Using gel stain on furniture is my go-to method when refinishing furniture. It is easier to use than the traditional stains as you don’t have to remove the existing stain. You apply the gel stain over the existing finish with very little prep and without stripping.
Table of contents
Why Gel Stain?
- No stripping
- Darkens wood
- Saves time
- Easy to use
The main reason I use gel stain on furniture is that you typically don’t have to strip the furniture down to bare wood. Gel stain can be applied over the original stain finish with minimal prepping.
Gel stain can stain finished wood darker without having to strip down to the original finish. This technique saves time which makes using the stain easier than other products. How to Use Gel Stain
Start by lightly hand sanding the furniture with light grit sandpaper (250 or 300 grit) or a sanding block. You mainly only want to remove the protective coating over the stain.
In some cases, a newer furniture piece, you may need to use an orbital sander to remove the protective layer. I love to use these mesh sanding discs. I start with the 320 grit making sure to only sand the topcoat off.
Sand in the direction of the grain and use even light pressure. Make sure to keep the sandpaper flat for smoother results. Sanding against the grain will become noticeable when staining. Rubbing too hard can cause unwanted depressions in the wood.
For older furniture pieces, most of the protective coat is gone, so the main reason for sanding it is to create a smooth finish and to remove any remaining sealers.
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Brush away the sanding dust, by using an old paintbrush or tack cloth. Clean the surface with vinegar and water making sure all the dust is removed. Allow the surface to dry completely.
Run your hand over the cleaned surface making sure it is smooth and you don’t feel any grit or raised surfaces. If you have some, sand down and clean again.
Staining – How to darken light wood
Stir the gel stain completely before beginning. Apply the stain with a chip or foam brush. After about 5 to 10 minutes, check the stain color. Make sure the test section is where you first applied the stain. You are checking for color.
If the shade is NOT what you desire, reapply the small section of the stain and wait a few more minutes. Once the gel stain begins to dry, it can become very hard to remove. If this happens, just reapply some fresh stain and wipe away. This helps to remove any stuck-on stain.
Wipe away the stain using a lint-free cloth. Remove most of the stain with the first cloth. Fold over the cloth for a clean area and begin to blend in the stain, using light strokes. You don’t want to wipe too hard as you want to blend the stain leaving heavier/darker areas.
Allow the stain to dry overnight. This is very important for gel stains as they take longer to dry than regular stains since they are thicker.
After the stain is completely dry, check the surface for grit. Sometimes you get particles in the air while drying. If you discover any raised bumps, sand with a very high grit paper (1000) using very light pressure. Sometimes this may remove some stain and you will need to reapply or blend in some new stain.
Start by sealing with a coat of Minwax spray polyurethane. Apply using even strokes making sure you get a good first coat. Make sure you use it in a properly ventilated area.
I started to use the spray polyurethane after many times of wiping away some of the gel stains. This happens even if you let it dry overnight.
Once the spray polyurethane is dry. Lightly sand with 1000 grit sandpaper, using a very light hand and sanding with the grain. Remove the dust with a lint-free cloth and apply a coat of Minwax wipe-on poly. This is my favorite polyurethane. I have tried many and this is the one I like the best.
Allow the poly to dry and apply one or 2 more coats of the wipe-on poly. If using on the top of a table or dresser, make sure to use 2 or 3 coats for extra protection.
- Sandpaper (250,300, and 1000 grit) or Sanding Block
- Tack Cloth
- Chip Brush or Foam Brush
- Gel Stain (I love the General Finish and also use Minwax)
- Minwax Spray Polyurethane
- Minwax Wipe-On Poly
- Lint-Free Cloths
- Latex Gloves
Painting on Gel Stain
For this mini buffet, I wanted to darken some of the details to make it pop instead of blending and not showing its true beauty.
I used the steps above to prep and clean this mini buffet. Once it was ready, I applied a coat of Java gel stain over the entire piece. This refreshed the entire piece.
Once the buffet was dry, I began to paint the gel stain on the carved details. For this finish, you do not want to wipe away the stain. Just make sure the stain is smooth and let it dry for a few days.
Seal just like above using the spray polyurethane first, followed by the wipe-on poly. Get more details by checking out How to refinish stained furniture the easy way.
Other Ways to Use Gel Stain
Many times, people want to keep the wood but they hate the color of the original stain. Gel stain allows you to change and darken the appearance. You can use gel stains in all the areas of your home, like the few mentioned below.
Gel Stain Inspirations
This antique desk was painted in Cerise furniture paint (<—discontinued found this similar color) and sealed with a java gel stain and poly mix. If you want to know more details on how the finish was completed, see this Vintage Desk Makeover.
For this buffet, the top and drawer fronts were stained using java gel stain. The base was painted in lamp black, sealed with furniture wax, shimmer highlights with gold metallic and aging dust on the legs.
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