Topcoat for Gel Stain and/or Glazed Cabinets
Sorry, this is so long! If you want the abridged version, skip/skim the BACKGROUND and go directly to my QUESTIONS (about halfway down):
BACKGROUND: We have builder grade grainy oak cabinets (natural finish) in our 4 year old house. DH sees nothing wrong with the cabinets...but we got granite countertops (caledonia - it's a grey/brown/black neutral coloring) a couple years ago, and the oak cabinets distract, rather than complement the granite.
I started researching options a couple months ago, and 4 days ago found celticmoon's gel staining directions. I was inspiried!
Talked DH into going with me to Woodcraft that very day to pick up the gel stain...he was skeptical, but chimed in his color preference of a dark cherry color (general finishes georgian cherry), and asked me to try the finish first on our oak cabinets in our bathroom.
First trial - master bath cabinets:
The guy at woodcraft said I didn't need a water-based wood stain (mistake)...so I ended up having to put 5 of the gel stain to cover the grain and make it look even!
To be honest, the cabinets looked pretty bad at the 3rd coat, but for the 4th/5th I really rubbed the stain in, and it started to look a lot better.
Second trial - kids bathroom cabinets:
Because I was nervous that the gel stain wasn't going to work, I ended up finding someone on gardenweb who linked to a glaze/paint technique (with Valspar Glazing medium) and I tried this on the kids bathroom...which was easy and quick because it was water-based, but my husband did not like it at all (fine for the kids bathroom, but not for the kitchen project).
third trial - laundry room cabinets:
I went back and got the water-based wood stain (rosewood), and have applied that to the last set of oak cabinets we have (in the laundry room)! I'll put the georgian cherry gel stain over that. The guy at Woodcraft actually pulled out a oak wood sample and tried out 4 different stain/gel combinations for us...and my husband liked the rosewood/georgian cherry the best. Best of all, now my husband is talking about how good the granite is going to look once we darken/change the color of the cabinets in the kitchen (he's finally come over to the dark side!)
HERE ARE MY QUESTIONS...
I'm ready to put a topcoat/clear finish over the master bathroom cabinets (that has oil based gel stain only) and the kid's bathroom cabinet(that has water based paint/glaze), and eventually the laundry room cabinets that have the water-based wood stain and oil based gel stain.
The guy at Woodcraft seems to think that I can use the general finishes gel topcoat (urethane) over the stained pieces and the painted pieces. Is this true??
I called general finishes 800# yesterday to double check. The woman who answered seemed to think that mixing water-based and oil-based gel-stain was an extremely time consuming process...and that they had other products that would be much quicker...but once I told her I was pretty much set doing the water-based wood stain followed by the gel stain, she offered her recommendation for a topcoat which was not the gf gel topcoat. Instead she recommended GF high performance polyurethane top coat (water based) OR GF Arm-R-Seal Urethane Topcoat (oil based).
I'm so confused! Many people on gardenweb had luck with the gel topcoat. I want something durable (we have kids), waterproof (especially for bathroom) but easy to use as I'm a newbie at wood refinishing, and my husband doesn't want to see brush strokes!
I lost a few hours of sleep researching this in the middle of the night, and I still have no clear answers, only more questions. Such as, some topcoats crack/yellow over time, some look plastic-y, or sometimes give a bland/washed out look over dark stain colors (which I am using).
Someone on gardenweb suggested Vermont Natural Coatings Poly Whey as the "best" topcoat.
I'm also reading a lot on using sanding sealer, because it gives more "depth" to the finished piece. I believe that you sand, stain (water based wood stain), sanding sealer, sand lightly, gel stain, topcoat (to be determined).