Gel stain vs. Polyshades

sherry74January 23, 2010

My kitchen has ugly orange oak cabinets. Replacing them is not an option now but likely in 5 or 6 years. I just want something other than paint to give them an updated look. No sense sanding or priming as they are junky "builder grade" cabinets.

I tried Minwax gel stain in Mahogany and was very disappointed. I cleaned and lightly sanded and rubbed on and off the stain. Very minimal color change and nowhere near the color shown on the can.

Tried a thicker coat and it was mess. No way to get an even coat no matter how I applied it whether by natural bristle brush, foam brush or by rag. Just too streaky and some bubbles. I called Minwax customer service and they said I should try Polyshades.

So, should I try another brand of gel stain? I heard General Finishes is a good product but I have to travel almost 30 miles to get it. Or should I give Polyshades a chance?

Im not looking for perfection but I just can not stand those cabinets any longer. My husband just installed a beautiful new laminate floor and it really showed just how bad those cabinets are. Thanks for any suggestions or tips.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I would not recommend the Polyshades. It is really hard to control runs and drips and I would think that something thicker would be easier to work with.

Couldn't you order the General Finishes product online? Here's a link:

I'd like to try the same thing with an old oak vanity. Please keep us posted on what works for you.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 3:18PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Ditto. No comparison between the two. The Polyshades was sticky and dried tacky with a harsh gloss like this

The GF gel has a much nicer look, feel and finish.

And is way easier to work with. I would drive 100 miles to use GF gel over Polyshades.

Your kitchen situation sounds a lot like mine was.


I have posted a way long 'how to' a bunch of times here. Search engine isn't pulling it up, so with apologies for the repetition here's more than you need to know:

It is a very doable project. You just need time, $50 in supplies, and patience. No skill.

My cabinets were frameless, good condition and good layout. But the finish had gone orange and ugly, with the oak graining too busy for me. Cabinet were 18 years old, very poorly finished oak veneered slab doors. Plain with no crevices. They didn't even take the doors off to finish them!!! No stain or finish was even put on the hinge side edges. Bad workmanship.

I looked into changing out cabinets, but that was way too much money, since my layout was OK. 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 of 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 Forum "Evil Polyshades to the Rescue" which elicited a lot of conflicting "expert" opinions and arguments that one must strip to bare wood. (Thread may still be around as that Forum moves slowly.) Long ago when I was young and stupid I properly stripped acres of woodwork in an old Victorian. Never again! Jennifer-in-Clyde (in the same boat) and I stumbled around on that woodworking thread to get to this method.

-electric screwdriver or screw drill bits
-mineral spirits to clean the years of gunk off the cabinet
-miracle cloths (optional)
-fine sandpaper
-box-o-disposable gloves from Walgreens or the like
-old socks or rags for wiping on coats
-disposable small plastic bowls or plates, and plastic spoons or forks for stirring/dipping (optional)
-General Finishes water base Espresso stain (pretty thick, but not quite a gel) NOTE: This one may not even be a needed step if the Java gets it dark enough.
-General Finishes Java gel stain (poly based)
-General Finishes clear top coat (poly based)
-old sheets or plastic sheeting or newspaper

Rockler woodworking stores are a good place to find the General Finish products. Or some larger hardware stores. Quart of each was more than enough for my 60 doors and drawer fronts and goes for $12-14 at Rockler. There are smaller sizes if your project is small.

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. Use newspaper or plastic to protect the surface and floor. Figure out how you will prop doors to dry. Plan 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. The coats will need to dry for about 24 hours, so figure that each section of the kitchen will be doorless for 4 or 5 days. Divide the job up into manageable chunks.

Take off doors and drawer fronts. Try using screw drill bits on an electric drill if you don't have an electric screwdriver. Remove all the hardware. *Mark alike things so you know what goes back where.* Clean the doors thoroughly. Not with TSP but with something pretty strong and scrub well. There's years of grease there.
Sand LIGHTLY, just a scuffing really. Just enough to break the finish and give it some tooth, no more than a minute a door. A miracle cloth is good for getting most of the dust off. Then wipe well with mineral spirits to clean and get the last of the gunk off.

In order, we're gonna put on:
-General Finishes Espresso water based stain (1 coat) - optional
-General Finishes Java gel stain (couple coats)
-General Finishes Clear urethane gel topcoat in satin (couple coats)

But first put on work clothes, tie up your hair and pop your phone into a baggie nearby (you know it will ring). Glove up.
***First do a trial on the back of a door and check if Java coats alone suffice. If the Java alone is to your liking, just skip the Espresso and return it.

Open and stir up the Espresso stain, then spoon some into a plastic bowl. Close the tin so it doesn't get contaminated. Slide a sock over your hand, grab a gob of Espresso and smear it on. Wipe off the excess. Let it dry well - overnight is good. It will lighten as it dries, but then darken again with any other coat or sealer. A second coat might result in a deeper tone at the end - though it seemed like the second coat was just dissolving the first. YMMV.

Repeat with Java gel. This is thicker and poly based (*not water cleanup!*= messier). Color is a rich dark reddish brown. Wait for the second coat to judge if the color is deep enough for you. I wanted a very deep dark color, like melted dark chocolate. So I went pretty heavy on these layers. I did not sand between coats.
Repeat with clear gel topcoat. This will give you the strength you need in a kitchen.

Do the same process with the cabinet sides, face and toe kick area. Might need to divide that up also, and stagger the work: doors/cabinets/doors/etc.

NOTE: The cloth or socks used for the gels are very flammable! Collect and store them in a bucket of water as you go and then dispose of them all properly.

I suggest you put the doors back up after one clear coat, then you can check everything over and darken an area with more Java if needed, followed by a clear coat. When it all looks right, go over it all again with another clear gel coat. Or two. (See my follow up notes below). Install your hardware.
The feel of the finish should be wonderful, really smooth and satiny. Color deep and rich - way nicer than that faded, beat 80's oak color.

Definitely experiment first with the back of a door or drawer front to be sure it is the look you want. Yes, this takes a couple days to coat, dry, recoat, dry, etc but you may discover that the Java alone does the trick and this will save you a LOT of work. Front-end patience is worth it.

This is a pretty easy project to do. Hard to screw it up. The worst is the prep - relative to that, smearing on the coats is cake. I had over 60 pieces (big kitchen) AND island sides and book shelves, etc and I admit I lost steam partway through. Had to push myself through the last of it. But it was worth it. Folks think I got all new cabinets - it looks that good.

Now the finish will not be as durable as factory finish - go at it with a Brillo pad and you WILL abrade it. But it has held up pretty well. And after a year of pretty heavy use, I had just a few nicks, easily repaired.
(6/08 Add: I'm now (18 months later) seeing some wear near the pulls on the most used cabinets. Will add color with Java if it bugs me.)
(9/09 Add: Never did bother to touch up those couple spots. Bugging me a bit more, and I will get to it soon. It is the drinking glass cabinet and the snack cabinet, LOL. And the garbage pull-out. The rest still looks perfect. Lesson: Use an extra coat or 2 of gel on the way frequently used cabinets.)
(12/09 Add: I did finally touch up the spots that were worn. Used just Java to get the color right, then a bunch of top coats. Looks perfect again.)

I added smashing hardware, raised my pass-through, resurfaced the Corian (also simple but messy and tedious) and replaced the DW and sink. It looks gorgeous to me and I really enjoy the space - how it sits all quiet, clean and serene, then gets all crazy with the food and folks du jour. I couldn't be happier, especially that I didn't have to work another year just to pay for the update!!

Link to cabinets in progress:

Link to almost finished cabinet pix:

Good luck with your project!! And let me know if you try it and how it turns out.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 4:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Your cabinets are absolutely fabulous. Thats exactly what I would like to do. Thanks for the excellent instructions.

I showed your post to my husband and he was quick to point out the our cabinets have recessed panels and frames where the grain changes direction at the joints. He said that those areas would never look right and I would be fighting a losing battle. But he did love your cabinets.

Im still willing to give it another try. My only question is will the General Finishes product be that much different from the Minwax gel stain? It just seemed impossible to get an even coat with Minwax stuff, it just smeared all over the place and I had brush marks if I tried to even it out with a brush.

About the only thing I could do was put it very thick, almost like icing on a cake and that just didnt seem right so I cleaned it all off right away. Maybe I should have let it dry but I kind of panicked at that point. How did your cabinets look after the first coat?

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 5:15PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Lucky for you that we keep pictures for years in this digital age!

Here is after one coat. Note the uneven color splotches at the bottom.

Much more even color here after two coats. The darker you go, the less color variation is a problem.

Again, the GF gel stain is completely different from the Polyshades. It is thick and silky and creamy (like chocolate pudding almost) and wipes on beautifully.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 6:20PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm going to give the GF gel stain a try although my hubby already bought a can of Polyshades.

I really want to do this on my own, I feel like such a naggy b*tch. My husband put in a gorgeous floor and all I do is start complaining about the cabinets. He has always said that our cabinets are "builder grade" junk and the only option is to replace them when we can afford it.

He also said that you have quality cabinets that are worth the effort but ours are not. Its apples and oranges in his mind. I didnt want to go "soap opera" on this but I cant help but get emotional. Sorry.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 6:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I showed your post to my husband and he was quick to point out the our cabinets have recessed panels and frames where the grain changes direction at the joints. He said that those areas would never look right and I would be fighting a losing battle.

That would be the same whether you used Polydshades or gel stain.

1 - wipe the stain over the whole frame with circular strokes.
2 - Wipe off the short sections first, then the long ones, following the grain.

The END!

And the General Finishes is way easier to use then Minwax ... texture and drying time are better.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 9:26PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Sherry, breathe and center yourself.

Just tell DH he set the bar high with his beautiful floors and your friends here at GW are steering you straight. It would be tragic to do all this work with a less than ideal product.

Get the General Finishes stuff. It is better. No way your DH could have known that. I didn't - and did the same as he did, going with the Minwax. Just trying to save you both that step.

And if (like in my case) your cabinets come out so good replacing them 4 or 5 years later would be silly, check out St Cecilia granite as a counter. I opted to keep my 20 year old Corian but I gotta say that the St Cecilia looks great with the dark Java cabinets!

    Bookmark   January 23, 2010 at 9:41PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks for all the advice. I am going to buy the GF gel stain sometime this week and give it another try. Failure is not an option!

My husband is going to return the Polyshades after reading all the negative feedback on the web. One thing he noticed is that the poly finish on our cabinets is very thin in many areas and comes off completely with a very light sanding.

So now hes thinking it might be best to go ahead and sand down to bare wood and "do it right" although he is concerned that about the oak veneer panels in the middle or our doors not taking stain well.

I dont want a "grainy" wood look which is why I was drawn to the gel stain. I am sooo tired of oak. Its a great wood but everyone in this area has homes filled with oak and it is such a tired look in my mind.

After a little more loud discussion he is on board with the gel stain but is convinced that the best finish I can achieve is a "glazed look" because of the stain build-up in the recessed areas and the gel stain will never coat evenly.

Just a little background, our home has been a one big re-hab project since day one and my husband has done so much work on our home and everything he does turns out perfect but he can be a little rigid. If he cant do a project using the best materials and products, its not worth the effort.

I could gold plate our cabinets but he would still replace them when we can afford it because they are "junk". Anyways, I am determined to do this and I will start keeping a photo journal. Thanks again for the advice and, most of all, the inspiration!

    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 9:34AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Oh dear. Getting ALL the finish off down to bare wood is a messy and labor intensive nightmare. I am strongly urging you not to try that on "junk" cabinetry. We once spent months stripping acres of oak woodwork: split double staircase, builtin china and bookcases, 18 ft window seats, french doors & sidelights, shoulder high wainscoting, fireplace, etc etc. Don't be sucked in that your cabinet finish is very thin in many areas and comes off completely with a very light sanding . Yes, some will come off easy, but the problem is that you have to get ALL of it off to use stains designed for bare wood. Every teeny speck. And that means nasty chemicals.

Please. Don't go there. It just isn't worth the massive work and toxicity unless the cabinets are something special.

Residual intact old finish really isn't a problem. Just scuff it a bit. Gunk in crevices is a bigger challenge, and that is purely a preparation issue. The GF gel stain will likely work for you as long as 1) you get the surfaces clean and smooth, and 2) you are OK going very dark, e.g. 2-3 coats of Java.

I seriously doubt you will see color differences ("a glazed look") if yours end up as dark as mine.

After a drawer or door back, can you try a test door face first? From the mudroom or an island or desk? Even a trim piece? Something that could be painted -or removed/replaced - if the gel doesn't work out? It'd be good to have DH's concerns resolved.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 11:42AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"Residual intact old finish really isn't a problem."

It is an issue for anything except dark pigment stain that covers more or less like paint, obscuring any grain in the wood.

OK if that is the look you want, bad if you want something that actually looks like stained wood cabinets and not painted cabinets.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 11:47AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I have done several things with a mix of the Polyshades and Gelstain. I saw it on HGTV years ago. I can't remember what the mix was but you can probably look it up. It worked well for me. One caution though, is that you are more building up the coating like paint then like a true stain so you can get scratches in your finish.

good luck.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 1:08PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Exactly, brickeye.

I hope I am being clear that the gel fix works only with a very dark outcome goal.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 1:29PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

We're not planning to replace the cabinets ever.

I posted many pictures and details on a thread called 'general finishes gel stain update' I think. too tired to look it up. but here's a couple pics.



I used Brown Mahogany.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 4:49PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

My only question is do I apply the GF finish and just leave it on or do I wipe it off?

My husband spent just a few minutes sanding the back of one of cabinet doors today and then applied Minwax Mahogany gel stain and wiped it off.

I know I said that I don't like a "grainy" look but the result was much better than what I expected. The grain "popped" and I have to admit it does look much better.

This has been a can of worms, to say the least. Hubby had said that the only options are to strip and refinish or paint and glaze.

But now I have got him interested in gel stains and we are reaching a middle ground. I could see the gears turning in his head while he was working with the gel stain. Kind of like "this stuff has a use".

I wanted to do this on my own but I am relieved that he has taken an interest. He wants to please me and that's all it takes. A girl has to do what a girl has to do. Wink.

PS Go Vikes!

    Bookmark   January 24, 2010 at 7:08PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I finally got the General Finishes Java gel stain and there is no comparison to the Minwax stuff (theres a better word but I wont go there). The GF gel stain is so much better.

So far my husband has only done two samples. One was on a piece of scrap red oak and that was absolutely beautiful. He put it on with a foam brush and wiped it off about 5 minutes later. It looked like walnut.

Then he did a sample on some old red oak baseboard with a poly finish without any sanding or other preparation. It looked nice but more like paint. He wiped a portion of that off and it looked terrible. But it did dry quickly unlike the Minwax stain.

DH (Im getting the hang of this place) believes that just a little more sanding followed by a de-glosser could give us the look we want. He said that if we dont wipe it off, its just like paint and stain is not meant to be paint.

I really think we can pull this off. As my DH said, we know what we what it to look like and we (finally!) have the right product now its just a matter of developing the technique. If we have to sand to bare wood we will but my DH doesnt think that will be necessary if we use a de-glosser. Ill give everyone updated.

PS It was pretty dreary around here after the Vikings lost. And we had 3 cabinet doors drying in our basement and they all looked liked ___. Thanx, Minwax.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2010 at 6:56PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


PS I live in Frozen Tundra country and could have warned you about Favre. What an idiotic throw. Next comes will he or won't he play next year saga.

My favorite t-shirt in these parts sez: We'll never forget you, Brent.

Hee, hee.

(I was rooting for him though. Gotta love him despite how nuts he makes you.)

    Bookmark   January 26, 2010 at 8:41PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I just finished doing the back of one door. The gel stain was very easy to apply and I did not wipe it off. It's been a couple of hours and it's already pretty dry, just slightly tacky to the touch.

However, the color is black not the chocolate color of celticmoon's cabinets. I don't hate it, but it's not what I expected. Could General Finishes have changed the color since celticmoon did her cabinets?

I might have to try another color.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2010 at 2:04PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Sherry -
You have to wipe it off until it's the color you want, or it just looks painted.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2010 at 4:07PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Well, its been a long day of "experimenting" and I am ready to throw in the towel, or should I say rag, in this case.

The biggest problem is that my cabinets have recessed veneer panels in the middle and there is no way to wipe off the stain uniformly. It "puddles" at the transition between the recessed panel and the oak frame. This wouldnt be a problem with "slab" or "raised panel" cabinets so I dont want to discourage others from trying this method.

And just as my hubby predicted, the veneer panels do not take stain well, very blotchy even when sanded.

I could continue and use the gel stain as paint but why? Better to prime and paint rather than use a stain product as a paint. I could control the color so much better with a paint and the prep would be the same, if not less. I know paint, believe me.

Lesson learned. Three quarts of gel stain, one quart of Polyshades, 15 foam brushes, a half-dozen paint brushes, 2 bags of rags, tons of sandpaper, gloves, liquid sander, TSP, a quart of rub-on poly, two cans of mineral spirits and hours of aggravation.

I think we have all "been there", there just wasnt an easy solution to my kitchen cabinets but, at least, I tried. So its prime and paint just like my husband said, and I will just steel myself when the credit card bill comes in next month and he sees just how much money I wasted. I feel bad, as well.

Hes a good guy and I wont hear "I told you so" but I really wanted to contribute.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2010 at 7:14PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I am so sorry.

Maybe I am not reading you right, but were you trying to get there with one coat? Wipe off = too light, leave on = too dark. Did you try multiple coats with the excess wiped off?

I feel bad even asking that after all you have been through....

    Bookmark   January 27, 2010 at 9:00PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Celticmoon, don't feel bad for me. I was having a little pity-party for myself last night (with a couple of glasses of wine) and I'm over it now. I wish I could have deleted that post.

I have tried just about everything but a second coat which I will do today. Right now, I have one coat on the back of a door that I let sit for around ten minutes and then completely wiped off.

It has a "distressed" look (to match the look on my face). Its not a bad look, just not what I was after.

It would have worked out great if not for those recessed panels in the middle of my cabinet doors. I wish I could explain it better, but when wiping off the gel stain, it gets pushed into that seam. So I end up with a dark ring around that center panel if I try to wipe off any of the gel stain.

My doors are much like tntw' s doors shown in one of the posts above. So I know it can be done, it just requires a little more technique. I will practice some more today. Thank-you for all your help.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2010 at 7:52AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I wonder if with multiple coats of the gel stain, the difference will blend in.

I had veneer and recesses... although maybe this is a darker look than what you're going for:



Sorry my pics are so large. I need to learn how to resize!

    Bookmark   January 28, 2010 at 9:43AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Here's a picture of the back of one my cabinet doors after two coats of java gel stain that I wiped off after about 10 minutes.

Now a picture of the back of another door. This has one coat of gel stain wiped on and evened out with a foam brush. I only did the center of the door. You can see the orginal oak color on the frame although it's slightly darker from a previous experiment with Minwax cherrywood gel stain.

So the second door basically has the gel stain "painted" on in a pretty thin coat. The foam brush evened it out and sort of added a faux grain effect. The first door certainly has a "distressed" look and you can see the gel stain "gunked" in the corners.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2010 at 12:36PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

hmm. I used t-shirt type cloths when applying my gel stain. I did not wipe off after waiting a period of time. If it was too thick, I immediately swiped over it with the cloth. It's my understanding that gel stain doesn't really soak into the wood, so wiping it off after 10 minutes might not be the right technique.? I do think of the gel stain as more of a thin paint than a traditional stain. I wanted my grain to show through slightly, yet take away the striped effect that they had.

The second door certainly does look grey/black. Not to add yet another experiment to your project here, but I do recall the salesperson where I bought my gel stain (Rockler store) saying that some people apply the top coat first and then the gel stain, if the wood is too porous.

Just some thoughts. Good luck to you!

    Bookmark   January 28, 2010 at 1:33PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The second door has a thin and even coat of gel stain. It was dry to the touch in about six hours. So I'm pretty satisfied with that technique of applying the stain.

But its not a deep dark brown or a chocolate color, its black. I really wonder if General Finishes has gone darker with this stain. And, of course, my sample does not have a poly topcoat.

When I look at pictures of your cabinets and celticmoons cabinets, I see a deep rich brown and my second sample is black. And from what I understand, celticmoon went with two pretty thick coats and Ive only did one coat but maybe it was too thick.

So Im a little puzzled. I might try the mahogany color or a mix of the two.

PS That first cabinet gave my husband a good laugh.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2010 at 2:14PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

You are using java - not expresso, right? Because expresso is blacker.

I hope they haven't changed anything - I need to gel stain a furniture piece to match my cabs. Yikes!

    Bookmark   January 28, 2010 at 2:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

It's java. I guess I put it on too thick but as you can see in the picture, it's not opaque and some of the underlying oak color still shows through.

But even if I did go too thick, how could it be any darker than the actual stain color? Anybody that looked at that sample and was asked to describe the color would say black not dark brown.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2010 at 3:10PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm mystified. Still in the can, my java looks very very dark - but definitely BROWN not black. Does it look brown before you apply it?

(Sorry if I'm asking dumb questions here - just trying to figure this out!)

    Bookmark   January 28, 2010 at 3:36PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I guess it is more of a brown color but it is darker in my mind than I expected. I did a little searching on the web and the very dark "espresso" look for kitchen cabinets is kind of a rage.

Anyways, if my husband agrees, I'll start doing all my cabinets. There's 25 doors total and 12 drawers, so it's going to be a lot of work.

I'm sure he'll want to wait until I finish completely the back of my sample door with a topcoat so he can check the durability. But from what Ive read durability shouldnt be an issue and touch-ups are easy.

I do like that a little of the old oak finish shows through and I believe its a better look than paint even though I am applying like paint, more or less.

Going that dark is a risk but our kitchen is super bright with two south facing windows and a large bay window my husband put in a couple of years ago.

Ill use some stainless hardware which should create a very contemporary look. Best of all, my husband is excellent with tile and he has some nice Florida Tile "Brun" 18x18 tiles that a friend gave him. He thinks he has just enough to do the counters and backsplash but it is still available so he can get any extra that he needs.

I would prefer granite but that tile is gorgeous. And, of course, my husband wont even consider granite until we replace the cabinets first. But he could do the tile in a day or two and its just sitting there.

As celticmoon said this really only works when going very dark. I didnt want to go that dark but its really not that much of a difference. That was really my problem from the start, trying to get a lighter color. I still might try mixing the java with some mahogany.

I cant say enough thanks to everyone who helped me get started on this project. Especially celticmoon. Thank-you!

PS I think Ill leave the back of that first cabinet as is, it will be worth a good laugh in the future.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2010 at 5:17PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm a complete convert to gel stain (in its place) since about 1997. My new back door was sealed with shellac, then stained with Olympic "Merlot" (liquid) then sealed with shellac, then glazed with Java gel stain for an antiqued effect, then shellacked, then top-coated with gel varnish. Java is fantastic for deepening any other stain color; it's "instant age" for antique effects.


    Bookmark   January 28, 2010 at 8:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Wow. I just don't get it. I am mystified too. I wish I could come over and figure this out with strange that the color looks so bad in the first picture and so black in the second...

Only suggestion I have is to try a couple coats. I wore disposable plastic gloves and slid an old sock on one hand. Scooped out some gel and wiped a thin coat on, removing the excess - but not wiping off after. Way back in this thread I posted pix of how it looked after one coat - not at all an even color. And at that stage, darker at the crevices would be really obvious. But another coat makes a big difference. Even three coats wouldn't be a horror as it only takes a minute to smear on another coat. (I really liked the smearing part). And later the clear gel top coat also impacts the look and the feel, enriches the whole thing. A lot.

Thanks Projectsneverend for posting your pix... helps to see others have done this successfully.

Sherry, I so want this to work out for you...keep us posted. Maybe take a couple days, a couple coats, and see how it looks then after a topcoat?

    Bookmark   January 28, 2010 at 8:06PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Surprise (not), my husband doesnt like it.

According to him, it looks tacky and cheap and hes pretty much fed up with the whole thing at this point.

Im tempted to throw my can of gel stain at his stupid truck.

I gave him the lioness growl and he retreated to his man-cave downstairs. I suppose well deal with it in the morning. Thats never a good plan.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2010 at 8:33PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I didn't mean to be so negative. Theres a happy medium somewhere.

At least, it looks like me and my man will be sleeping in the same bed tonight. And is there anything better than angry sex? Sorry if this is too racy for garden web.

All I can say is that there is a can of gel stain in the middle of our street. I really wanted to bash that truck of his, but, in the end I just couldnt do it.

Ill get my new cabinets. I just have to gauge how psycho I need to go.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2010 at 9:24PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Sorry you're having a hard time, but before you disappear into the bedroom ;D , which brand of gel stain did you use tonight? And what exactly did you do to the door before applying the gel stain? I like the aged look of this door for DD2s house:

    Bookmark   January 28, 2010 at 9:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Super embarrassed! I am so sorry.

I know everyone thinks I am a "drama queen". And maybe I am, but I have to do what I have to do, if that makes any sense.

My husband is rehabbing this beautiful house but he treats the kitchen like an afterthought. He says, Ill get to it, blah blah

I had to "jump start" it and I succeeded. Not that I didnt think celticmoons cabinet makeover would work, I really wanted that to succeed. I was so sure that would work for me. I wanted so very bad to stand back and look at my cabinets and say I did that.

But it didnt, so I went to plan B and it worked. It was a long and very satisfying night and I will get my new cabinets.

Do I feel guilty? Just a little and I am sorry I wasted all this good information from gardenweb members. I really thought it would work but I should have known that my husband would never agree with this kind of "quick fix".

Im not going to beat myself up over this, I had good intentions. Even as I write this I feel guilty, I wanted new cabinets and I will get them.

I just feel dirty.

    Bookmark   January 29, 2010 at 7:41PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I really want to do this in my kitchen. I painted the cabinets (pine) from the beige stain that they had before to a darker brown, but it was not the look I wanted (looks too much like mud for my taste - not sure how to add a picture yet).

I tried to stain the pine before - used paint stripper and sanded for days - but found that it didn't work on the veneer siding on the island and sides of the cabinets and so opted to paint.

Does the gel stain work on the veneer siding or only on the actual wood surfaces? If it does, I'd love to give my cabinets another go to get the color I really want.

Thank so much!

    Bookmark   March 3, 2010 at 7:00PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

This is an excellent thread (bookmarked) -- so thank you!

My kitchen has the same Red Oak type cabinets (see my thread here) and we're trying to go dark with them (GF Gel Java). I pretty much followed the instructions in this thread and the results were very good. In fact I got much better sample results than a local contractor who was bidding for the job.

I have one question though. I've put on two coats of the GF Gel Java and it seems that the finish has some streaks to it. It appears that the wood takes more stain in some areas over others and this gives it a slightly uneven finish (when viewed closely). I guess staining is more of an art than a "procedure" ... so any tips on getting an even coat?

Here are some pics. The darker half has been stained by me (no top coat yet)... 2 coats of Java. The other half is what the contractor gave us (horrible job, terrible color and glossy finish!).

    Bookmark   March 8, 2010 at 1:03AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Celtic Moon, your posts have been an inspiration to all. Kitchen looks great. I just purchase a 4 bedroom fixer and the hoot is my significant other has abadoned me and the house. Any way I have the same dilemia with the old orange cabinets and cannot afford to replace them as I have a whole house to do, including a full basement. The house will kill me a fear :) but it was my dream to have a home and dammit I will.....a beautiful one some day! I have been looking at the stains online and I have been considering the black cherry as opposed to the Java...Anyone have any thoughts? I love the look of a dark rich cherry color. The Java is more brown correct?

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 12:41PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Here are some pics...I'm torn because my floor has some brown in it. opps how do I add a picture?

    Bookmark   March 30, 2010 at 1:19PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

We just bought all the GF stain Celticmoon recommended from Rockler online. It should get here in a week. My husband and I are going to attempt to stain all the cabinets and frame. Honestly though after reading this I'm a little nervous.

How do you add photos?

    Bookmark   April 5, 2012 at 11:59AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Here is a summary:

If you have ugly cabinets and want a stained look rather than paint use General Finishes gel stain. If you paint it on it looks like paint. If you apply and rub off it looks like stained wood but it will be a little more opaque because it mainly lays on top--but it evens out grain, imperfections, etc so is ideal for old cabinets. It is a top coat in of itself but not sturdy enough for cabinets so at least one coat of poly is needed as a final coat.
Minwax polyshades has much less pigmentation so the change is much subtler so IMO works well only if recoating cabinets whose color you like but are older and need the colored poly to cover age...also works well on old dinged trim. It could possibly be used to disguise yellowing.
The way to get stain even in the corners of recessed panels is to cover the blade of a putty knife in a rag and pull excess out of the corner.

    Bookmark   December 6, 2014 at 11:22AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


    Bookmark   December 6, 2014 at 11:25AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I have read and re-read this post a thousand times. And just like Sherry74, I have spent well over $100 dollars on several stains, GF, Minwax Polyshades, Old Masters, Minwax Express, and even Varathane Stain+Poly. I have been practicing on a scrap cabinet sectioned off into small squares by blue tape, and for the past two months my fingers have been permanently stained brown. My goal has never been dark cabinets, but rather a rich medium brown (think warm walnut) that still allows the wood to show through. I have tried everything with the gel stain, quick wipe on - wipe off, longer wait time followed by wipe off, no wipe off, all applied in every way conceivable; sock, foam brush, and a good quality paint brush. Everything ended up looking about like Sherry74's cabinets. Then I tried building up layers of Polyshades, that went on so translucently that by the time I got to the color I wanted, there was sticky residue in every corner. However, enough experimenting to rival a woodshop, I think I have finally found the magic combination.
* First a good cleaning with a green scrubbing pad and cleaner.
* Then a very light sanding just to scuff the surface.
* Next two lightly brushed on coats of brown paint mixed 1 part paint to 4 parts Valspar Clear Mixing Glaze. This tones down the grain and seals the dryest parts while staying translucent. (I used Valspar paint in Pumpernickel.) There is a great blog out there by Jenny on her blog Anything Pretty (linked at the bottom?)
* Then one lightly brushed on coat of a 1:2mix of GF Walnut gel stain and Polyshades in Honey Satin.
* Finally, when completely dry, one to two coats of GF Wipeon Clear Gel Coat.
This method allowed all the working time of regular stain, without all the sanding. I am ready to start in my master bathroom. I will post pictures when I get done.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2015 at 3:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Alison Empey

dgillam1: that's the colour I've been aiming for too...does the finish look like it has "too much varathane" on it or does it look smooth...can't tell from your pictures. I used polyshades on our boy's bathroom cabinet last summer and I really like it, but it took 6 coats and it's obviously built up the finish thickness...although a professional painter told me he couldn't have done a better job. But for the kitchen I don't want it to have that built up finish look. I really like the look of 2 painted on coats of GF gel paint, but its sooooo dark chocolate colour (brown mahogany gel stain), but we really just want a medium colour as our kitchen can be dark...(and DH is scared of drastic change I might add).

    Bookmark   February 19, 2015 at 1:24PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Have you looked at the lighter gel stain, for example, nutmeg or candlelight?

    Bookmark   February 19, 2015 at 3:52PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Alison, The picture above is before the final two coats of clear General Finishes poly and was slightly shinier than I wanted. But after the satin poly, I was happy with the finish, very similar in shine to the builder cabinets and less shiny than before the final poly coat shown in the pic.

I read that the nutmeg and candlelight both have more red in them than I am going for. I like the walnut color because it cuts the orange, especially when applied over the tinted glaze. I loved the extended work time and "brushability" achieved by mixing it with the polyshades. Still translucent, but so much deeper in color than regular Polyshades so only one coat was required to achieve the perfect brown for me.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2015 at 7:51AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Alison Empey

thanks so much for the details.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2015 at 8:51AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
What size are trash pullouts?
I have had three different KDs suggest three diff size...
Help with galley kitchen layout ... please.
Hi everyone! I am hoping you can help me with my layout...
Kitchen design assistance - Small kitchen
I have a 12x13 foot kitchen with way too many entry...
Specific stacked upper cab questions
I'm looking for input as I get closer to finalizing...
What Is The Real Question Being Asked To 'What is Timeless'
I see this question so often on this forum, and I wish...
Sponsored Products
Off-White Drum Twist Floor Lamp
Lamps Plus
VIGO Sheer Black Glass Vessel Sink and Blackstonian Faucet Set in Chrome
Modern Bathroom
Tropic Stripe 48-inch Indoor/ Outdoor Corded Bench Cushion
Conrad Table Lamp
$163.00 | Bellacor
Montana Woodworks Glacier Country Bar with Foot Rail
Beyond Stores
Area Rug: Constellation Rain 2' x 3' 4"
$23.00 | Home Depot
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™