“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. You don’t have to strip a piece of furniture to refinish it. Instead, you can easily gel stain wood to make it look new again!
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. After a lot of experimenting I love the color of General Finishes Java that you can find here – it’s also the easiest to work with.
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.
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- Mouse Sander – I purchased this Genesis sander a few years ago and it has never let me down. Sometimes the price will go below $15 on Amazon. If so, that’s a great deal! Because it’s a little more heavy-duty, I now use a Ryobi sander.
- Fine(320) and Rough(180) Mouse Sanding Pads.
- Zinsser Bullseye 123 water-based primer
- General Finishes Java – I like to use General Finishes Java and sometimes Minwax Hickory. These are my two favorite gel stains colors to use and one quart will last you an eternity! Both are great but after experimenting and looking at gel stain reviews, the General Finishes brand goes on better and is easier to work with. You can get the Minwax Gel Stain at Lowe’s but use the link above to get the General Finishes Gel Stain. If you are new to this process, I would opt for the General Finishes brand because it’s so much easier to work with.
- 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
- Old Rags
- 2 Paint Brushes
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.
Next, I sanded with my electric sander and a rougher sanding pad. Check out the best sander for wood furniture and a sandpaper grit chart 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. 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.
Sand the top with a finer sanding pad and then wipe it with a damp rag.
Congratulations – you are officially done with sanding portion of this project!
6. Gel Stain Wood – How to Apply
Now is the fun part – applying the gel stain! I used General Finishes Gel Stain in Java. Walnut also works. Now brush on the gel stain in the same direction. 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!
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.
Give your gel stain 24-72 hours to dry depending on how humid it is. 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!
Let your final coat of gel stain dry at least 48 hours or until it is no longer tacky. Then apply a coat of wipe-on polyurethane by adding some to your rag and wipe it on liberally. Add another coat after 24 hours for extra insurance. On our coffee table, I used this same process and applied 6, yes 6, coats of poly because I knew we would be leaving cold glasses on it all the time. It was well-worth the extra effort as it still looks amazing, as you can see at the bottom of the post.
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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, I often find myself reflecting on how God has transformed me just like whatever furniture piece I am working on.
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.
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.
RENOVATED THINKING: 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.
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