Gel Stain Uneven on First Coat: HELP!

dkrathbunApril 23, 2009

I am nearing the end of my first woodworking project: a bookcase for an inconspicuous location in the house. It is made of red oak plywood with solid red oak face framing, crown molding, and legs.

Today I appllied a coat of Bartley's (sp?) gel stain, wiping off as instructed, but because some of the parts of the cabinet were harder to reach when wiping, the finish is somewhat uneven: much too dark in spots. The finish looks more like paint than stain in a few corners.

How do I recover?

I was thinking I could apply a second coat and hope for a better result. I could also sand or buff using 000 steel wool to try to remove excess gel stain where it has accumulated.

Finally, since the gel stain is soluble in mineral spirits, I could wipe the whole thing down with a rag soaked in mineral spirits (just like I did after sanding).

In any case, my goal (I think) is to remove some of the thicker blotches of stain without removing it all.

I was just gaining confidence using my woodoworking tools when I ran into this whole other skill area. I am now slightly panicked. Please help.


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Try the thinner first.

If that is insufficient, try scraping with a single edged razor blade. Third, the sanding.

Woodworking is actually just a third of a project. Design is first, construction is second and finishing is third.

The most important phase is finishing. Proper finishing can make an average project look above average---and bad finishing will make a good project look very bad.

IMHO, gel stains are useless for most woodworking finishes. Factory finishes are generally a multi-step process----I know of no easy finishing procedures.

Getting comfortable with the actual building is necessary----but learning how to finish is even more important.

Get a book on finishing. There are several. I have Bob Flexners book, Understanding Wood Finishing.

I have been woodworking for several years and am just now beginning to understand there are much better finishes/staining than oil based stains and polyurethane.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 11:18AM
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Get the mineral spirits (preferrably low odor) and some lint free rags like bed sheets. Start with lots of solvent on the rags and go to town on the dark areas. The sooner the better before thie finish cures completely. Scrub like you are cleaning the oven. Get that extra finish off the surface. If it has penetrated completely into the wood, you probably need to do another coat of stain on the entire project, just apply it more sparingly and wipe it off the surface promptly. The dwelling time for products is highly dependent on temperature. Warm temps cause it to dry on the surface quickly so care must be taken when applying.

I used to stain and lacquer furniture at a shop in Tucson, AZ. During the summer I would stain in the morning when temps are cool and spray lacquer in the afternoon. We would add thinner to the products to help increase the work time. After staining, I would wipe with a solvent dampened rag rather than a dry rag if the surface became sticky or blotchy.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 12:54PM
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Once the binder (varnish, usually) has cured, it is insoluble in mineral spirits. Well, technically, it was never soluble in mineral spirits, it was only thinned with it.

Adding a tablespoon of mineral spirits to the gel stain before using will increase the working time.

The other thing was to leave the back off until the staining and finishing is complete. That way, you have no three-sided concave corners, and you can see better.

Now, I would probably try some Scotch-brite pads lubricated with mineral spirits and try to buff off the excess. The fall-back scenario is to get a can of paint stripper and hit the reset button.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 11:09PM
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The problem may have been your prep. Gel stain should not be applied directly to raw wood as a general rule. A conditioner or filler would have helped give you an even finish. Porous woods like Oak , be it red or white, benefit from a filler to even the surface prior to staining.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2009 at 5:44PM
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While this may work for you, this sure is not my experience nor in anything I've ever read.

Blotching is generally not a problem with oak. Gel stains, by their design are thick enough so that they don't penetrate much, making a conditioner superfluous.

Fillers are more of a style issue than requirement. If you want a glass smooth finish (generally more formal pieces), you fill. If you want to see the texture of the wood and its grain, you don't.

>The problem may have been your prep. Gel stain should not be applied directly to raw wood as a general rule. A conditioner or filler would have helped give you an even finish. Porous woods like Oak , be it red or white, benefit from a filler to even the surface prior to staining

Here is a link that might be useful: Conditioners and Gel Stains

    Bookmark   April 24, 2009 at 6:57PM
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An effective way to seal wood for even gel-stain application is to use the lightest available color of gel stain as a first coat. There is a General Finishes color I use called "new pine" that is very neutral, but seals the wood. The color coats of gel stain will then go on like a toning glaze, all on the surface.
Oak plywood sure can blotch, esp. if it has water spots! (mainly from flop-sweat in my case!)

    Bookmark   April 25, 2009 at 7:35PM
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