I used to think that stain and glaze gave painted furniture such a different look, but until recently I had never directly compared the two. I have used both techniques to age painted furniture and always thought that the two techniques were so different. Not to long ago a reader asked me what the difference was between the two and it  inspired me to do a comparison. I was surprised by the results.

I painted two similar chairs the exact same shade of white, distressed both of them, and then used a glaze on one and a stain on the other. I used ebony stain and I mixed a small amount of black paint into a clear mixing glaze. To my suprise the two look almost identical. There are a few subtle differences in the appearance. The glaze leaves a faint streaked look, almost like brush strokes, while the stain leaves a very smooth finish. The reason for this is because the glaze actually sits on top of the paint, while the stain penetrates it. In the photograph below the glaze was used on the piece on the left.

The other slight difference can be seen in the recessed areas. The glaze seams to have stuck in the crevices better, making a sharper contrast that really draws your attention to the details. The chair that was glazed is on the left.

The finishes created aren’t much different, but there are some differences in the available options. The great thing about a translucent glaze is that you can mix it with any color you want, so the possibilities are endless. Stain is typically pretty limited as far as color choices go.

Another noticable difference is how easy glaze is to work with. Glaze is a great product for beginners because it is workable for so much longer than the stain is. Stain will tend to dry and get sticky a lot quicker than the glaze will. With glaze you have plenty of time to play with it until you’ve achieved the look you like.

The thing I really like about stain is that it drys hard and adds a protective finish. I don’t feel like you get that with a glaze. The other thing great about stain is the price. A quart of stain only costs about $8 while a quart of clear mixing glaze is about double that price.

Here are the two chairs side by side. Can you tell the difference?




18 Responses to Stain vs. Glaze

  1. Shelly says:

    Thanks. I decided to glaze my buffet and it turned out beautifully. Now another question. Can I leave the mixture sit in a container for another use? Thanks Shelly

  2. Deana says:

    You sure can! Just make sure it is air tight and it should last for months.

  3. Heather Alnor says:

    I am going to paint a dresser for my sister with Old White Annie Sloan Paint and wanted to do the glaze/stain treatment. When I did a sample board the stain just soaked in and made it brownish everywhere. Not the look og the typical “glaze” look. Can you not do this with ASCP?? Thanks for the input.

  4. Deana says:

    I have never tried her paints, but I belive that they are flat. I usually do that technique over a satin or semi-gloss. Flat has a tendency to absorb things, so that might be why you are having trouble.

  5. Natasha says:

    Is it possible to apply a protective finish such as wax or poly over a glaze?

  6. Deana says:

    Yes. You can use either. I prefer to use paste wax as a protective coat because I find that most clear coats, like polyurethane, eventually yellow.

  7. Suzanne Scheck says:

    Can you use a glaze as a protective finish? I recently used Benjamin Moores alkyd low luster enamel in Navajo White, with their alkyd glaze. I then distressed the cabinet edges to the fruitwood base. The finish has a mat finish that I like but it seams to pick- up markings and prints. Should I do a final coat of just glaze, use a clear coat, or use a wax. I don’t want something that is going to yellow with age. Additionally if I wanted to do the glazing that you did above; can I add stain to a glaze?

  8. Rebecca Paulk says:

    Thank you for the a wonderful tutorial for this process.

  9. Deana says:

    Suzanne, I use glaze as my final coat, but I use a glaze that is a semi gloss. Flat really isn’t an ideal finish for furniture. It will wear done quicker, is hard to wipe and keep clean, and as you have noticed picks up every hand print. I would recommend adding a paste wax to give you a protective finish that will resist water and scuffs. I don’t like any other clear finishes because, like you mention, they tend to yellow. As long as the glaze and stain are both water based products you could probably mix them, although I have never tried.

  10. Michele says:

    I actually like the stain because I want something subtle. Does it matter if you use liquid or gel. I have worked with gel stains on furniture. Have never used liquid. Thanks!

  11. Deana says:

    Hi Michele, I have actually never used gel myself, so I’m not sure.

  12. Elizabeth Avila says:

    Hello, Thank you for the information. It really helps. I’m new to all this but so far I’m loving all the redo’s I’ve done. I am currently working on a cabinet that I have painted yellow. I’d like to rough it up a little and then put a little glaze in some areas. I didn’t want to buy an entire gallon of glaze and I can’t seem to find any smaller amounts. All the paint I use is water based. Can I either water down a contrasting color paint to add character to the piece, or what about adding a tad of color and water to a polycrylic clear paint then finishing it with a polycrylic top coat? Doesn’t seem this has been done. I guess I don’t understand the difference between glaze and thinned clear coat.

  13. Deana says:

    Hi Elizabeth, I would just water down a paint and use a damp cloth to apply it to the areas you want to accent. That should work just fine. I have white washed furniture that way.

  14. We painted a kitchen table with latex paint. Then we used Minwax stain to antique the table. It looks beautiful but the stain is not drying. Any suggestions?

  15. Deana says:

    Hi Susan, Depending on the weather it can sometimes take a several days for the stain to dry, especially if it humid or rainy. I sometimes use Howard’s feed-n-wax, a bees wax for furniture, to break down the stain and help remove excess when it gets on to thick.

  16. Kris Glicken says:

    Hi Deanna,
    Do you have any idea of a dark stained oak dining table (rustic) can be placed outside in a protected but not enclosed patio?

    Is there a way to protect it from the elements?

    Thank you! Kris

  17. Deana says:

    Hi Kris, That’s really not something I work with, but I do know that there are many clear finishes that are intended for wood patios. Those types of finishes are made to endure the elements directly and I don’t see why you couldn’t apply one to a table. Maybe ask around at your local hardware store.

  18. JustMe says:

    I have used both before (used stain as a glaze because I ran out of glaze), and I noted a few things. First, you do have to work faster with stain as it does dry faster and get sticky, BUT you can continue to wipe it off, even a day later! It’s harder to remove and you’re taking a chance of possibly removing paint, but it’s doable if you’re careful. Also, I notice something I think is great – I notice that stain leaves an opalescent type of finish…and it looks awesome! One thing I do not like about stain is, as you mentioned, it doesn’t fill in the cracks and crevices very well like glaze does. It tends to settle in certain spots and not in others at all. I love contrast and depth so this is a negative for me. I don’t like that at all, so I’ll use glaze only on something where I feel the piece needs depth and contrast.

    Also, another thing with stain is, if you use polycrylic too soon (polycrylic doesn’t yellow at all, by the way) you take a chance of that one crevice that ended up with a “glob” of settled stain and then it streaks down with the poly (ugh). However, knowing what I know and working with stain as much as I have, I still use stain more than glaze now…because like you said, it is half the price.

    And I’m not sure if you have a Home Depot or Lowe’s, but there’s a pretty good selection of colors of stain at those stores. ;)

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