Gel Stain v. Paint

ella_socalJanuary 28, 2009

I have new factory finished (catalyzed conversion finish) maple cabinets with a light "caramel" stain throughout my house. I'd like to turn these into a dark espresso color. I cleaned and lightly sanded and applied General Finishes Gel Stain in Java. In order to get the color dark enough, I needed to apply 2-3 coats and then used GF Gel Stain Topcoat. While I love the resulting color, the cabinets look painted rather than stained. So, I'm wondering: is there any advantage to using the Gel Stain v. painting on these maple cabinets? Is one easier to apply? Does one have a more long lasting finish?

I also had the original cabinet manufacturer strip and re-stain a sample door and, while I haven't seen the results, they told me the door looks painted (no grain visible).

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Dark colors in pigment stains are about the same as paint.

Aniline dye is the most effective way to get dark colors and still have any wood grain showing, short of using faux graining.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2009 at 6:47PM
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Gel stain is closer to paint than it is to stain. Plus, by sanding lightly, you did not expose the bare wood---so any stain would simply sit on top of the finish---and act/look like paint.

On top of that, maple is so densely grained, oil based stains(which penetrate into wood fibers more than paint or gel stains) do not penetrate as deeply---which makes them look more like paint.

Basically, gel stains were developed for DIY use since most DIYers do not have the experience/equipment to use dyes/oil based stains easily or successfully.

I have no experience with gel based stains so I cannot say they will last as well as paint.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2009 at 10:06AM
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Water based aniline dye is actually very easy to use.

The penalty is raised grain, but you can eliminate some of that by wetting the surface ahead of time, applying a wash coat of 1 pound cut shellac, then lightly sanding the surface.
The shellac will mostly be removed, and what remains is so thin it does not interfere with the dye.
It also helps with woods prone to blotching (pine, cherry).

Cover the surface, allow to sit a few minutes (with so much there is liquid on the surface), then wipe off the excess.

Allow to dry.

You need to mix the color you want, since adding another coat will not appreciably make the wood darker.

I use a scale that can weigh in grains (1/7000 of a pound) to mix dye at known concentrations for testing.
Say 100 grains in a quart of water.
Test on a small piece of the project wood.
If it is not dark enough add a measured amount (say 50 grains more) more to the quart and try again.

When the color is correct, make as much as needed up. A little more than you think you will need is a good idea, but if you weigh carefully you can make another batch that will match.

It is the extra steps (wash coat of shellac, light sanding, etc) that the various stain products try to eliminate.

There are 'non-grain raising' aniline dyes available.
They use alcohol (or even oil) as the solvent instead of water.
They tend to dry so quickly getting an even coat is difficult outside of a factory using spray equipment.

Moser has a large assortment of water aniline dye available from a number of vendors.
There are both mixed ('cherry', 'golden oak', etc.) and raw colors (burnt umber, burnt sienna, etc.) available from the larger vendors.
There are even color wheels available to mix the 'standard' colors (like cheery or oak) from the base colors. You can tweak the mix to your liking.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2009 at 11:30AM
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But, dye has to be used on bare wood---not wood with a finish.

My comment about difficulty has to do with mixing and application to vertical surfaces---plus the blotching and alcohol splotching.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2009 at 2:38PM
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"My comment about difficulty has to do with mixing and application to vertical surfaces---plus the blotching and alcohol splotching."

NGR (non grain raising) alcohol dye have always been a nightmare and is really only suitable for spraying in a factory setting.

Just use the water based aniline.

Splotching only occurs on a few species of wood.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2009 at 3:58PM
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