Celticmoon, are you out there? Gel stain question (OT)

nomorebluekitchenJune 8, 2008

I hope it is okay to post this here!

Celticmoon, I saw your threads earlier about gel stain on your cabinets, and may I say I was awed and inspired! I rushed right out to get gel stain to refinish these yellow birch cabinets I have.

My first attempt was extremely blotchy. I thought maybe this was because there is very little finish on these cabs, so I put a quick coat of spray poly on and tried again. This version is much better but still not smooth enough. I wondered if you'd take a look and give me some advice?

Here is my photo:

Thanks, Anita

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I'm not celticmoon, but I did do my cabs with gel stain, too.

Are you using general finishes brand? I found a HUGE difference between valspar (for example) and gf.

It almost looks like it's absorbing too much. I was chatting with the salesman when I bought my gel stain and remember him saying on certain woods, it's helpful to apply the topcoat FIRST, then, while it's still wet, apply the stain. Backwards, but he said it goes on just beautifully and doesn't end up so splotchy. So maybe that would be something for you to try!

good luck!

    Bookmark   June 8, 2008 at 10:09PM
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btw - I should add that celticmoon awed and inspired me, too! This site is so helpful.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2008 at 10:16PM
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I agree with Projectsneverend that the type of product makes a difference. I favor General Finishes. Much better than say Minwax Polyshades.

Good point on the absorption too. The gels (not the pure stain but the color/top coat combo gels) sit on the surface. They are kinda transluscent. So both a difference in the surface finish integrity AND the thickness of the coat can make it blotchier. Not sure which is happening for you.

The darker the end goal color, the less this matters. If you are planning to go pretty dark as a final color, no worries. Just layer on another coat or two and it will likely even out.

If you are trying for a mid tone, then you may have to experiment a bit. The store guy spoke to making the surface consistant by sealing it first with a clear coat. That makes sense. Then you will have to come up with a 'wipe on, wipe off' application method that leaves an even coat. The hard part will be moving toward the end color you want but not overshooting it. (What I did was likely easier because I went so very dark - I couldn't overshoot it)

The picture looks like you might be applying bits of gel in small areas. Maybe try taking a good gob of the stuff on your (plastic gloved and socked) hand and smear it end to end, then wipe end to end. Generous gobs. Big strokes. See if that works better for you. Come back and update.

HTH. And if you haven't found it here, I can email you a detailed step by step.

Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: pix of my project

    Bookmark   June 9, 2008 at 1:48PM
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I'm tellin' ya folks, it is MUCH tougher to get good results with a gel than a real stain or danish oil.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2008 at 3:01PM
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Absolutely, Oruboris.

Problem though, is that you need bare wood for staining or oiling. And with existing cabinets, that means stripping - a Herculean task I would never recommend. (Been there, done that.)

Like painting, overcoating with gel can be a good cosmetic fix - so long as the surface is well prepared and you are going dark enough.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2008 at 5:20PM
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I think I got pretty decent results...
see linky... (please excuse my 'jel' stain error!)

Not that my pictures really do justice. I think it looks better in person. Celticmoon- your kitchen is beautiful. Sorry to hijack.

Good luck nomoreblue! Come back and post pics!

Here is a link that might be useful: My kitchen revamp

    Bookmark   June 10, 2008 at 12:05AM
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Celticmoon! I'd LOVE your detailed instructions to stain my cabinets - including the brand & color!!! It's just what I want.I've been putting off doing my cabinets for 2 years because I couldn't figure out the best/easiest/most economical way to do so. I've tried overstaining/glazing on my matching laundry room cabs & they look terrible! I had almost given up & thought to paint. Please HELP. Although I joined this forum a year ago, I've never posted. How can you e-mail to me?

    Bookmark   June 19, 2008 at 8:08PM
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Csquared, I got an email I think was from you, but it said I couldn't answer because your email is private. Ditto when I tried to email through your name here.

With apologies for the length of this, I'm just gonna paste the whole bit here for you.

You are welcome to this writeup I did a while back. A couple people tried
it and reported all went well. You just need time, maybe $50 in supplies, and
patience. No skill.

Here's more than you need to know:

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 didn't even take the doors off to finish them!!! No stain
or finish on the hinge side edges.
Cheezey, huh?

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 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 Furum "Evil Polyshades to the Rescue" which elicited a lot
of conflicting "expert" opinions and arguments that one must strip to bare
(Thread may still be around as that Forum moves slow.) I properly stripped
acres of woodwork in an old Victorian when I was young and stupid. Never
again! Jennifer-in-clyde (in the same boat) and I stumbled around on
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 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:

Link to almost finished cabinet pix:

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.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2008 at 1:59PM
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Nice write-up, Celticmoon. I'm clipping and saving this stuff. Good job!


    Bookmark   June 21, 2008 at 5:26PM
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Lena M

Thank you for the inspiration(s)!


    Bookmark   October 25, 2008 at 2:56PM
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LOVE the kitchen! I have oak throughout my house, built in '84 and might go gel stain crazy. Thank you for posting the steps. By the way, Celticmoon, did you have to have someone raise your cabinets or is there another "step by step process" for that?

    Bookmark   September 20, 2011 at 6:35PM
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this POST is timeless! I am getting ready to refinish two pieces that I want to be dark mahogany-like finish. And this thread referred on another thread led me to read all this information.

I will try this method, or close to it to make my life easier and the project of unifying my finishes more unified.

Thank you so much celticmoon, for sharing your process and inspiring those who want to upgrade a common or outdated look on pieces in our home!

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 9:51AM
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You are welcome, mary ruth. Finish is still holding up pretty well. I think I have done touchups twice in the last 5 years.

BTW a friend had several dressers painted dark red, and she went over that with Java. That resulted in a very mahogany-like look.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2012 at 3:40PM
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