gel stain on oak?

stevegaNovember 9, 2011

I am refinishing a set of 4 windsor chairs. The seat is pine boards and the rest is oak (is that common?). They are stripped and sanded to 180 grit. I would like to use a gel stain (General Finishes) on the seats to blend the uneven pine colors, minimize blotching and blend the color on the end grains on the front, back and sides. I am concerned that a gel stain will not get into the open pores of the oak and leave light looking pores.

In previous projects, water based dye was difficult to get into oak pores and oil based stains did better.

General Finishes does not have the same colors in both the gel stain and penetrating (Colonial Maple).

Any advice would be appreciated.

Thank you.

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Hopefully the experts will weigh in. Interesting problem with pine and oak on the same chair.

I used gel stain on my oak kitchen cabinets 5 years ago. It can be layered over an old (scuffed) finish and functions more like a paint. Goes on rather than into the wood surface. If you go very dark, multiple coats, you can pretty much cover/blend anything. But you'll lose the graining and depth of wood.

If you have stripped down to bare wood, stain may be a better starting point. You can always follow up with gel but not vice versa.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2011 at 1:12AM
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I asked the guy at the Woodcraft store and he said he had used gel stain on oak and it got into the pores. I bought General Finishes gel stain and it works great. Color is good and the grain is clear. You do have to use a "liberal" amount and rub it in with and across the grain. I used a rag. End grains only darkened slightly with a light application and quick wipe. Lighter areas of the pine did blend a little with a heavier application and longer stay time. I will try a second application to the light areas.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2011 at 12:57PM
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When using gel stain as a stain (instead of very heavy, paint-like application) I thinks it's better to brush it on and work it in to the pores. Then to even it out, a careful wiping with a cloth; it does help to have some stain on the cloth so it doesn't wipe everything off. With gel stain, speed is essential because it will set up really fast.

    Bookmark   November 11, 2011 at 5:27PM
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What great timing- Casey and celticmoon at the same time!! I am about to attempt celticmoon's technique of using General Finishes Java gel stain over a set of clear coated beech chairs to match an almost black almost completely opaque table. Gel is on order.

If celticmoon or others are able to clarify:
When I am scuffing the finish, I can then apply the espresso water based stain on first, as celticmoon described in the kitchen cabinet post? It seems so counter intuitive... is it just sitting on the surface of the old finish? And the idea is that it functions similarly to a paint?

and, celticmoon, if you are still reading this, you found that to get the wood really dark, you needed the espresso first, and the Java was not dark enough? What if the espresso is the right color? Could that potentially be used without applying the oil based gel on top, or is having an oil base needed for all the parts to "stick" correctly?

Sorry if this is long, and if I am hijacking the thread...

    Bookmark   November 13, 2011 at 8:58PM
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An update. In order to darken the areas of the pine seat that were lighter due to grain differences and flat surfaces rather than concave curves in the seat (having an end grain component), I got good results from sanding carefully with 150 grit (the rest was 180) and adding a second coat of stain to those areas. A second coat of stain without coarser sanding did not darken and blend those areas well.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2011 at 9:56AM
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Windsor chairs are often painted to hide the use of the different woods for the chair parts.
The woods are chosen for the application (seat, bending, turning for spindles, etc.) with little consideration to grain since the chairs are designed to be painted.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2011 at 10:29AM
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Just to point out that the last I checked, Java was an oil-based stain and Espresso was a water-borne stain. Using them alternately without sufficient cure time might cause problems. I think your question is, "Can I use a water-borne stain followed by an oil-based finish?" The answer is generally yes, given sufficient cure time. If in doubt, good cure time followed by a bonding coat of shellac is a good idea, as is running all the way trial and checking adhesion at the end.

You can extend the working time of oil-based gel stains by adding a tablespoon of mineral spirits per pint of stain. You can find retarders for water-borne stains but they are less likely commonly available. The one I use from my finish supplier is Propylene Glycol (not water, as you might expect).

I have used GF Espresso a few times and find it just lacking undertones, so I've pre-stained with a dark red dye before using it.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2011 at 11:53AM
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What you are doing here is using a gel stain like a glaze. This is a very common application of gel stains. Wipe or brush on / wipe or brush off. Not too heavy coats (not like a "paint") or you'll lose adhesion. But you can apply a clear coat of finish after the gel stain has thoroughly dried, then scuff sand and repeat again. You must / should follow with a clear coat to provide sufficient binding for the pigment in the glaze.

>I used gel stain on my oak kitchen cabinets 5 years ago. It can be layered over an old (scuffed) finish and functions more like a paint. Goes on rather than into the wood surface. If you go very dark, multiple coats, you can pretty much cover/blend anything. But you'll lose the graining and depth of wood.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2011 at 3:52PM
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Good point Brickeye. I probably should have said windsor type chair since they were originally stained a dark oak color and are less formal than the black painted ones. Mine are somewhat like those in the link below.
The seats are a full 2" thick and quite contoured. The Colonial maple gel stain is working well. The oak and pine resulted in the same color after staining.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2011 at 3:55PM
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Hi Pepp,

I will defer to bobsmyuncle on proper methods. I can only relay what worked for me on my kitchen rehab 5 years ago.

That said, I'll answer your questions, pepperidge. (Please the rest of you, turn away) The Espresso stain did 'take' to the scuffed surface and contribute some darkening. It is a blacker color than the GF Java whch has a more maroon undertone. But alone, I found it to be not dark enough for what I wanted - which was really dark. With the later Java gel coats, I did go thicker, but I did not have adhesion problems. I did let any coats dry overnight.

Here is espresso alone on the right

And here is after a coat of Java

and after two coats


    Bookmark   November 18, 2011 at 12:08AM
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If you stain it dark enough with a pigment stain the grain will be hidden and 'matching' is not as much of an issue.

At that point you have basically painted the wood.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2011 at 11:05AM
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I am ready to go, if only the stain would arrive at the store... and now the holidays..

I think I will test an underside of the chair first to see if I absolutely need the espresso.

I'll let you know if I successfully replicate your technique, celticmoon!! I've had those instructions saved for a few years now from your original post ;-)

    Bookmark   November 20, 2011 at 3:44PM
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The picture below is one of the chairs completed. I used the GF Gel Topcoat which comes only in satin gloss. The colors of the oak and pine are quite close and the grain of the pine is not hidden. Both the gel stain and topcoat work very well although the topcoat must be wiped carefully after application since it is not self leveling.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 12:56PM
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A little late, but finally got to completing the project.

I had clear stained ladderback chairs that I scuffed down and stained first with espresso water stain by GF x1 and then GF Java gel stain x2 . Finished with the GF urethane Gel Top coat x4.

I don't have a great photo, but I am so thrilled with the results. The chairs are smooth and dark and look like they were always that way.

Thanks for the advice.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2012 at 8:17PM
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I want to use gel stain on oak---the same General finishes Java Gel Stain. I have 3 questions:

1- Do I need to get all of the gloss off of the cabinets, or is it sufficient to just scuff them up?

2- to someone who has COMPLETED this project, how is it holding up? We are in the kid years and I want to do this in their bathroom and I don't want to worry about chipping

3- For the sock method, do you dip the sock into the can and then rub it into the wood?


    Bookmark   August 12, 2012 at 4:45PM
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Hope this helps! Cut and paste as well as the link to original post below

-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 Expresso stain (pretty thick, but not quite a
gel) This one may not even be a needed step if the Java gets it dark
-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, garagefor sanding/cleaning and basement for staining/sealing.
Use newpaper 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

Take off doors and drawer fronts. Use screw drill bits on an electric drill
if you don't have an electric srewdriver. 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 Expresso water based stain (1-2 coats) - optional
-General Finishes Java gel stain (couple coats)
-General Finishes Clear urethene gel topcoat in satin (couple coats)

But first put on work clothes, tie up your hair (Tom, you may skip this
step, LOL) 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
If the Java alone is to your liking, just skip the Expresso and return it.*
Open and stir up the Expresso 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 Expresso 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 can end up with a deeper tone at the end -
though it might seem like the second coat is just dissolving the first.

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 top coat. This will give you the strength you need in
a kitchen.

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

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

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. 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've just had a few nicks, easily

I added smashing hardware, raised my passthrough, 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: cosmetic update project/kitchen during/

Link to almost finished cabinet pix: cosmetic update project/finished bit by bit/?start=20

Good luck with your project!! Feel free to ask me any questions as you go.
And let me know if you try it and how it turns out.

Here is a link that might be useful: Celticmoon's old post with directions

    Bookmark   August 15, 2012 at 2:19PM
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I love gel stain on oak. Unlike other users, I paint my cabinets first and then gel stain over it as it hides the ugly grain pattern and pores. I can't afford new cabinets and the old ones are high quality - it has turned out to be my mantra "recycle and reuse." I have posted pics of my most recent project - my boys' bathroom. I have used many different gel stain colors and brands throughout my home; however the picture is General Finishes java gel stain that I "paint" on over the base coat and manipulate it while it is wet, unlike others I do not wipe off the stain.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2012 at 5:09PM
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Wow!! That looks so great, so updated and I love that your recycled it! Very helpful to know how the gel stain works. Beautiful job! What a difference!

    Bookmark   August 30, 2012 at 5:52PM
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shredbetty, could you please let us know the steps you took to complete your project--type/sheen of paint used, etc. Thank you.


This GF stuff makes me want to start a project!

    Bookmark   September 21, 2012 at 1:29AM
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