Gel Stains by General Finishes - Tips and Tricks

[et_pb_section fb_built="1" custom_padding="54px|0px|53px|0px" admin_label="section"][et_pb_row custom_padding="27px|0px|0px|0px"][et_pb_column type="4_4" parallax="off" parallax_method="on"][et_pb_text]Updating old wood furniture and cabinets doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive.  Here at the Interiors to Inspire studio we love using General Finishes Gel Stains to quickly refinish old wood surfaces without loosing all of that wood grain goodness.  They’re very user friendly and it’s easy to create beautiful finishes with such high quality products.  Unlike traditional liquid oil stains the gel stains can be used over already sealed and varnished finishes with minimal prep.  Since the stains are a gel they sit heavier on the surface than a liquid stain which means they provide the deepest and richest colors of any oil based stain on the market.  The stains can even be applied on a vertical or overhead surface without the fear of drips or runs due to their thick consistency. For Finished/Sealed SurfacesA little prep will ensure your success.  Prior starting it's recommended to give the surface a good once over with a 200 or 300 grit sand paper.  You do not need to remove the old finish, you’re just looking to scuff the surface and give the gel stains a little something extra to grab to.  That being said, we have done some samples in the studio where we haven’t sanded prior to application and the gel stains have still bonded well and looked great.   


  Gel Stains can be applied with a rag, foam brush, paint pad or flat paint brush.  Personally, I’ve never used a paint pad but the other three methods work great.  A paint brush will leave quite a bit of texture in your finish which can be nice if you’re trying to hide imperfections or if you’re original finish is quite plain.  A foam brush or a rag both work great and it will be easier to achieve a smoother finish and to create thinner layers with them.[/et_pb_text][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row custom_padding="27px|0px|1px|0px"][et_pb_column type="4_4" parallax="off" parallax_method="on"][et_pb_image src=""][/et_pb_image][/et_pb_column][/et_pb_row][et_pb_row custom_padding="0px|0px|3px|0px"][et_pb_column type="4_4" parallax="off" parallax_method="on"][et_pb_text] 

For a more in depth look at application please refer back to one of our earlier blog posts on How To Use Java Gel Stain


We’ve created these opaque Gel Stain finishes in 2 layers, applying the stain with a heavier hand.  These are what the colors look like on their own with minimal amounts of the original finish showing through.

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If you were to apply the Gel Stain in thin coats, the base color of the wood will effect your end color as you can see on this Java sample board below.  Make sure you let each coat dry well (about 8 hours) prior to applying additonal coats.

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Gel Stains Over Raw Wood

The stains can be used directly on top of raw wood, be aware the gel will absorb deeply into the unsealed wood meaning the colors will be deep and dark in only one application as you can see on the small sample boards below.  If you wanted to achieve a lighter color you could seal the wood first with the Gel Topcoat or another water or oil based sealer following manufacturer’s instructions and dry times.  I prefer to use the Gel Topcoat as I know it works well with the stains, we'll chat a bit more about topcoats further down.

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Gel Stains Over Laminates

Gel Stains may not be the best option if you're looking to change the color of your laminates. General Finishes says,

"We are not a fan of putting Gel Stain on laminate, not much adheres to laminate very well because these surfaces are specifically designed NOT to mar, and probably not "sandable ". If you can abrade the surface with something, you may have success. Folks have successfully put Gel Stain on more surfaces than we ever dreamed of, including fiber glass, so if you want to proceed, TEST your procedure on a hidden area first and let cure for 14 days. Then further test the finish by duplicating normal wear and tear: washing, scrubbing, scratching, etc to see if the finish bonds to the surface. It might not adhere."

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How to Change the Colors

Although the color selection is limitted the stains are completely mixable and you can also layer them to achieve different looks which opens up way more options.   Check out some of the creations we can up with using really simple mixes and layering techniques.

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Recently one of our customers asked us about using the General Finishes water based glazes over top of their Gel Stain.  We had never tried it but we were intrigued and so we did a little experimenting.  The glazes worked really nicely overtop of our sample boards, they were easy to move around and the color absorbed nicely into the surface.  To protect our new glazed finishes we sealed the boards with the Gel Topcoat which didn’t move the glaze around what so ever.  The Black Gel Stain with the Winter White Glaze over top is definitely a studio favorite.

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Durability and Topcoats

Depending on how much Gel Stain you have applied to the surface of your project you may not need a top coat.  The Gel Stains are made of urethane which is a very durable product on its own.  If you’ve applied 3 or 4 thin layers or a couple of thicker layers, that is a finished product as you have enough urethane built up on the surface.  If you are working quite thin or if your finish is on a high traffic area you may want to apply the Gel Topcoat.  It is made out of the same urethane that’s in the Gel Stains but it has no pigmentation, meaning it goes on clear and dries clear.  The Gel Topcoat is applied in the same manner as the stains and has the same dry time.  Prior to using your furniture item regularly I would give it a few days to cure.

General Finishes does state on their website that you can use a water based polyurethane on top of the Gel Stains however we have never had success with it.  The poly will paint on nicely and look great but even a gently finger nail run across the finish will make the poly flake and pull away from the oil based Gel Stain.  I would recommend the Gel Topcoat over top of the Gel Stains, it’s easy to use and it bonds nicely.

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We hope this information helps you on your creative DIY journey.  If you still have questions feel free to leave it in the comment section :) Happy Gel Staining