Gel Stain – Easy and Simple Way to Upgrade Furniture
I love the look of a gel stained tabletop, especially when paired with a neutral painted base. Such a gorgeous combination! I’m sure you’ve seen this look all over Pinterest and other social media sites. You can apply gel stain to a tabletop and pair it with a neutral base to create that perfect farmhouse or cottage style or even pair it with a brightly colored base for a modern or boho look.
Whereas water-based stains are thin and need to penetrate into the wood to be effective, gel stains are thick truly gel-like stain colors, so they lay over top of an existing finish nicely! The thickness of the gel stain means that it can work over an existing finish to change it up a bit. And this also means that it isn’t necessary to completely sand down to a raw wood finish in order to use gel stain successfully. How much or how little you want to sand your furniture first is up to you!
Have you tried gel stain yet? It’s one of my favorite ways to refinish furniture and upgrade the look of tired used pieces.
My Favorite Gel Stains
There are many brands of gel stain to choose from, but I want to share with you the two brands that are my absolute favorites! These include Dixie Belle’s No Pain Gel Stain and General Finishes Java Gel Stain. Dixie Belle No Pain Gel Stain comes in Walnut, Cherry, and Espresso. General Finishes Gel Stain comes in many colors but their Java Gel is probably the most popular and the one that DIY painters might be familiar with. Java Gel is a nice deep brown almost espresso Finish, so “Java” truly is the perfect name for this stain.
You can find Dixie Belle No Pain Gel Stain here: https://dixiebellepaint.com/no-pain-gel-stain-oil-based-1/ and the General Finishes Jave Gel Stain here: https://generalfinishes.com/wood-finishes-retail/oil-based-wood-stains-sealers/oil-based-gel-stains
Next, I’ll walk you through the easy steps to creating a beautiful finish using a gel stain. For this tutorial I am talking about applying gel stain to a tabletop. Let’s get started!
Project: Supply List
- Gel Stain: I like Dixie Belle No Pain Gel Stain and/or General Finishes Java Gel Stain
- Sanding pads: (optional) variable grits from 80 to 220. To keep it simple for a simple scuff prep sanding without totally removing the original finish use a 150 to 220 grit.
- Lint-Free Cloth, Stain Application Pad, and/or Foam Brush
- Paper Towels or Shop Towels for Cleanup
- Plastic Drop Cloth or other Work Space/Floor Protection
- Painter’s Disposable Gloves to protect your hands
- 50/50 Denatured Alcohol and Water Mixture In Spray Bottle
Easy Steps to a Beautiful Gel Stain Finish for Tabletops
- If you are going to paint the base of the table or any other part of your furniture, you may choose to do this first. Then, once painted and finished you can tape it off to protect it while you work on the gel stained portion.
- Option 1 is to sand to raw wood finish if you prefer. To Sand to raw wood use the coarser grit first like 80-100, then use about 120 to 150 to finish sand. Option 2 is to scuff sand the existing finish if you are not sanding to raw wood. To scuff sand for preparation for gel stain, use anywhere from a 150 to 220 grit. Here is a blog post on sanding tips and techniques: https://simplyrefinished.com/how-to-get-a-smoother-finish-with-chalk-paint/
- Remove your sanding dust with a cloth or vacuum. Next, clean your furniture piece well and let it dry. I typically use a mix of 50/50 denatured alcohol and water to clean the tabletop. I keep this premixed in a spray bottle ready to go and give it a little shake before each use. Before you apply the gel stain you want to look over your tabletop for any stray lint, fuzz or at my house pet hairs! Amazing how these show in your final finish!
- To apply the gel stain use a lint-free cloth or a stain pad. You can find a big bag of lint-free cloths at home hardware stores or you can buy a pack of gel stain pads that work nicely. You can also apply this stain with a foam paint brush! I prefer to apply with a lint-free cloth or a stain pad. You can find these nice stain pads at Lowe’s Home Improvement https://www.lowes.com/pd/Trimaco-4-Pack-1-in-x-5-in-Cotton-Floor-Stain-Pad/50207259
- One trick is to work in small sections because this stain dries fast! So, work in sections, keeping a “wet edge” as you go. If you try to go back over an already stained area that is starting to dry it increases the risk of dragging marks and streaks in your finish. As you work in sections, apply the stain and then wipe away excess before it dries. You really want a nice smooth even finish. Work quickly in small sections to prevent drying.
- Once your piece is stained, allow it to dry. You will want to give it time to fully dry, allowing 12 – 24 hours, between each coat. I usually wait a full 24 hours to be safe. You can apply more than one coat to get the coverage you want.
- Once you have achieved your desired coverage, then you apply your topcoat. A topcoat is not absolutely necessary, but personally I prefer to use a topcoat on a tabletop or any surface that will get heavy use. If you are using a water-based topcoat, like Dixie Belle Clear Coat or Gator Hide, you will want to wait 72 hours after the last gel stain coat.
Here is a Facebook Live I did on Using Dixie Belle No Pain Gel Stain on a vintage tabletop. This tabletop was very scratched and dinged so I completely sanded it down before applying the stain. This video is not the best quality as the lighting is bad and you can see my horribly messy garage but check it out if you can overlook those things.
Tips For Using Gel Stain
- Gel Stains are made to be easy! There are so many beautiful color options and various brands to choose from. Gel stains are thicker than water-based stains and they go on beautifully!
- It is recommended to use the gel stains in a ventilated area.
- Use gloves when applying because not only does the gel stain color your furniture, it also colors skin! So protect your hands and your clothing and any work surfaces! I have learned the hard way!
- Lastly, any towels or cloths used to apply or clean up gel stain need to be handled cautiously. These oil-stained cloths, towels and brushes are flammable. Lay them outside or away from the house to dry out completely before placing in your trash.
Final Thoughts About Gel Stain
The most important thing to remember is that gel stains, like my favorite Dixie Belle No Pain Gel Stain, are supposed to be EASY and SIMPLE! So, have fun with it! It’s super easy to get a beautiful finish without much work! No pain gel stain is. . . well, NO PAIN!
So I encourage you to give gel stain a try! You will be amazed at how it can change up your furniture and give you more options in refinishing your pieces!
For the basics on chalk painting check out this post here: https://simplyrefinished.com/how-to-chalk-paint-furniture-makeovers-made-simple/
And lastly, I’d love it if you would give me a follow on my social media sites! You can find me on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/simplyrefinished and on Pinterest at https://www.pinterest.com/simplyrefinished/!