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Gel stain or regular stain for desk?

Posted by linelle (My Page) on
Sun, Oct 20, 13 at 0:29

I have a little oak desk that I use for extra storage and as a makeup station. So, it's functional but needs to be refinished. It's got some black marks on the surface (probably Sharpie from its time as a middle-schooler's desk) so it needs to have the original finish removed and be sanded. The lighter area of the top is where I sanded a bit already.

I'm wondering whether I should use gel stain or a regular wood stain. My understanding of gel stain is that it's like a paint and sits on the surface of the wood, whereas a regular wood stain gets below the surface. Is that correct? Since a desk surface is more likely to be scratched than a vertical one, is gel stain practical? Or will the poly finish take care of that? I want to go darker; I've seen a 50-50 mix of Candlelight and Java that I like.

desk


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Gel stain or regular stain for desk?

A liquid oil stain penetrates the wood slightly, and imparts a color without forming a discernible surface film. Gel stains penetrate nearly the same as a liquid, provided you use enough product and get it in the oak pores, but due to their thick consistency, they can be slathered on so as to be mostly opaque, which is why they are perfect for using as an antiquing/toner coat on pieces that have moldings or carvings which benefit from being toned/highlighted.

For your modern style desk, a gel stain is of no greater value than a liquid stain, unless you seek an extremely dark shade.

Gel stains are easier for casual users intent on getting a very dark finish, for which liquid stains are almost futile, and the traditional wood dyes are not so user-friendly to the inexperienced.
Casey


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RE: Gel stain or regular stain for desk?

Casey, thanks for your reply. I don't want to go super dark, but somewhat darker than it is now (similar to link below). I don't need to cover grain, but a darker shade will mute it some.

I've never used gel stain but it seems to be popular right now. My only concern is with the top as it will not be protected by a countertop. It's not a fine piece of furniture, but it's functional and could only benefit from a change of color. I suppose with either liquid or gel stain, I'll still need to apply a poly coat on top for protection.

Here is a link that might be useful: Stain look I'm after.


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RE: Gel stain or regular stain for desk?

A gel stain, or a penetrating oil stain, should be topped with a couple of coats of clear protective topcoat.

I used General Finishes Gel topcoat on my SO's computer desk a couple of years ago and it's still looking good. Coffee spills, cat feet, and the rest of the stuff cleans off nicely.


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RE: Gel stain or regular stain for desk?

lazygardens, thanks for your input. Did you stain the desk before applying the topcoat? Cat feet are a big factor in my house. :)


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RE: Gel stain or regular stain for desk?

If you sand the old finish off---and that is one of the worst ways to remove finish-----you will not get the old finish out of the oak grain---which means the new stain will not stain.

If you use gel stain---which is modified paint, that will hopefully cover the old finish. But, if it does not, it will flake out of the grain and make a mess.

I guess if you get a good enough coating of finish, that might hold the gel stain.

No offense, but the desk looks inexpensive enough, so messing it up might not be a big deal. I've had some furniture like that and it worked well.


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RE: Gel stain or regular stain for desk?

handymac, I hadn't planned to sand the old finish off, which I agree is not the way to go. I just grabbed a sanding sponge and went at a bit of it and found myself at bare wood pretty quickly. But you're right, there's stuff still in some of the grain. I'm tempted to just strip the whole thing.

No offense at all, it's not a $$$ piece and if I mess it up, oh well. All my past experience with wood (re)finishing has involved regular wood stain (for better and for worse), so maybe this is a good time to test out gel stain.

Thanks all for your help.


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RE: Gel stain or regular stain for desk?

Linelle -
I stained it first with something. I forget - I think it was general finishes Java because that's what was around. I have another one here that was stained with a Minwax oil stain and then topcoated.

Clean it well, rub it down with steel wool to scuff the old coat and it should work.


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RE: Gel stain or regular stain for desk?

Oak, if properly prepared, is probably one of the most forgiving of woods to stain.

Gel stains work well for woods that blotch (pine, maple, cherry, poplar are common examples). You can also use gel stains as a glaze -- to add color between coats of finish. Glazing is a good way to get highlights (faux aging if you will) or to adjust the color by adding or neutralizing tones. To glaze, you have to have at least one coat of finish before and one coat of finish after the glaze with plenty of dry time in between.

A gel stain is typically a pigmented stain with thixotropic agents (thickeners). They gel at rest and liquify when energy is applied, e.g., rubbing on. They don't penetrate very far and thus avoid blotching due to uneven absorption of the pigment.

Otherwise liquid stains, including dye only, pigment only, and combinations of both, need clean and raw wood to color and color evenly.

If you're just doing the top, I'd be tempted to pick a complementary color and not try to match if you're not an accomplished color matcher. Even if the stain matches well going on, the top coat is going to shift the color some and years of exposure to light will likely make your match diverge over time.

If the black stains are indeed Sharpie, you could have removed them with denatured alcohol-dampened rag. For future reference. If they are stains from oak's exposure to water, iron/steel and the natural tannins in the wood, you'll need an oxalic acid bleach on stripped wood to remove it.


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RE: Gel stain or regular stain for desk?

After having watched some videos showing application and finished results of GF gel stain, I'm not sure I want that look at all. True, invariably people are using Java, which is way too dark for me, but it looks more like murky paint to me. That little desk is not a fine piece of furniture, lots of color variation and prominent grain, but at least it doesn't scream shiny piece of chocolate. Perhaps what I'm reacting to is whatever the people used as their poly top coat, very shiny. I would only want a hint of luster. Would satin do that, or would I need a matte finish?


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RE: Gel stain or regular stain for desk?

Linelle - You can go as heavy or light as you want with gel stain.

My cabinets got a very thin coat to refresh the color without hiding the grain - I wiped it on lightly to refresh the color.

Other people wanted to totally hide the grain of oak, so they used it like thick paint and just painted it on.

Your choice of techniques


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RE: Gel stain or regular stain for desk?

lazy, thank you, that is much more what I'm after, a darker, richer color, but not obscuring the grain. The finish on the right is about what I'm after, not a reflective gloss. Does yours have any additional poly coat, or is this just the gel?


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RE: Gel stain or regular stain for desk?

Okay, so I bought some GF gel stain in Brown Mahogany, plus satin poly top coat. Since this poor little desk doesn't seem to be solid oak (although it's heavy enough) I don't really have any back side to test. However, I put a couple of coats on the unfinished thin backside and I like the color and it actually made the thin wood look better.

I got a little carried away sanding the top of the desk, trying to get out some Sharpie marks. They seem to have penetrated way down into the wood, so I'm calling it a day with most of the ink removed. At this point it's too faint to matter.

As a result of the sanding, the top is now lighter in places, having removed most, if not all, of the original stain. Will I be able to even this out somewhat with the gel, or will I have to strip the whole thing? Ugh. I'd prefer not having to do that.

The instructions on the GF can says to use nothing finer than 150 grit to sand. Sound about right?


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RE: Gel stain or regular stain for desk?

What am I missing here>

handymac said:
If you sand the old finish off---and that is one of the worst ways to remove finish-----you will not get the old finish out of the oak grain---which means the new stain will not stain.

linelle then said:
I hadn't planned to sand the old finish off, which I agree is not the way to go. I just grabbed a sanding sponge and went at a bit of it and found myself at bare wood pretty quickly. But you're right, there's stuff still in some of the grain. I'm tempted to just strip the whole thing.

bobsmyuncle added:
If the black stains are indeed Sharpie, you could have removed them with denatured alcohol-dampened rag. For future reference

linelle updated:
I got a little carried away sanding the top of the desk, trying to get out some Sharpie marks. They seem to have penetrated way down into the wood, so I'm calling it a day with most of the ink removed. At this point it's too faint to matter.

As a result of the sanding, the top is now lighter in places, having removed most, if not all, of the original stain. Will I be able to even this out somewhat with the gel, or will I have to strip the whole thing? Ugh. I'd prefer not having to do that.


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RE: Gel stain or regular stain for desk?

bobsmyuncle, you got me. Not sure what piece is missing for you.

The bottom line is I want to give this desk a new finish, a new look, a better wood tone. I don't care if the grain shows and it still looks like oak. I'm aiming for a rich mahogany, not a dark java. This is not a set of kitchen cabinets that commands and defines the room, not even a bathroom vanity. It's a little desk in a cluttered office that I want to have a more pleasing color.

My prior experience in refinishing wood has been with strip/sand/stain/poly. I'm now sitting at my kitchen table (maple or cherry, still undecided) that I refinished in a hurry 33 years ago and it will surely outlive me. Still looks good. So I still have a bit of a sanding mentality.

As for the Sharpie marks. I did try denatured alcohol and it had no effect. They're close to the front of the desk top and visible enough that I wanted to remove them. Sanding was the only thing that did that. What's done is done. Remember, I'm *not* planning to put on so much gel stain that everything beneath it is obscured.

The surface of the wood was rough in places. God knows what got spilled on this desk over the past 25 years. Mostly I've used a sanding sponge and that has smoothed everything out.

On the top, some of the stain/finish has been gone long before I did any sanding, so let's call it the condition in which I found it.

I do understand that gel stain goes over old stain/finish. My only concern is uneven color on the original, i.e., will gel stain be able to even out the uneven color? I suspect it will as I can apply a little more to those areas.

I am somewhat confused by something handymac said. If I sand the old finish off (which I have only done in the Sharpie zone) I won't get it out of the grain, therefore the new stain won't stain. If that's the case, and people typically don't remove any of the stain when they use this product, how is it working at all for them?


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RE: Gel stain or regular stain for desk?

Sorry for the confusion.

There are two basic colorants for wood. Stains or dyes. There are more, but not DIY type stuff.

Stain/dye is simply a color changer/enhancer.

Stain comes in oil or water based versions.

Dyes come in water or alcohol based versions.

For either to work as designed, the wood has to be bare, because the material has to be absorbed into the wood fibers to work---as designed.

Any finish interferes with that process.

Gel stain is modified paint. It is designed to work differently on wood from a stain/dye. So, gel stain can be applied over a previous finish(by following the gel stain manufacturers instructions).

I've been working with wood for several years and am still learning about coloring it and finishing it. I have yet to use a gel stain, more because I work with wood I buy from a sawyer instead of previously worked wood.


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RE: Gel stain or regular stain for desk?

handymac, thanks for your reply. About 30+ years ago I went on a wood refinishing jag, self-taught. I actually have all the pieces to this day. My coffee table is very MCM, from around 1950, circular. Originally it was "blond," then my parents had it stained walnut. Ugh. It turned opaque over the years and was very ugly. They gave it to me and I stripped it down to some sort of tight-grained light wood (birch? beech?). I did not restain it, just applied several coats of poly. Over the years it has darkened to a deep, rich amber. It has served as a dining table, craft table, always has feet propped on it. It still serves as my coffee table and I love it, despite the fact that I do not care for MCM and it's the only piece of that style I will have in my house.

So, this gel stain is new to me. The desk is really not worth much, not painstakingly taking it down to bare wood. If I can make it look better for minimal effort, that's cool. If it doesn't turn out, maybe it's time to say goodbye to it.


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Gel stain was a nightmare

Any suggestions for a good penetrating oil stain?

I am NOT HAPPY with GF gel stain. I was until about 30 minutes ago. :(

Yesterday I put on the first coat, which I did not wipe off. It looked utterly fantastic. Seriously. The ugly yellowy oak came alive and I realized I really love oak. Gorgeous. I let it dry 24 hours and knew I needed a second coat to even things out. I really didn't want to go darker or more opaque because I actually think the grain looks fantastic. I don't want to obscure it the way some folks do with deep dark java.

So I started with the drawer fronts (and got no further). As I wiped the second coat on, some of the first coat stayed put, while it pulled some of the rest right up, in very strange patterns, like drips. I realized the only hope of obscuring those would be to put on more coats, which I don't want. Did I say I loved how the grain looked?

I got so mad, I wiped mineral spirits over the second coat and some of it lifted right off and some didn't. It's nasty.

I think gel stain is not the tool for this job.

I know you guys swear by Keda dyes, but I'm not ready for that. I actually own a set of the dyes I bought for some craft phase I was in, tried mixing up a color and it was bizarre. I'm just not competent.

Before I chuck the desk, I'm going to strip everything off and approach it with an oil stain. I've read too many negatives about Minwax. What brand do you suggest?

I hate like hell that the gel stain let me down. One coat was gorgeous. But now I don't trust it at all.


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RE: Gel stain or regular stain for desk?

I posted the reveal in Home Decorating.

Here is a link that might be useful: Refinished desk


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