Let me first say that I am new here but hoping to get an answer for a specific question. I'm not really a woodworker, so your tolerance is appreciated.

I was recently gifted a very nice sword. The handle and scabbard is stained a rich dark coffee colour. However, with a little bit of sweat on my hand, the colour comes off and soaks into my skin.

I am not sure what the type of finish is (oil or water, etc.) But the fact it is coming off only when my hands are wet (or moist) is an issue. Is there a remedy for this problem? Should I seal the stain? If so, what would be the best type of sealant to use, since I might be handling the wood regularly.

Any help would be much appreciated!!



  • I would not do anything if it is an antique. Ask the previous owner why it has been stained and move on from there with care.
    – meld51
    Commented Jan 29, 2020 at 22:15

1 Answer 1


It sound like the stain wasn't covered with a 'topcoat' or final finish, which shouldn't ever happen.

Any clear finish that dries hard is suitable for this, including shellac and polyurethane varnish. Both can now be bought in spraycans and although this is generally an expensive way to buy finish it has some advantages for someone in your situation, one of the main ones being you won't need to buy a brush or clean it when you're done (saving having to buy any of the appropriate solvent as well).

You may need to get some fine sandpaper or sanding sponge as well, 320 or 400 grit should be about right, because after the first coat of a clear finish dries there's often a little texture than needs to be 'knocked back' slightly by gentle sanding to help achieve a nice smooth surface with subsequent coats. Don't panic when you see how dull the sanded areas look, the next coat will fix that.

If you haven't sprayed anything before it's worth experimenting a little beforehand by spraying a scrap of wood, or anything you don't care as much about, to get a feel for the spray from the nozzle and how the finish goes down on a surface. Don't aim to build up a full finish in one go, spray light, even coats with whatever interval the can advises.

  • Lacquer would also be fine here, and is probably more commonly available in spray cans. Commented Apr 13, 2018 at 20:49
  • Thank you for the reply. How would I go about this if I don't want to use a spray can? There are a few enbedded metal fixtures on the scabbard that I don't want to spray over. So I think a rub or brush finish is best.
    – Lucian
    Commented Apr 14, 2018 at 2:41
  • 1
    @SaSSafraS1232 Yes lacquer is more commonly available but the word has come to be abused terribly by the finish companies in recent years and what's in the can might be anything from a waterbased finish (which can vary enormously), an alkyd of some kind (also varied) or proper lacquer (nitrocellulose or other). Too difficult for the beginner to separate one from the other so I thought it best to keep things simple and suggest two things that are exactly what the name on the can says they are and with lower potential toxicity.
    – Graphus
    Commented Apr 14, 2018 at 8:44
  • 1
    @Lucian, I was going to include them initially but they come with a greater risk of partially removing the stain (at worst leaving a patchy or streaky mess) so thought it best to concentrate on sprays which are safer to apply. Although you could mask off, it is all right to get clear finish on the metal, shellac in particular goes on very thinly, bonds very well and has nearly no colour so shouldn't be visible when you're done. And even brushing or wiping on a finish you might find it best to mask the metal fittings, so you won't really save effort.
    – Graphus
    Commented Apr 14, 2018 at 8:56

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