Stain-Over-Paint Table Top

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I wanted to create a beautiful, woodsy, swirly table top to match a hanging quilt, and I wanted to try painting a picture using wood stain, but I ran into the following issues:

1. We were having inclement weather so I couldn’t work outside;
2. Wood stain fumes + spray paint fumes + indoors + asthma = no breathing;
3. Breathing is somewhat necessary for survival and do-it-yourself projects. :)

So, what to do??

I decided to do most of the work using good old acrylic craft paint which is indoor safe. Perhaps I could skip the stain entirely? We’ll see ....



Time: 2 DaysCost: $40Difficulty: Medium
During the past 7 years, we have lived in 3 states and 2 countries (including 3 years overseas doing Christian missionary work). That meant a lot of moving trucks and storage units for our stuff. The glass top on this little patio set did not survive, but the metal frame and chair were still in good shape. A break in the rain (and a gas mask — haha) provided the opportunity to apply a coat or two of Rust-Oleum 2X white spray paint. This spruced up the set nicely.
Okay ... I splurged, but I have no regrets. :) Most of you would have been able to find a spool or some scrap wood to use for a table top, but, alas, I cheated and bought this 30” piece of sanded, unfinished pine wood from Amazon.
It arrived in beautiful condition. The perfect blank slate! :)
I took a picture of the quilt I made (using pre-cut quilt squares from WalMart) and printed it out to help me design the table top and choose the colors.
Using an ordinary pencil, I tried to duplicate the flowers on the quilt, making them big and bold to balance the large surface area of the table top. I used a stencil for some small details.
  • stain over paint table top
Note that pencil sketches on wood are easily erased. This was helpful when trying to draw free hand. BTW ... egg cartons work great for mixing paint!


  • stain over paint table top
Using Apple Barrel acrylic paint — Melted Chocolate— I created a fume-free “stain” by significantly diluting the paint about 5:1 with water.
  • stain over paint table top
Here is the cool effect achieved with my “wash”. Note that the pencil marks are still visible to serve as a guide for painting.
  • stain over paint table top
Here I painted the design using acrylic craft paint in predominantly muted earth tones. I added splashes of red and green to match the quilt.
  • stain over paint table top
Okay, I caved .... I ended up using stain. :) The weather broke so I was able to take the project outside. I went over the entire table with one coat of Minwax Golden Oak stain. This was followed by two coats of Minwax polyurethane.
  • stain over paint table top
As you can see, the stain did not cover over the painted design. It simply added a transparent, antique finish, especially over the lighter colors. I loved it!!

I believe that this same effect could have been closely achieved using the acrylic paint “wash” illustrated above if you chose not to use stain.
  • stain over paint table top
It’s a little difficult to see because the sunshine is literally pouring into my sun room ...
... but the table top has repurposed my worn patio set and made a cute companion to my hanging quilt.

Key takeaways —

*You can stain wood using diluted acrylic paint

*You can stain directly over a painted design

Suggested materials for this project:

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Scarlett Butler

Want more details about this project and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!

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