duracoat Timberex or Crown’s Pinotex is used the majority of the time in woodworking, because it’s fast drying and user-friendly. It’s typically applied with a brush or cloth and used for interior doors, windows, trim and furniture.

Oil-based varnish like Polyurethane woodseal is a penetrating stain for interior doors, windows, trim and furniture. It rejuvenates and transforms interior timber. Oil-based stain penetrates deeply and adds colour without raising the grain. Oil-based stain allows for more workable time than water-based stain before it dries and is best used to rejuvenate old, used timber.

For protection, just using Stain alone isn’t enough. You will need to apply a top coat of clear polyurethane varnish like Duracoat Polyurethane clear Varnish (gloss or matt) to seal and protect the furniture.


The difference between Stain and Varnish is that Varnish has that traditional timber stain combined with a professional clear polyurethane for one-step timber colour and protection. Varnish adds rich colour to timber AND preserves the stain by protecting it with a highly durable clear finish. So you’ll be able to place furniture on it etc.

Designed with superior clarity, Varnish enhances the natural characteristics of the timber grain and transforms interior furniture and woodwork with rich, classic timber tones.

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