How to Fix Varnish on Wood?

Once the carving or constructing process is complete, you need to coat the wood. A varnish coating preserves and improves the appearance of wood. It would also help protect the wood from spills, scratches, and other mishaps that can affect the surface of the wood.

To fix mistakes made while applying varnish on wood, start with using mineral oil to clean the surface of the wood. After this, proceed to use a 220 or 400 grit sandpaper to remove the defects. Some typical varnish finish defects include bubbles, lap marks, and cracks. Once these defects are gone, reapply the varnish finish unto the wood and wipe off excess varnish with a clean rag and allow it to dry for 4-6hrs.

Since varnish mistakes affect the integrity of the wood wrongly, you need to learn how to fix varnish mistakes. Here, we will like to show you how you can quickly correct these errors. We would also show DIYers, pros, and enthusiasts how they can fix scratches and other visible imperfections on wood during use.

General Guide to Repairing Varnish Finish Mistakes

After applying your coating, there is a tendency to make mistakes during the application process. Here are the steps to follow to get rid of these mistakes that lead to defects.

Required Materials

  • 220 and 400 grit Sandpaper
  • Clean rags
  • Paint Brush
  • Varnish coating
  • Respirator
  • Eye Goggles

Step One: Identify the Defect

Different types of defects can arise from varnish finish mistakes. So, once you notice a defect, identify and classify the error or defect. Some defects common to varnish finish include cracks, bubbles, lap marks, or drips.

Step Two: Clean the Wood

Once you successfully identify the defect, pour mineral spirit on a clean rag and use it to wipe off wax and dirt. If you are sure that there is no wax on the wood, then dab your clean rag in a bucket containing dish detergent and water and proceed to use the rag to wipe away dirt and debris.

Step Three: Sand the Wood with Sand Paper

In this stage, the perfect approach to fixing the problem depends on the type of defect.

For surface defects like lap marks, bubbles and cracks, sprinkle water on a wet/dry 400 grit sandpaper and use it to sand the surface of the wood until all surface defects are gone, while for drips, use a 220 grit sandpaper.

If you notice that the drips and runs have started to set up, allow it to dry. Once dried, use a sharp chisel instead of sandpaper because, with sandpaper, there is a tendency to cause more harm than good.

Step Four: Apply a Fresh Coat of Varnish

After the first sanding operation is complete and the surface of the wood is flat and leveled, you can go ahead to apply a fresh coat of varnish on the wood. Doing this will take care of the lap marks, cracks, and bubbles.

How to Fix Varnish On a Table?

Your wooden table has the tendency to be scratched, dented, and stained. Many times it might even get burnt marks. If you are looking for a quick fix to these problems, here is how to fix varnish on a table.

How to Repair Dent Marks on a Wooden Table?

Dent marks are second to only scratches when it comes to wood defects. Here we would be categorizing the fixing of dents on wooden Tables into dents to the varnish and dents to the wood itself.

Dents in the Wood

When trying to repair dents in the wood, the right action depends on the dent’s depth. Therefore, we advise you only to take the step three route if steps one and two don’t fix the dent in your table.

Step One: Cover up the Dent and let it Swell

When you notice that the dent is in the wood and not on the varnish, first step dab a piece of clean rag in water, squeeze excess water out, and place the rag in the dented area for 12-24 hours.

Once the time is up, check to see if there is any swelling on that part of the wood. If you notice swelling, you can then dry that section of the wood with the dent.

Step Two: Sand the Dented Area

The next logical step is to sand the dented area with 400grit sandpaper. After sanding, apply varnish. Note, sanding should only be done lightly.

Step Three: Dents that are too Deep for Wet Rags

For dent marks that are too deep, removing them with a rag might seem impossible. To avoid wasting time, get a pressing iron and a clean wet rag, then place the clean rag over the dent mark and use the Pressing Iron to run over that part of the Table. 

Remember, the iron must be on. It must be sufficiently hot to be able to its job. Keep doing this until the dent is gone.

Dents in the Varnish

Repairing dents in varnish is a fairly straightforward process. All you need to do is follow these steps

Step One: Moisten a piece of sandpaper

First, get a 400 grit sandpaper, sprinkle water on it, and use it to flatten out the dent on the varnish.

Step Two: Reapply Vanish

Once the surface of the wooden table is flat, use a paintbrush to apply varnish. Ensure you apply only a single coat of varnish to the sanded area.

Step Three: Allow the Dent to Cure

Now, all you need to do is allow the cure for at least 48hours. After the time elapses, rub that spot with steel wool.

How to Get Rid of Stains on Table

Getting rid of stubborn white water stains on wood is relatively easy. Once you have a jar of baking soda and a bottle of coconut oil, you are good to go.

To do this, create a mixture of baking soda and coconut oil, apply the mixture on the affected portion and watch how the baking soda works to etch the finish while allowing the oil to absorb and replace the water causing the stain.

How to Get Rid of Burns from Hot Objects

Burns from cigarette ashes can cause stains on your table varnish. To fix this problem, follow these easy steps.

Step One: Sand the Affected Portion Away

Using any size sandpaper, sand away the burn on the vanish.

Step Two: Bleach out the Burnt Mark

To get rid of the burnt mark on the wood, get and mix oxalic acid and water. Once mixed, use a paintbrush to apply the mixture to the affected section; this will fade out the burnt mark. Here is our step by step guide on how to Bleach wood with Oxalic acid.

Step Three: Neutralize the Bleaching Action

To neutralize the bleaching action of oxalic acid and water, pour two tablespoons of baking soda in a cup filled with water and apply to the affected part of the wood. Once dry, you can then proceed to reapply varnish.

How to Remove Varnish Scratches from Wood?

Scratches are the most prevalent defects on wood, as it is almost impossible to avoid them. Here is how you can get rid of scratch marks if your wood spots a varnish coating.

Step One: Clean the Surface of the Wood

Using mineral spirits, clean the surface of the wood; this will remove wax and dirt.

Step Two: Sand the Affected Area

Using 320grit sized sandpaper, sand the affected area lightly so that when you reapply your coating, it will blend with the surface you want to repair.

Step Three: Apply the first coat of Varnish

Once sanding is complete, clean dust particles from the surface of the wood, do not blow the dust into the air. Only then can you proceed to apply the first coat of varnish on the surface of the wood. First, pour the varnish on the wood surface, then use a dry cloth to spread the varnish. 

Finally, clean off the excess varnish with a dry rag and leave it to dry for at least 4hrs.

Step Four: Sand Off Possible Defects

To reduce the possibility of the defects, use a wet/dry 600grit sized sandpaper lubricated with water to sand off possible bubbles and nibs on the surface of the first coat. 

Moving the sandpaper over the surface of the wood should create a noticeable dry finish build-up. Once you see this, stop sanding. If you decide to continue will cause more harm than good to the surface of your wood. 

As you sand, you can intermittently try to feel the smoothness of the wood using your exposed palm; this should tell you when it’s time to stop sanding.

Step Five: Repeat Step Three

Step five involves carrying out all the actions done in step three. The only difference here is that you will need to apply a little more varnish to the surface of the wood, which also means you will also leave the varnish to dry for a longer time, at least 6hrs. 

Continue repeating steps two and three until you get the results you desire.

Step Six: Ensure the Final Coat matches the Unaffected Sections of the Wood

When you view the final coat, it should be shiny. Compare it to the existing surface of the wood and ensure they look the same. If the shine is more than the old coating, you can use 0000 steel wool to dull the surface of the finish.

Common Mistakes With Varnish To Avoid

Now that you know how to fix varnish on wood, it’s time to talk about some of the most common varnish mistakes. Here, we would look at the four problems that arise due to errors people make when applying varnish. Then, we would state their causes and solutions. 

Crawl, Sagging and Running

Here the varnish refuses to bond to the surface of the wood. It ends up looking like oil on a wet surface.


  • Application of varnish over a wet, greasy, or cold surface
  • Dirty fingers on the surface before vanishing
  • Applying new varnish on the old, hard, and dry previous coat
  • Not properly rinsing off soap can cause crawling.


  • To solve crawling, remove the varnish, then clean the surface of the wood properly using mineral spirit before applying varnish.
  • To prevent running, avoid making the varnish too thick. If the varnish needs to be thick, ensure you divide the application process into different coats and ensure you allow each coat to dry properly before applying another coat. Also, remember to sand before applying the next coat.
  • Lastly, to solve sagging problems, first, remove the sagging layer, allow it to dry, then use a cutter to remove the defect until you obtain a flat surface. Once complete, you can then sand and reapply the varnish.

Rough Surfaces


It occurs when dust and particles in the air where you carry out the varnishing operation settle on the varnish. This leads to a rough surface on the varnish.


Ensure the room where the varnish is applied is dust-free.

Varnish Not Flowing

Varnish not flowing will lead to visible brush marks and uneven varnish surfaces.


It occurs when the varnish gets too cold, especially when it remains in an open container for a long time or when then the container is too big for the content.


To remedy this issue, place the vanish container on water and heat the water slowly. Avoid placing the varnish container directly over a fire, as varnish is very flammable, and remember not to heat it to extremely high temperatures, as this will cause the varnish to dry very quickly.



Bubbles formed on varnish finish arise when you apply a thick layer of varnish in a hot room.


You can prevent this problem by easily avoiding applying thick layers of varnish at once. However, if bubbles are present already, wait until the varnish is dry, then sand. Oversanding is a significant problem here, but you can also avoid this by simply sanding lightly, reapplying the varnish, and checking to see if there are still bubbles. If there are still bubbles, you will have to sand slightly more than before.

As you can see, whether you are a DIYer, beginner, pro, or hobbyist, you can fix varnish mistakes, stains, and other visible surface defects yourself. All that is required of you is get the right materials and exert a little patience while carrying out these repairs. Constant practice will take you one step closer to becoming a wood finishing expert.

Martin Swizz

Hi! This is Martin, I like to research, experiment, and learn new things related to wood carving and other kinds of woodworking.

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