Polycrylic + Stain Mix Method + FAQ’s

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In many ways this staining technique takes away a lot of the challenges and frustrations that traditional staining techniques involve. Blotchiness, different absorption depending on the types of woods you’ve used, drying time, etc…

In this method you mix your stain with Polycrylic and apply them together as one. Yes thats an OIL based stain mixed with a WATER based Polycrylic. The results are unbeatable, but like anything there are some best practices and things to know when using this method. I’m answering all of your frequently asked questions below!

***Also a quick note, there is a lot of wiggle room with this method to experiment and play around with it, but there are a few things you do have to do to achieve a good application.

  1. Move quickly. Due to the fast drying nature of the Polycrylic, you will not have the normal work time with the stain. It will dry quickly and create distinct brush strokes and application lines if you don’t keep it moving.
  2. use your mixture immediately after mixing. As the products set and mix and start curing the color and sheen output will change. I have found if it sits for too long it will produce more of a chalky looking finish versus the sheen you’ve chosen in the Polycrylic. For instance a Satin sheen may look more matte and chalky instead of slightly shiny and rich.
I let the side of this dry too much as I worked on the leg, by the time I went back to finish the side these brush strokes were impossible to cover.
I sanded it all back off and reapplied and got a smooth even finish.

What ratio do you use?

This is really up to personal preference and depends on how saturated you want your color to be. I often us a 1:1 ratio of stain to poly for general applications, and a 1:4 stain to poly ratio for a top coat. This method is also buildable so you can start with a 1:4 ratio and do multiple coats until you achieve the color depth you want.

How much do you have to stir it?

You need to mix it well, but you won’t need to stir it for an extended period of time. You will see the mixture become more homogenous after a few seconds of staring and you are ready to go. You just don’t want to see big streaks of the bluish tinted polycrylic.

Do you need to stain first?

You don’t need to stain first. You can apply this mixture directly to new or stripped wood. In some cases I have applied stain first to see where I could get to with the color, mostly out of experimentation, before applying the stain and poly mixture. But there is no reason to need to do both.

In your final coat, do you use stain with the poly?

This is up to you and the finish you want. Mixing the stain with the poly will always decrease the sheen slightly – more so the more stain you use. If you want a nice satin, semi-gloss or glossy finish you will probably want to add a top coat of just plain Polycrylic at the end. If you don’t want that kind of finish, you can use your mixture as both your color and top coat all a once. This is one of the perks of this method, you are able to cut out a few steps in the process and seal and protect while staining.

This was the appearance while still wet
What it looks like as it’s drying.
Finished with two coats of pure polycrylic

Do you sand after the polycrylic mixture dries?

Personally I don’t unless there are just really bumpy areas from something getting into the mixture as it’s drying. Once it’s mixed I feel like it starts to act more like paint versus stain. So if you scratch at it before fully cured it can chip off similar to paint which can be hard to cover up and even back out. However, if it is fully cured you can sand between coats, very lightly using a very fine grit sanding block, 220 or higher. Doing so will give you a super smooth finish.

Can you mix paint and polycyclic?

This depends on the kind of paint. Many enamel paints actually warn against using Polycrylic even as a top coat because it can cause the paint finish to crack. However, you will find people online mixing water based polyurethane (a little different than Polycrylic) with latex paint to help fortify the paint. I would say to experiment before going all out with this one, and try it with water based latex and acrylic paints.

What do you use to apply it?

Always use a fine brush to apply. If you read the Polycrylic can it actually tells you not to use a roller to apply. That is because it can cause bubbles to form and won’t leave you with a nice smooth finish. I used a fine bristled paint brush, no fancy brand or anything, just one I think feels nice and has minimal brush strokes. Keep a light, even hand, plenty of your mixture loaded on the brush, and brush it on.

What do you like better about a black stain versus a black paint?

I wouldn’t say I like one more than the other, more than I choose one over the other depending on the piece. I love how black stain allows you to still see the wood grain. So on new built pieces, or pieces where the wood really adds to the character and style, I use stain. For pieces that are veneer, or have a super smooth surface where you wouldn’t see the wood grain much anyway, I choose paint. I love the black stain on our entryway console table, and I equally love the black paint on our refinished nightstands.

Do you need to be a staining pro to do this?

1000000% NO! I think practice definitely helps you achieve a great application, but if you can paint with a brush you can do this!

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  1. This is the exact post I have been looking for! I am trying to achieve a white oak look on my red oak cabinets and need to use small amounts of stain with green and white tones to achieve this.

    I am finding when I add the oil based stain to the polycrylic it doesn’t mix well. The stain remains in droplets unless I use a container with a lid to shake it and it still separates eventually. I’m concerned this may give me variation in my finish. Both products are Minwax. I would appreciate any advice you may have to offer! Thank you!

    1. I wish I had something better to offer, but I haven’t experienced it separating like that unless it has sat for a while. I’ve learned when using the fast drying polycryclic to only mix small batches at a time.

  2. I’m currently stripping an old wood rocking chair that was painted white over a red stain. I wanted to stain with a lighter color (like pecan), but am worried the red will still show through since I’m having a really difficult time getting it all removed. It sounds like this combination would be the perfect option if it covers uneven wood tones. Any advice is much appreciated!

    1. This method will help float the new color which will help give you a more saturation of the new color, but the polycrylic will still be a clear medium if that makes sense so the red will likely still show through to some extent. Going from light to dark is easy of course, but going from a dark to light is hard without stripping prior. I would say you probably need to do some stripping to remove the red first. I’m sorry!

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