You see an old piece of furniture at a thrift store with serious potential. It’s in great shape and you even have the perfect spot picked out. There’s one problem… It has a dated, orange stain would be a beast to strip off with furniture stripper! However, you don’t have to strip a piece of furniture to refinish it. Instead, you can easily gel stain wood with this stain over paint technique to make old furniture look new again!
“Paint Remover” is not in my DIY vocabulary.
I can think of few activities more miserable than applying a noxious chemical onto a piece of furniture in an effort to scrape off every bit of old paint or stain. Fortunately with this easy gel stain technique, you don’t have to!
How to Gel Stain Wood
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Gel stain is one of my favorite products because it allows you to recover almost any painted surface (even laminate and metal!). It’s easy to get the look of a dark, rich stain on a painted piece of furniture as long as you know how to use gel stain as a faux finish.
✅ My Favorite Gel Stain: After a lot of experimenting I love the color and texture of Old Master’s Gel Stain in American Walnut (check the current price here). This pint will last you for multiple projects!
In this process I’ll show you not only how to apply gel stain to finished wood, but more importantly how to give a faux wood finish to any surface.
How to Gel Stain Already Stained Wood – Your Supplies:
- Mouse Sander – I purchased this Genesis sander a few years ago and it has never let me down. Sometimes the price will go below $17 on Amazon. To learn more about sander buying options and reviews, click here.
- Fine(320) and Rough(180) Mouse Sanding Pads.
- Zinsser Bullseye 123 water-based primer
- Old Master’s Gel Stain in American Walnut– click here to buy a pint which is way more than you need and much cheaper!
- Peanut Butter Shade of Latex Paint (I used Behr Glazed Pecan after lots of experimenting). Behr is Home Depot’s brand but if you are at another store, just ask if they can match it. They usually have the codes for other brands in their computer system.
- White Latex Paint – I like Behr Premium Plus Latex.
- Floetrol (optional)
- Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane in Clear Satin
- 2-3 Paint Brushes – I’ve had good luck with this set.
I eyed these two “beauties” on a Facebook page. Realizing they were solid wood and in good shape, I knew they had serious potential by using gel stain to refinish the surface.
You can see a funky inlay pattern and also some deep-set water stains. I decided to do my favorite combination of a dark stained top and white bottom.
1. Prep Work
Before learning how to gel stain wood, the first step of any project is to make sure your piece is structurally sound. I tightened all the bolts underneath and would have added wood glue or wood epoxy if needed. Nobody likes wobbly furniture.
2. Lightly Sand
Next, I sanded with my electric sander and a rougher sanding pad. Don’t sand to remove the old stain, you are just going over the surface to degloss it so it accepts the paint. Check out my post and video on how to sand furniture with and electric sander here. I wanted to get rid of any trace of the water damage and inlay design. I then wiped the table with a slightly damp rag to remove the sanding dust.
To prime, I used Zinsser Bullseye 123 and painted on a THICK coat onto the tables. I’m a big fan of this product. It settles very well for a primer, leaving very few brush strokes, and it dries fast with little odor. Although it is water-based, it still blocks out the old stain and makes a good foundation for the gel stain to look like stained wood.
4. Paint the Legs and Apron
I like to get the most difficult painting tasks out of the way first, so I decided to work on the legs next. I added Floetrol to my paint (according to the directions on the back) which makes the paint settle better, leaving fewer brush strokes. Normally, this isn’t a big deal because you can sand out obvious brush strokes but any kind of woodwork with spindles is not easy to sand. Because Floetrol also thins the paint some, it took me 2 coats of paint on the legs. If you aren’t a stickler about brush strokes, the Floetrol is not a must.
5. Add the Base Coat
At this point, I have primed the entire piece and painted the apron and legs white. Since I’m ready to refinish the top, I decided to tape off the bottom with trash bags so I won’t get any base paint or gel stain on the bottom portion of the tables. (This is the point that you would fill holes on the top. Always prime first before filling holes because you can see them better.)
Now you can apply a layer of your peanut butter colored paint brush in long strokes from one side to the other in the same direction. I used Behr Glazed Pecan in Latex Satin. This shade, although hideous, will serve as the base for your stain. Where part of the brush strokes in the gel stain are slightly translucent (like the grain pattern in stained wood), you will see a little of this shade peek through. It took one thick coat of this. Notice I didn’t cover it very well but that’s ok; the surface will take on a completely different look, regardless.
6. Gel Stain Wood – How to Apply Gel Stain Over Paint
Now is the fun part – applying the gel stain! Brush on the gel stain in the same direction as the base coat in long strokes. Your goal at this point is to cover every bit of the top with a good coat of gel stain. It doesn’t dry very fast so you have a few minutes to work with it.
Now that the top is covered in gel stain, wipe some of the excess gel stain OFF your brush with paper towels and apply long even strokes in the same direction. You cannot screw this part up! (Again,you are wiping some of the gel stain off your brush, not the surface of the table.)
If you want your stain darker, add some more gel stain. The key is to work in the same direction to resemble wood grain.
This is actually the same process many high-end furniture retailers use because different cuts of hardwood can have different shades. Once, they assemble the furniture, the furniture doesn’t match exactly. Therefore, to have continuity in their final product, a gel-stain is used.
Gel Stain Colors
You have several colors and brands to choose from. I personally like the consistency of the Old Master’s brand and used the color American Walnut that you can find here.
Old Masters Gel Stain Colors – CLICK HERE
General Finishes Gel Stain Colors – CLICK HERE
Varathane Gel Stain Colors – CLICK HERE
Minwax Gel Stain Colors – CLICK HERE
How Long Does it Take Gel Stain to Dry?
Give your gel stain 24-72 hours to dry depending on how humid it is. The rule of thumb is that it needs to not feel tacky, but I would not touch it until after 48 hours.
Here is how one thick coat of gel stain looks. If I would have wiped more off my brush, you would be able to see the “grain” a little more. It’s all personal preference and the gel stain gives you plenty of time to get the finish just how you want it!
Does Gel Stain Need a Top Coat?
Can you polyurethane over gel stain? I get this question a lot and it depends on the amount of use that your piece of furniture will get.
Gel stain has a lot of the same properties as a clear coat like polyurethane so if it won’t get heavy use with LOTS of cold drinks sitting on it, I wouldn’t worry about a top coat.
For furniture that is heavily-used, I would apply a couple layers of top coat like this wipe-on polyurethane.
How to Apply a Clear Coat to Gel Stain
Add some of the wipe on polyurethane to a lint-free rag and just wipe it on until it’s smooth. Add another coat after 24 hours for extra insurance.
Examples of Furniture Makeovers with a Gel Stain Finish:
Click the graphic below if you like to download my FREE Must-Have Tips for Painting Furniture!
I love that finish! You could even use this process to gel stain kitchen cabinets but make sure you use the right primer for kitchen cabinets beforehand.
These tables underwent a major transformation and I’m happy with the results!
I love my “project time” as it is restful and recharging in so many ways. As a time for me to zone out from the chaos that life brings.
As I brushed the gel stain onto each table, I noticed how effortlessly the new stain covered, making a new surface instantaneously. The thick stain seeped into every nook and cranny embracing and covering every bit of the old raw surface. I watched as it restored the dated, worn-out wood to something fresh and new.
I often fine myself reflecting on how God has transformed me just like whatever furniture piece I am working on.
This is a beautiful picture of how God restores us to become who He always meant for us to be. When we come to accept Christ as our Savior, He wraps us in a robe of righteousness so we will no longer see the old stain of sin.
Looking at the new surface, I no longer saw water stains and scuff marks, I saw a pristine reflection of myself in the surface. God is always faithful to make us into something beautiful, transformed and useful for His purposes when we seek Him. We often long to fix our broken places but in reality His grace fully covers them, like they never existed in the first place.
FAQ’s on How to Apply Gel Stain:
Can you gel stain without sanding?
Several have asked me if they can apply gel stain without sanding furniture. As long as the furniture surface is smooth enough, you can get away without sanding. Gel stain is oil based and adheres really well with long-term durability.
Does gel stain cover wood putty?
This this paint over stain technique, gel stain will cover over wood putty and you won’t be able to tell it’s there. If you were to only use gel stain and not this process, you would see some of the wood putty’s color and texture through the gel stain.
Can you use wood stain on metal or fiberglass?
You can use wood stain on metal or fiberglass as long as you use this technique with gel stain as other stains will not work. Also, be sure you are using the appropriate primer for your work surface.
How to gel stain raw wood:
For raw wood, with no imperfections you want to hide, just sand lightly to smooth out the surface and then apply the wood stain. You don’t have to add the paint because you aren’t hiding anything.
Can you add a dark stain over white paint?
A few have asked me if you can add dark stain over white paint. In other words, they are wondering if they can skip the peanut butter color of paint and go right to the gel stain from a white primer or previously painted white surface. You could try it on the underside of the furniture. It might work if you are going for a very dark gel stain look but I wouldn’t recommend it otherwise. The peanut butter base coat gives it the look of wood as a white base might look odd.
Gel Stain Problems:
Gel Stain is a very easy product to use but I wanted to make you aware of a couple things. When you first open the can, it might look like some dark brown jelly that was left in the fridge WAY too long. That is normal. Just get a paint stirrer and slowly stir it until it is all the same consistency.
Also, gel stain can take a while to dry if you are in a humid environment but be patient. I promise it WILL dry! 🙂
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DIY Driftwood Finish on Any Surface
- How to Gel Stain Wood
- How to Gel Stain Already Stained Wood – Your Supplies:
- 1. Prep Work
- 2. Lightly Sand
- 3. Prime
- 4. Paint the Legs and Apron
- 5. Add the Base Coat
- 6. Gel Stain Wood – How to Apply Gel Stain Over Paint
- Gel Stain Colors
- How Long Does it Take Gel Stain to Dry?
- How to Apply a Clear Coat to Gel Stain
- Examples of Furniture Makeovers with a Gel Stain Finish:
- RENOVATED THINKING:
- FAQ’s on How to Apply Gel Stain:
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