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Topcoat for Gel Stain and/or Glazed Cabinets

Posted by casa_amore (My Page) on
Thu, Aug 18, 11 at 11:46

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).

Thanks!
Diane


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Topcoat for Gel Stain and/or Glazed Cabinets

I was going to give you my unprofessional opinion but decided to call dh & get his professional opinion. He said putting oil base finish over your water base paint & glaze would not be a good idea. It might lift the glaze and would also yellow over time.

I wouldn't recommend the General Finishes gel topcoat either. I did the same as you and experimented with the bathroom cabinets before tackling the kitchen. Dh, who doesn't sell General Finishes, told me that any polyurethane would work, but I was so convinced that I had to put a gel finish coat over the gel stain that I bought a can, even though we had plenty of other stuff here I could have used.

It looked fine, but I did get a couple of nicks in the cabinets which took off the finish, all the way through the stain. So I did a test with an old drawer I had, stained the whole front with the gel stain, let it cure, and then divided it into 3 sections. I put three coats of the gel topcoat on one section, and 3 coats of spar varnish on one section. In the middle, I put 3 coats of gel topcoat and 3 coats of the spar varnish, so 6 coats there.

I waited a week for it to get good and hard and then got out a knife and scratched all the sections. The section with gel only went down to the wood. The sections with spar on top scratched, but the scratches didn't penetrate down to the gel coat and were easily fixed.

If you want to see what I did, it's here with pictures.

btw, my kitchen cabinets took the stain totally different than the bathroom, probably because there is more light, more UV rays changing the original color.


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RE: Topcoat for Gel Stain and/or Glazed Cabinets

I think their high performance and Arm-R-Seal is supposed to be stronger than the gel... I could be wrong but I think I remember hearing that.

The Arm-R-Seal gets wiped on. It's fine for water and oil-based stains but not sure about paints... I'd avoid unless someone with experience speaks up. Arm-R-Seal Tech Data

The water based high performance poly should be better for paints, and the explicitly list it as okay. It's brush on so (in my opinion) not as easy to work with but apply several thin coats with a foam brush will probably work best. High Performance Tech Data

And stir the cans - don't shake 'em.


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RE: Topcoat for Gel Stain and/or Glazed Cabinets

marti8a,

Thanks so much for checking on that with your expert DH! So, to clarify your test of the 3 topcoat options (gel topcoat, gel+spar varnish, spar varnish only), you prefer the spar varnish only...or the 3 coats of gel topcoat + 3 coats of spar varnish? If possible, I'd like to avoid 6 coats of topcoat!

How easy is the spar varnish to apply? Do you have to work quickly, and are there brush strokes or is it self leveling?

What brand of spar varnish did you use? Is spar varnish oil based?

What does your DH recommend for the painted/glazed cabinets that I did in the kids bathroom?

Please provide specific brand names if possible...I just want to know what to get or else I'm sure that the people in the store will steer me towards something totally different! I love that you gave a one year update and that your cabinets held up. As mentioned, we have children...'nough said!

Marc12345, thanks for your input! The woman at GF did mention the Arm-R-Seal, but then she mentioned the other products (and that she used the water-based high performance polyurethane top coat on her own kitchen counters with success). Because I'm so nervous that this comes out right, I think I'm leaning towards the spar varnish...yes I heard about stirring, not shaking the topcoat!

:-)
Diane


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RE: Topcoat for Gel Stain and/or Glazed Cabinets

You may want to go with the Arm R Seal on your gel stain.

I used Olympic Spar Varnish (which is an oil-based urethane) because it was a) already here and b) I thought it might not yellow as much. I keep forgetting to put that it's a urethane and not real spar varnish; I need to go back and change that. Honest to goodness spar varnish, the kind used on boats isn't a good choice because it has more oil in it and stays softer. That may be why the General Finishes gel topcoat was softer, maybe it has more oil in it.

Dh says urethane & polyurethane are basically the same thing, but urethanes generally aren't as yellow to start with.

6 coats weren't necessary, I just did that to see if it made any difference with the scratch test, because I had already put the gel finish on my cabinets, and wanted to know if putting spar on top of the gel finish was as good as spar varnish alone. And it was the same. So if I do it again, I'd just do 3 coats. Actually, in the kitchen, I'd probably do more coats on the lower cabinets, especially on the sink cabinet.

It was easy to apply, and I put it on with a rag because I wanted that hand-rubbed look and didn't want to risk runs or bubbles. I put on a fairly thin coat, so it just looked wet. You can always thin it with mineral spirits too. I didn't have to work fast, but I also did it in the spring so I didn't have to deal with any temperature extremes. If I had to do it out in a hot garage today, I think I'd have problems with the drying time.

As far as self leveling, I don't know since I wiped it on the way I did. It didn't show any marks from the rag at all.

I can't get dh on the phone right now, but when I asked before, he said to use a waterborne finish. He said it kind of depends on what you used on it, and I hadn't given him all the details. So I'll ask him again when he calls back. You used a latex gloss paint with Valspar Glazing Medium (was that water-based too?)?

Hope this helps and didn't confuse you more.


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Dh just called back

He said any waterborne urethane/polyurethane will work. He also said, depending on how thick your glaze is, you might not want to work the finish too much because glazes don't get really hard - kind of like the gel stain. The thicker the glaze is applied, the softer it will be when dried. So you might want to brush the finish on quickly before it has a chance to soften the glaze, with not too much brushing back and forth.


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RE: Topcoat for Gel Stain and/or Glazed Cabinets

Hi marti8a,

Thanks again for checking on this! So, let me make sure I have this straight, because of the two cabinet finishes we are talking about:

For the gel stained (oil based) bathroom cabinets:
I should go with 3 coats of GF Arm R Seal Urethane Topcoat(oil based)...and I sand lightly in between coats.

For the painted/glazed (water based) kids bathroom cabinets:
The GF High Performance Polyurethane Water Based Top Coat would be ok...go with 3 coats, and sand lightly in between.

And, moving ahead to the "big" project on the kitchen cabinets, let me run by the steps that I'm planning on taking:
1) Sand cabinets with 120 grit to get existing finish off.
2) Apply GF Wood Stain (water based). Wait 2 days.*
3) Apply GF Gel Stain (oil based). Wait 3 days.
4. Apply GF Arm R Seal Urethane Topcoat. Wait 1 day. Sand lightly.
5. Repeat step 4 until 3 coat of topcoat have been applied.

*after step 2 is complete, do I need to apply a sanding sealer or the gel varnish to the stained wood, then sand lightly BEFORE the gel stain? I'm only asking because some of the research I did was on serious woodworker forums, and they are finishing fine furniture...and it seemed to be a step they took, but I could have misunderstood.

Finally, one more question: We had to get 1/4" oak plywood boards for the sides of the cabinets that currently have a veneer. This is unfinished wood (unlike the cabinet fronts). Do I need to take any special steps on these pieces to ensure that they will end up looking like the front pieces (i.e. sanding sealer or condition the wood to avoid grain raising)? If it sounds like I know what I'm talking about, I really don't, lol! I really need guidance from someone who can just tell me the steps to take!

Thanks!
Diane


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RE: Topcoat for Gel Stain and/or Glazed Cabinets

Hi marti8a,

Thanks again for checking on this! So, let me make sure I have this straight, because of the two cabinet finishes we are talking about:

For the gel stained (oil based) bathroom cabinets:
I should go with 3 coats of GF Arm R Seal Urethane Topcoat(oil based)...and I sand lightly in between coats.

For the painted/glazed (water based) kids bathroom cabinets:
The GF High Performance Polyurethane Water Based Top Coat would be ok...go with 3 coats, and sand lightly in between.

And, moving ahead to the "big" project on the kitchen cabinets, let me run by the steps that I'm planning on taking:
1) Sand cabinets with 120 grit to get existing finish off.
2) Apply GF Wood Stain (water based). Wait 2 days.*
3) Apply GF Gel Stain (oil based). Wait 3 days.
4) Apply GF Arm R Seal Urethane Topcoat. Wait 1 day. Sand lightly with sanding sponge in fine grit.
5) Repeat step 4 until 3 coat of topcoat have been applied.

*after step 2 is complete, do I need to apply a sanding sealer or the gel varnish to the stained wood, then sand lightly BEFORE the gel stain? I'm only asking because some of the research I did was on serious woodworker forums, and they are finishing fine furniture...and it seemed to be a step they took, but I could have misunderstood.

Finally, one more question: We had to get 1/4" oak plywood boards for the sides of the cabinets that currently have a veneer. This is unfinished wood (unlike the cabinet fronts). Do I need to take any special steps on these pieces to ensure that they will end up looking like the front pieces (i.e. sanding sealer or condition the wood to avoid grain raising)? If it sounds like I know what I'm talking about, I really don't, lol! I really need guidance from someone who can just tell me the steps to take!

Thanks!
Diane


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RE: Topcoat for Gel Stain and/or Glazed Cabinets

Yes on the Arm R Seal for the gel stained cabinets (or any good quality polyurethane)

Yes on the polyurethane water based top coat for the painted cabinets.

On both, sand very lightly. Because I put the spar varnish on in such a thin coat, it didn't take much to sand too far down.

On your kitchen cabinets, are you going to sand all the finish coat off?

If so, why would you put a stain AND a gel stain on? Why not one or the other? I would sand enough so the gel stain will stick and skip the water based stain. Are you thinking you need to even out the stain after sanding off the finish coat? If so, yes, the sanding sealer would seal in the new stain.

Yes on the sanding between coats. But again, if you put on thin coats, you may want more coats.

I doubt the 1/4 inch plywood will take any of the stains the same as the previously finished cabinets. It will probably take in the stain better and so it will be darker. My mirror frame was new red oak and it is darker than the cabinets and it took a lot more finish coat to get close to the same sheen. If I had that to do over again, I would put a coat of polyurethane on it, let it cure a few days, maybe even a week, then sand it off and stain with the rest.


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RE: Topcoat for Gel Stain and/or Glazed Cabinets

Thanks!

The reason that I need to put the water-based stain down before the gel stain is because of a couple reasons. First, we tried the gel only on our master bathroom cabinets and it took 5 almost 6 coats to get an even coverage that covered the oak grain, so gel only (with the color we wanted, georgian cherry, was not going to work because too much time/labor for the kitchen project. Second, we (ok, I) didn't like the water based wood stain only because the cabinets looked "rough". The gel stain seems to fill in the open pours in the grainy oak cabinets.

I'm not sure if I have to sand all of the finish off if putting down water based wood stain. I know you don't have to for gel stain, but do you know if water based wood stain will flow through the current finish coat?

I think you are probably right regarding the plywood! I'll put some polyurethane on them and let them sit while I'm doing the rest of the kitchen cabinets, and then come back to them.

This has certainly been an experience for me!

:-)
Diane


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RE: Topcoat for Gel Stain and/or Glazed Cabinets

No, the water based stain, or any normal stain won't go through a finish coat. It needs to penetrate into the wood.

Good luck with it, and be sure you post pictures afterward. I'm still gearing up to do my kitchen cabinets.


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RE: Topcoat for Gel Stain and/or Glazed Cabinets

Ok, it might be a little while until I get pics posted...I'm nearing the end of the bathroom cabinets, but haven't yet started the kitchen!


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RE: Topcoat for Gel Stain

Finished! Here is before and after of the kitchen:

Before:

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After:

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So we used general finishes water-based stain (rosewood) to darken the wood and take care of any wood variations, followed by a few coats of general finishes gel stain (georgian cherry), which really smoothed out the open grainy-ness of the oak. My husband wanted the color to be very dark, without any light/dark variation, but you can still see that it is wood.

The gel stain is great, because you don't see any paintbrush marks.

I applied the gel stain with a sock, and just rubbed it in (rather than wiping some on, and wiping excess off with another sock/rag).

I then applied one coat of Aqua Zar water-based polyurethane in semi gloss, then a final coat of Aqua Zar water-based polyurethane in satin (because we didn't want it too shiny). I had heard that if you use several coats of satin only over dark stain, it gets cloudy. The satin over semi-gloss looked great.

After much deliberation, I opted for the Aqua Zar water based because I wanted something without fumes (we have children/pets), and that would be quick. In retrospect, I think that I could have used an oil-based polyurethane, or even general finished gel topcoat, and it would have been fine.

Overall, the project was very easy and came out great!

Thanks for everyone who provided input!
Diane


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RE: Topcoat for Gel Stain and/or Glazed Cabinets

It looks great! Congratulations on completing such a huge project, and welcome to the "Gel Stain Club"!


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RE: Topcoat for Gel Stain and/or Glazed Cabinets

Oh my gosh! This is an amazing transformation. Wonderful update -- I really can't believe they're the same cabinets.

Thanks so much for posting such detailed trial notes and final instructions, I'm sure there are many who will take the plunge now that they know exactly what to do and exactly what the result will be.


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RE: Topcoat for Gel Stain and/or Glazed Cabinets

Thanks! Yes, I highly recommend gel staining for anyone who wants an inexpensive change, but is not a staining expert. My husband loves how they came out, and he was quite skeptical. I'm happy to be part of the gel staining club, and so happy that I found this forum after years of wanting a change. Lowes/Home Depot workers will tell you that it can't be done. Don't believe them! You have to go to Woodcraft or other specialty stores that sell the general finishes products.


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RE: Topcoat for Gel Stain and/or Glazed Cabinets

The guys at Woodcraft even told me it couldn't be done without sanding off all the existing finish and stain. hee hee hee. Wrong!


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RE: Topcoat for Gel Stain and/or Glazed Cabinets

Your cabinets looks amazing! I'm excited since we're doing the same for ours kitchen (only going from honey oak - eeek!).

We just picked up the General Gel Stain clear satin top coat, and I'm wondering if we should have gone for the Arm-R-Seal instead. I'm not sure what the differences are I guess.


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RE: Topcoat for Gel Stain and/or Glazed Cabinets

These look good too...

Here is a link that might be useful: ReGlazed Oak Cabinets


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RE: Topcoat for Gel Stain and/or Glazed Cabinets

Leightx,

I lost A LOT of sleep trying to figure out what kind of top coat to use (because I didn't want to have to redo in a few years if the top coat didn't hold up), and in the end just went to a specialty store, and let the guy there tell me what to use (the Aqua Zar water based poly).

I have to say, I like the water based, because I was able to do a coat every 24 hours, and didn't have to wait days for it to cure. To be honest, it gets a little draining as this project goes on for days/weeks(!), so quick was good.

I also liked that the poly was self-leveling (it should say this on the can if it is), which is great because you don't have to worry about brush strokes...everything just melds together. I put on thin coats of poly (and I didn't sand in between the coats of poly).

Good luck,
Diane


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RE: Topcoat for Gel Stain and/or Glazed Cabinets

meowzer,

I didn't sand off all the finish when I used gel stain only, but when I used the water-based wood stain (before gel stain), I did need to sand quite a bit to get the finish off.

I noticed in a couple spots where I hadn't sanded as well, the water based stain didn't penetrate...but I adjusted in these couple areas by blotting (rather than rubbing in) a coat of gel stain, letting it sit, and then rubbing in the next application. It all worked out in the end!

So, it depends on how much you need the water-based wood stain to penetrate (to cover the dark grain). If you want it dark, then you need to sand more than if 1) using gel stain only, or 2) if you are relying on the water-based wood stain to darken (even out) the light/dark areas of the oak graining.

If you are consistant with your sanding, then you won't have areas that take the stain differently (like I did). But even though this happened to me, it was easy to correct with the gel stain.

Diane


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