msroseJanuary 27, 2008

I just saw your kitchen pictures on the oak cabinet post. DH and I just had a conversation last night about staining the cabinets darker. He told me it would be too hard to do and it would look terrible. He would rather paint the cabinets. Can you tell me how you did yours and if it was really hard. He said I would have to strip the finish with a liquid product and he said it would take forever to do it. One thing that's different about your cabinets is that they're flat and our's aren't.

He said it would be too hard to remove the stain from all the crevices. I'm just trying to figure out if it's really as hard as he says or if he's just telling me that so I'll go with the painted because that's what he wants :)

Also, what color stain did you use? I'm thinking of something that's dark, but maybe a shade lighter than what you have.


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I also spent some time last night searching for Celticmoon's description of how she transformed her cabinets. I know I have read it before, but I can't seem to find the link anymore. If you have the time, Celticmoon, I'd love to see those directions again. Thanks so much!

    Bookmark   January 27, 2008 at 1:37PM
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Duh - I remembered someone giving me the directions for gelstain before, but I didn't remember it being Celticmoon. I just checked my documents and found the directions. I just want to make sure I understand completely. You didn't remove the previous finish, just roughed it up a little bit? I mentioned using gelstain on the decorating forum awhile back and someone said that it just coats the woods and doesn't soak in like a regular stain, which means it will scratch off easily. Does the clear urethane keep that from happening? Do you see any cons to using the gel stain over a regular stain?


Background Story:
My cabinets are frameless, good condition and good layout. But the finish had gone orange and ugly, with the oak graining too busy for me. Cabinets are 18 years old, very poorly finished oak veneered slab doors. Plain with no crevices. They hadn't even take the doors off to finish them!!! No stain or finish was even on the hinge side edges, just dirty ol naked wood. Cheesy, huh?
I looked into changing out cabinets, but that was way too much money, since my layout was OK. And I am cheap, er, frugal. Painting didn't seem right because the doors were plain slabs. I considered new doors but that still meant a lot of money. For a few years I tried to figure a way to add molding toward a mission look, but the rounded door edges made that impossible. Then trolling in a kitchen emporium showroom this last year I noticed dark wood slab doors, kind like mine, but darker. That was the answer.
First I tried Minwax Polyshades. Dicey product. Hard to brush on neatly, then gummy, then seemed to leave a sticky tacky residue. I did a thread on the Woodworking site "Evil Polyshades to the Rescue" which elicited a lot of conflicting "expert" opinions and arguments that one must strip. I stripped the whole first floor of a Victorian once. No thanks. Jennifer-in-clyde (in the same boat)and I stumbled around to get to our method. Found the General Finishes products to work much better. Very easy to apply. Texture is like almost-done pudding, real silky. Just smear it on and wipe off the excess. Couldn't be easier. (see Generalfinishes.com for more info including where to find products. Disclaimer: I have no relationship to them other than being a satisfied customer.)
Here is the play by play:
screwdrivers (for dismantling doors and hardware), box-o-disposable gloves from Walgreen's, old socks or rags, fine sandpaper, disposable small plastic bowls or plates, and plastic spoons or forks, mineral spirits, miracle cloth (optional), General Finishes Java gel stain (or another color) and General Finishes clear top coat (Both are poly based). Optional: General Finishes Expresso water based stain as another layer for maximum darkness.
You will need a place to work and leave wet doors to dry overnight - I set up 2 spaces, garage for sanding/cleaning and basement for staining/sealing. Plan on blocks of 20-30-minutes for sanding/cleaning bundles of say, 6 doors at a time. Then just 10 minute sessions to wipe on coats.
1)Remove the doors and all the hardware from one section of the kitchen. 4-6 doors is a good amount.
2) Clean the wood surface thoroughly. Then go over the wood lightly with sandpaper, just a very light skim sand to give the existing finish some tooth. No more than a minute a door. Rough up the surface is all. A miracle cloth is great for getting off the dust. Then wipe well with mineral spirits to clean well.
3) Open and stir the can o gel THOROUGHLY with your fork or spoon. Spoon some gel into your plastic bowl and reseal the can. This keeps you from contaminating the gels with crud or grit.
4) Put on the disposable gloves and slip an old sock onto one hand. Scoop some gel up and smear it on (It feels really nice and doesn't even smell too awful), then wipe down to remove the excess. I did the coats in the following order and let each dry well overnight:
-General Finishes Expresso water based stain (1 coat) I used this because I wanted really dark. You can probably skip this one to get to a deep rich brown
-General Finishes Java gel stain (couple coats) or whatever color you choose.
-General Finishes Clear urethane gel topcoat in satin (couple coats).
4) Reassemble the doors and drawer fronts and check the color evenness. Touch up with more gel stain where needed and let dry. Add a coat or two more of the clear gel for super durability.
5) Replace hardware.
I was brazen because the cabinets were so cheap and ugly I had nothing to lose. I went kinda thick and didn't wipe everything off perfectly. And I didn't sand between coats. You will think the Expresso coat fades as it dries but it redarkens later. I wanted a very deep dark color, like melted dark chocolate. It is not perfect in tone, there is unevenness in the coloration, but you have to really look to see it. The feel of the finish is really wonderful, smooth and satiny.
Raised the pass through upper run, recycled 2 glass cabinets doors from DR, resurfaced the Corian and got some smashing hardware. It came out pretty great and the finish has held up fine for over a year now. Link to pictures below.
Couple other tips: Go to the bathroom first and tie up your hair. Keep an apron or old workshirt handy for the gel coats' work. Keep a phone nearby either in a baggie or wrapped in a clean rag. Skip these steps at your peril. Oh, and stir the can very well each time and spoon some into a disposable bowl - keeps the can from getting contaminated. Lastly, the socks or rags you use for poly gels should be disposed of carefully as they are flammable and volatile. Rule is to have a bucket of water and dispose into that as you go - then get rid of it all at the end per local ordinances.
RE: Expresso vs. Java. Expresso is blacker, Java is more a red brown, like mahogany furniture. My cabinets had such a faded orange cast, that putting on an Expresso coat after sanding seemed to yield a bit darker end product. Java alone wiped on makes a nice, rich Sienna brown color, but I was wanting it to be much darker than the Java alone would get me to. The other difference is of course that Expresso is water based, so an easier cleanup. Being a gel, the Java can go on much thicker. And the last clear coats provide the nice satin finish - stopping at Java has nowhere near the smoothness and sheen. I found it helped to hang the doors, etc after one clear coat so I could check the color. If I missed a spot, I'd do a Java touchup wipe there. Let dry. Then clear coat wipe.
BTW, with the Expresso, each coat dissolved the one prior - weird. So a second coat didn't seem worth it to me. And even with the Java, if you rub too hard when it is wet you end up removing the color. Letting it dry well between coats is essential. You have to figure about 5 days at one coat a day. I used my kitchen all the way through - who needs doors?
Good luck to you. It is a pain in some ways, but in my case it was really worth it. The worst is definitely the prep. Once the surfaces are ready to coat, it is really short work to glove up, slide a sock on your hand and wipe on a coat.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2008 at 3:03PM
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I think you'll be fine with just gel stain, but you will have to shop around to find a color you like and may have to do 2 coats, plus a poly. I have done painted cabinets several times in the past and just recently gel stained my own cabinets. Of the two, gel stain was WAY easier. Here is a picture of my cabinets. Originally they were 1970's walnut, I painted them white immediately after moving in. Two small boys and constant dirt prompted me to re-paint them red. The red wore on me after a while and I was going to re-paint a red brown when I got the inspiration to gel stain over them for a cherry cabinet look. I am thrilled! Well worth the time and energy for me. Hope this helps.


    Bookmark   January 27, 2008 at 4:51PM
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N_E - So did you gelstain over the red paint or did you remove the paint? They look great!


    Bookmark   January 27, 2008 at 5:34PM
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Never_ending, I don't think I'd ever think to stain over paint, but your cabinets look absolutely fantastic!

    Bookmark   January 27, 2008 at 6:19PM
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Thanks, I'm really happy with them and they are even better in person. I just went over the red after I washed them. From everything I read on gel stain, there is no need to sand unless you want to, so I didn't.

I have one cabinet that does have recesses along the molding and I didn't feel the gel stain settled in that area. Certainly not anymore than paint I'd even say less. I used a foam appilactor brush after finishing a segment so it was relatively dryer and it still covered great to go in the creases.

If you haven't used gel stain before it is thick like pudding, not runny at all. I'm not sure what color you were considering for cabinets but gel stain does have to ability to layer, with each coat getting progressively darker.

You may want to try an inside door and see what you think. Being a kitchen you will want to use a poly. I had considered a brown paint but really wanted to mimic a wood grain.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2008 at 5:36PM
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msrose: I am really interested in this because I have similar but darker oak cabinets like yours, w/ the raised panels, crevices, etc.

When do you think you'll be doing this, because I'd love to learn from your experience before tackling mine.

I might do what never_ending suggested and to stain the inside of a door (also has panels/crevices) to see how I like the results.

Unlike celticmoon who said she didn't have anything to lose, if I mess up my cabinets (which are very high quality and custom made - just too 'oaky' for my taste), I don't have the funds to replace them.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2008 at 9:16PM
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Wow! WOW! Never_ending, that's a FANTASTIC transformation! Can you take a longer shot, let us see a little more? I see you changed the backsplash from the metal tile to beadboard, but the counters are the same, and you reused your pulls?

Man, what a difference. It's beautiful.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2008 at 9:41PM
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Thanks vjrnts. I can't believe them myself. I was all set to get new hardware but the old ones work so well, I kept them. The beadboard is temporary I had it on hand from another project, along with the paint. The whole project was aprx. $31.00 and a long weekend. Sadly my husband now says I don't need new cabinets or a kitchen for that matter, but I do think it'll tide me over until that day comes!!!

These pictures are small but they give you a better veiw.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2008 at 9:08PM
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huango - It will probably be May (at least) before I try it. I'm in my last semester of school and I promised my husband I wouldn't start any more projects until I'm out :)


    Bookmark   January 29, 2008 at 9:46PM
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Where are you celticmoon?

Nice job on the cabinets: I'm now ready to tackle my bathroom!

    Bookmark   January 29, 2008 at 11:10PM
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never ending, just beautiful!!!

    Bookmark   January 30, 2008 at 8:15PM
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Uh, hi guys. I've been away, consumed by other things for a couple months. Tickled to stumble on this thread when I wandered back to the Forum. Once TKO, always TKO, I guess.

Thank you, msrose, for stepping up and posting the staining info! That is it.

Neverending, that is so cool to use the gel over paint! Yours came out fabulous. I can totally see now how it could work over paint - it just never would have occurred to me to try. (I once suggested using the gel over thermofoil for a glazed look - still think that might work...)

For anybody interested my c1987 looked like this when I moved in 11 years ago:

In 2000 after MUCH effort, I successfully killed off the loathed Roper electric range and put in the Viking and Ventahood. Ditched the side cabinets and giant tulip wallpaper, reversed the DW panel. Better.

Then in 2006-7 I darkened the cabinets, switched out the hardware and raised the pass through. Replaced sink and DW. Yay.

In better light they look like this

And here is in bright direct sunlight

They have held up beautifully. And I work my kitchen HARD.

PS Huango, it took me ten years of looking at cabinets I hated to get to that point of 'nothing to lose' - I had paint or refacing or even new doors as a backup. In retrospect I wish I hadn't waited so long. Definitely you should experiment on the backs of doors or drawer fronts. Nothing ventured, nothing gained!

And kudos to all who think outside the box, and pull off a budget transformation. I love it!!!

    Bookmark   January 31, 2008 at 10:47PM
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celticmoon: thank you so much for sharing your 'progress'.

Sorry to hog the post, but what do you think about those same dark stained cabinets w/:
- med/dark countertop (like rainforest brown granite) *OR* stainless steel counter top, and
- med/dark wood floor?
Do you think the kitchen would be too dark? I'll have a large (?14feet wide by 3feet high windows - like colleenmills), and an open floorplan to the familyroom and diningroom.

Last question: how do I deal with my Jekyll/Hyde syndrome of wanting DARK DARK cabinets one day, and then wanting creamy white cabinets (like colleenmills). I'm afraid of how I'll do w/ the gel staining process, but am petrified of the painting process more (more room for error?).

sorry for the rambling/hogging.
thank you.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2008 at 6:28PM
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celticmoon - welcome back. Been wondering where you've been!!!

    Bookmark   February 1, 2008 at 7:05PM
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Thanks Malgold, good to be back.

Huango, no such thing as hogging round here. I have done plenty of painting and 'proper' refinishing (strip, sand, repeat, obsess, repeat, stain, finish...) as well as this gel project, and my take is that the gel overcoating is a zillion times easier than refinishing and a good bit easier than painting. With painting the brushwork has to be right and the paint has to bond well or else (= much prep work). But with the gel, as long as the surface is clean it will layer on well and dry pretty tough, especially after poly finish coats. And the gels are a marvelous creamy texture, so easy to wipe on. Give me a sock over a brush any day.

Thing is, you have to go dark or risk an uneven coloration.

As for dark, the wise one Sweeby once said: the answer to a dark kitchen isn't light counters or cabinets, it is more wattage! Absolutely true. Ramp up your lighting and the dark is a non issue.

Funny, I was just with a friend tonight having this same conversation re dark cabinets amd counters. (BTW I am pointing her to check out your finishwork, Neverending!) Sure the lighting cost is higher, but more than offset by stretching the life of your cabinets, having the counter you want, and going with that deep, rich, warm look that only those dark tones allow.

Huango, have you found the Finished Kitchens Blog yet? Some gorgeous dark/dark combos there. Take a leisurely look and see what really, really grabs you. Go for that.

Here is a link that might be useful: finished kitchens slideshow

    Bookmark   February 2, 2008 at 12:44AM
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Celticmoon is right. Dark cabinets will not be too dark if you have proper lighting and decor anymore than white painted cabinets would be too light, it really all boils down to preferences. I can really understand the flip-flopping between the two, they both have a certain look and feel.

As a professional DIY'er :-) darkening with gel stain would be where I would steer you if you are leaning towards a change in your kitchen cabinets BECAUSE if you tire of the dark, it will be far easier to re-paint than it will be strip off the light paint and re-stain if you change your mind. Gel staining as Celticmoon stated is a FAR easier and faster alternative for change than painting. Painting cabinets is not necessarily hard for a DIY project but it is a very involved, time consuming, tedious project.

Your fear of ruining your expensive cabinetry is a genuine one, but you also need to love your kitchen, custom or not! We are not due for a new kitchen for a few more years and believe me, my heart was in my throat when I began my gelstaining process, because these are the cabinets I HAVE to live with until that day, and if something went wrong I too was worried about what it would take and the amount of work to fix. In retrospect I would do it again in one second!!! I love the darkness, and have had light cabinets in several houses and it is so much less upkeep with darker!

Kitchens are going darker for the first time in many years, light has always been fashionable and will probably remain that way. Perhaps you could paint an island light or set of cabinets and have the best of both worlds?

I will say gel stain cleans up nicely if wiped off with mineral spirits before it has a chance to harden and cure, and would give you the chance to try it on to see what you think.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2008 at 12:38PM
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Does anyone have a photo of general java espresso gel stain completed cabinets? I have oak pickled i just hate & am
interested in gel staining them. Thanks!

    Bookmark   February 24, 2008 at 9:13AM
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Celticmoon and Never Ending - all I can say is WOW! Great transformations!! I too have orangy-oak cabinets and we've been toying with the idea of restaining them a little darker, less orange. My question for you is related to the sanding. How much sanding is needed? Are we talking just a quick swipe to rough it up or a thorough sanding to get they poly (or whatever) off?


    Bookmark   March 10, 2008 at 12:17PM
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Leesi, my cabinets further back in this thread are done with General Finshes Expresso & Java finishes. More pix in link below.

Justenohio, I did very little sanding. Maybe a minute a door, less as I got more lazy. And that was mostly to break the finish and expose some wood cells enough to "take" a water based Expresso stain layer first since I wanted to go so dark. To apply stain you need bare wood because the stain kinda goes INTO the wood. But the Java gel goes on like a translucent paint layer. The more coats or the thicker, the darker it gets.

The Java alone may be enough to lose the orange and enrich and enliven the color tone. I'm thinking a deep rich red brown will work for my living room and bath cabinets (acres of tired orangey oak in this house). Try just the Java on the back of a door. Moreso than sanding, a good cleaning will be critical (grease and dirt are your enemy). Sanding is the ultimate cleaning in some ways, and will help enhance the final smooth feel. Basically you are layering a poly layer over a poly layer, so if the surface is clean the two should bind well. Same as painting over paint. Then again if your cabinets are so plastick-y with poly that Java just slides off, you may have to rough up the finish more.

Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Kitchen update:Expresso/Java stain over old oak

    Bookmark   March 16, 2008 at 7:18PM
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Since you have your own thread Celticmoon, I just wanted to thank you for your layout help on my kitchen. I mentioned you in my finished kitchen thread but it has so many posts you might have missed my thanks.

Thanks again! The kitchen would not have been the same without your help.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2008 at 3:09PM
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Celticmoon: Could you help w/ another question?
I'm not sure if you've mentioned this, but how are the cabinets holding up to dings and scratches?

Meaning, in this house, our pine floors are stained dark, like a very dark walnut. So every scratch or ding shows up very visibly, whereas we hardly noticed the scratches/dings on the light colored oak floors we had (in the other house). Then my friend mentioned that she could see all the scratches/dings on her new dark espresso kitchen table/matching chairs/stools.

So I was wondering how your cabinets are holding up. You didn't apply a protective coat (like polyurethane), correct?

W/ 2 young kids and a dog, my cabinets will take a beating. I'm FAR FAR from perfectionist; I just want to know what I'm getting into.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2008 at 10:06AM
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Huango I wiped 3 coats of clear poly after getting the color right. I did the refinishing a year and a half ago, and once since then I repaired a few chips that bugged me, not sure when I did that. Easy enough to do since I have the leftover products.

You got me inspecting with camera in hand to compile the the current wear and flaws. Not much. I have one gouge to fix from dragging something (deck furniture?) through the kitchen to the garage. Not a scratch but a gouge as it is into the wood.

Nearby at the high traffic corner of that island, there are three tiny dings or chips, two at my top finger and one at my bottom.

And elsewhere on doors there are 2 or 3 chips like this:

There are 62 doors & drawers, plus side panels at passages, bookcase, etc. The kitchen gets pretty hard use daily. No kids live here but they do visit, and we have a dog. We have parties. And I am clumsy. Yet that's pretty much it for damage and wear. Not bad at all and easily touched up.

The poly layers are essential for protection. Surely not as strong as a factory finish, but pretty darned good. I have no complaints on the durability.


    Bookmark   March 22, 2008 at 11:57AM
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Celtic, I have to say that your gel stained cabs and instructions have changed my life. Well, I'd still like to be thinner and smarter, but at least one small corner of my life is just better from knowing I can do this. I've finally started on my bathroom vanity and it's going to look great after a couple more coats. Your finished product and tips have kept me sane as I watched the point of no return happening.

I especially love the plastic bag for the phone (and the pre-stain pee).

Thanks for providing us with the direction and moral support we need to free us from orangey oak everywhere.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2008 at 3:13AM
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This stuff is amazing. Totally transformed my POS bathroom vanity (gleaming, sleek, moderne). Thank you, Celtic, thank you very much.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2008 at 5:52PM
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Hey Celticmoon!

I've been looking all over the web for a way to stain cabinets and I came across this page! I am SO impressed with the way they turned out, they are gorgeous!

I have some clients who have honey oak cabinets, and though they are fine, they could definantly look better! And the fact that they are on a pretty cost prohibitive budget, I would have to stain their cabinets to give them that updated sleek look that they deserve! I would love to stain them about the color that you did but I'm worried about proposing the idea to my clients without sounding crazy in doing this because it is such an unknown technique! I want to make sure I do it right.

I have a copy of the directions msrose posted above. What kind of paint did you use to paint your cabinets? Did you use an eggshell finish paint on them at first? And do you remember the exact red color that you used to paint them, or does it matter if I use one just simliar to it.

Also, above in the directions, I think it said something about the cabinets being almost an ORANGE color! Maybe it's just my computer, but it looks completely red to me.

Sorry for such an un-organized letter I'm in a little bit of a rush!

Thanks for your time

    Bookmark   September 11, 2008 at 5:12PM
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