How to Gel Stain Over Stain the Easy Way
Never use furniture stripper again! With this easy stain over stain technique, I share how to stain any surface and even how to gel stain over paint!
Imagine yourself walking down the aisle of a thrift store and seeing a piece with serious potential! It’s in great shape and you even have the perfect spot picked out. There’s one problem… You know that dated, orange stain would be a beast to get 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, you don’t have to!
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What is Gel Stain?
Gel stain is an oil-based stain that is very thick and goey, almost the consistency of jelly. But don’t let that deter you! That gel consistency takes a little extra time to dry and that’s a GOOD THING.
Gel Stain vs. Stain
Unlike a regular oil based stain that is thin and watery, the gel stain gives you time to work with it to get the exact finish you want before you let it dry. Another advantage of gel stain vs. oil stain is that traditional stain will penetrates the pores in the wood. This is great if you have a nice piece of wood or don’t have any wood filler in holes. However, with gel stain you can save money by using a lower grade of wood because it’s depth of color will cover any imperfections.
Another nice aspect of gel stain’s consistency is the effect when a brush is dragged through it in one direction. The bristles automatically give the look of wood grain showing some of the warm tones of your base coat underneath.
So when you open that can of gel stain to reveal a jelly like substance, no worries! It’s supposed to be like that and hasn’t gone bad. Also, a little goes a long way!
✅The Best Gel Stain
After a lot of experimenting, I love the color and texture of Old Master’s Gel Stain in Walnut (check the current price here). It goes on beautifully every time!
Applying Gel Stain
Gel stain is one of my favorite products because it allows you to re-cover almost any painted surface (even laminate and metal!) without stripping or sanding off the original surface. 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.
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.
GEL STAIN IS NOT JUST FOR DIYERS – 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.
How to Gel Stain Over Stain or Paint – 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– my favorite gel stain (and I’ve experimented with a lot!)
- 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 for the Legs – I like Behr Premium Plus Latex.
- Floetrol – Great product to reduce brush strokes in paint!
Minwax Wipe-On Polyurethane in Clear Satin*Since first writing this post, I’ve found some much better options for clear coats that you can read about here: Best Clear Coats for Furniture. I recommend either Varathane’s Water-Based Top Coat or General Finishes High Performance Top Coat for furniture projects.
- 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 would look like new 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 apron and legs.
Applying Gel Stain Over Paint?
If you are wanting to apply gel stain over a painted furniture piece, you will use the same process as below for applying gel stain over stain.
If you need some ideas on what shade of stain, click here: Stained Furniture Ideas.
1. Prep Work Before Using Gel Stain
Stop! Before you do anything…take a before pic. When you are done, post the before and after pics here, so I can see the amazing work you’ve done! ❤️
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. You can see 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.
3. Prime with the Gel Paint Base
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 before Using Gel Stain
I like to get the most difficult painting tasks out of the way first, so I decided to work on the legs next. Milled furniture legs are notoriously difficult to paint but I found some short cuts I share here:How to Paint Furniture Legs the Easy Way
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.
Where to Buy Gel Stain
You have several colors and brands to choose from and below are links of where to buy gel stain in different sizes depending on your project. 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
6. Applying 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.
Once your gel stain starts to dry, you can see the final product. What do you think???
DON’T FORGET TO TAKE A PICTURE!
Now that you are done, I’d love to see how it turned out! Post your before and after photos 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!
You can also do a second coat of gel stain after the first has dried for a darker look.
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 Varathane’s Water-Based Polyurethane.
How to Apply a Clear Coat to Gel Stain
Sand the surface very lightly with a paper bag or very high grit sandpaper (400) and then wipe off any sanding dust with a damp rag. Then, brush on a water-based polyurethane with a foam brush. Let it dry and then lightly sand again. For a really durable finish, I like to add three coats of clear coat. For a full description and a video on how to apply clear coat click here:Best Tips for Applying Top Coat to Furniture
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.
Every DIY or Home Decor post with spiritual encouragement has a Renovated Thinking section. You can see more of those posts by clicking here.
FAQ’s on How to Apply Gel Stain Over 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 gel stain over a painted garage door?
You can gel stain over a painted garage door whether it is metal, wood 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 exterior 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 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.
Can you Paint Over Gel Stain?
If you try to paint over gel stain without prepping or priming the surface, the paint will be very likely to peel. Use the same prep process as described about where you lightly sand and then use a primer before adding paint. One thing Jennifer Allwood always says is “primer sticks to things and paint sticks to primer”. In other words, paint will not always stick to every surface so be safe and use a primer.
Can you Gel Stain Kitchen Cabinets?
You can absolutely gel stain kitchen cabinets using the process described above. I would only suggest that when you stain the boxes, work in sections. in other words, pick a 4 x 4 foot section and do the gel stain process on it to ensure you get the look you want before it dries up on you. Then go onto the next section.
How to Gel Stain Cabinets Gray
Gel stain for cabinets doesn’t just come in wood tones but they give you a lot of options if you want to try gray or black. The method would be different than described above but would involve using gel stain in more of a traditional sense. You would just paint on the gel stain and then wipe it off with a rag so you can still seen the wood grain underneath. What you’d end up with is a beautiful gray finish that still retains the natural grains of the wood. To see how to do this process you can check out this post: How to Gel Stain Cabinets Gray
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! 🙂
Related Posts to Applying Gel Stain Over Stain:
If you like this post, you might also like my faux stain technique to get the look of wood with latex paint and glaze:
Gel Stain Over Paint Technique – Final Thoughts
Gel stain is one of my favorite products in my DIY arsenal. I have gotten to the point where I no longer use regular stain even on raw wood. With gel stain, it’s easy to work with and I know how it will turn out every single time. Now that you know about all the benefits of gel stain, I hope you feel empowered to refinish ANY piece of painted or stained piece of furniture you come across!
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What are your thoughts, my friend? Do you think the makeover was worth it? Do you have more options now for refinishing furniture? I love to hear your thoughts and questions! Scroll down to leave a comment and I WILL reply! ❤️
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Table of Contents
- How to Gel Stain Over Stain the Easy Way
- What is Gel Stain?
- Gel Stain vs. Stain
- Applying Gel Stain
- How to Gel Stain Over Stain or Paint – Supplies:
- Applying Gel Stain Over Paint?
- Where to Buy Gel Stain
- 6. Applying Gel Stain Over Paint
- How Long Does it Take Gel Stain to Dry?
- Can you Polyurethane Over Gel Stain?
- 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 Over Stain:
- Gel Stain Problems:
- Related Posts to Applying Gel Stain Over Stain:
- Gel Stain Over Paint Technique – Final Thoughts
- Stain Over Stain Technique for Furniture