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Gel Stain Kitchen Cabinets

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Gel Stain Kitchen Cabinets

What makes gel stain different? To give a little background on gel stain versus regular stain, when using regular wood stain, or thin-liquid stain, it actually penetrates into the wood. Whereas with gel stain, the stain sits on top of the wood. When using regular stain, sometimes the wood unevenly absorbs the color and you end up with some dark splotches. With gel stain, you don’t have this problem because the wood doesn’t absorb the stain. Because it sits on top, it masks the grain of the wood, especially if you pick a dark color. When using gel stain, even though no uneven spots will show through, you will also lose some of the grain of the wood, depending upon how dark your stain is. This is a matter of preference though. General Finishes in Espresso is very popular color stain on the blogs. It’s so dark that is almost opaque, hiding the grain or any other imperfections. ​ I thought Espresso would be a little too dark for my kitchen countertops. I went one shade lighter and used Antique Walnut. With this hue, you can still faintly see the grain of the wood, which makes the cabinets look authentic. When using gel stain, you don’t wipe off the excess stain the way you wipe off regular stain. It also is a thicker consistency and doesn’t really drip. This makes it easy to stain vertical surfaces. After loving the bathroom cabinet and doing a little more research, I decided to tackle the kitchen. Here’s the after picture. (We also installed backsplash and new appliances, but the difference just in the cabinets was amazing.) I haven’t even told you the best part – when using this gel stain, you don’t need to strip the wood or spend too much time sanding. You do need to do a thorough sanding, just enough to give the gel stain something to stick to.
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Gel Stain Kitchen Cabinets

The Savings Because I put on thick coats, I went through three quarts of the General Finishes gel stain between the bathroom and the kitchen. Between the foam brushes, stain, and polyurethenane, the whole project was under $150. You simply cannot beat that! Kitchen renovations are thousands of dollars. If you are willing to put the work in, this is a fantastic solution. General Finishes Gel Stain is the only gel stain that I’ve worked with, but I heard it’s the only brand to work with. Ash used a different brand of gel stain with a piece of furniture years ago and ended up sanding the stain off. He was extremely skeptical of my desire to use the gel stain but was sold when he saw the bathroom vanity completely madeover. I’ve also read posts from other bloggers who have tried different brands and been disappointed with their results. If you are thinking about using gel stain, definitely go with this brand! ​ Pictured below is Ash reattaching the cabinet doors. Where can I find General Finishes Gel Stain? General Finishes Gel Stain is a little hard to find – you have to buy it a specialty shop or on Amazon. We bought the first quart on Amazon and found the next at a speciality shop a couple hours away, due to poor planning on my part! I did have a funny conversation with the store owner, who asked me what I was using this stain for because it was selling like hotcakes. He also thought I was crazy for driving to another state, so I could finish my cabinets
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Gel Stain Kitchen Cabinets

Gel stain is applied to the surface of the wood but not rubbed-in like traditional stains; the application is more comparable to painting on multiple thin layers. The gel stain is thick like pudding, not a liquid. While gel stain does go on thick and sit on the surface of the wood, I found that you can still see and feel the natural wood grain beneath, unlike paint. With the oak cabinets, the grain was very evident post-staining. Gel stain will not require you to sand the product to a raw wood finish. It can be applied over only lightly sanded pieces just as well. The condition of the wood does not play as big of a role in the finished result of the gel stain – the knots in your knotty pines will look less pronounced when the job is done. I found gel stain to be more forgiving; because you will need to do multiple coats, you can even out the finish over time. Because gel stain is thicker, it can be used for more creative applications too, like for painting a faux wood grain.
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Gel Stain Kitchen Cabinets

Start with your products. I chose a gel stain in Walnut and found two “new” lamps at a salvage shop. I prefer a thin cloth for application (a foam brush will work well too). I disassembled the lamps as best as I was able. I was also planning to spray paint the metal bases with a glossy bronze spray paint. You will need to sand the surface of the product, but just enough to break the previously finished seal. Unlike with traditional liquid stains, you will not need to remove all of the existing finish to achieve a smooth and even finished coat. I used a low- to medium-grit sandpaper (the lower numbers!) with success. The first coat of stain is an important one. Specialists and makers of the product have advised me to apply the first coat thick — so thick that you could theoretically finger paint in it. Do not wipe it clean like you would a normal stain, but also do not leave it so heavy that it is inclined to drip. In all of my experiences, I’ve had to apply 3-4 coats of gel stain. Each coat of stain needs about 24 hours to dry, so plan accordingly. Continue doing daily layers of stain in the same way until you can no longer see streaks in the finish. I also spray painted the metal bases at this point. Once the final coat of stain is dry, you may want to apply a polyacrylic finish to seal the stain. This was especially helpful when I stained the kitchen cabinets (prevented chipping from bumping against and closing cabinet doors often). Roughly 1-2 coats will do. Once the product has dried, reassemble if necessary and it’s ready for display!
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Gel Stain Kitchen Cabinets

Below is a before and after of the bathroom vanity. I was thrilled with how it turned out. Between the gel stain on the vanity and the new mirror, this bathroom had left its aging past behind. ​ Prior to using this gel stain, I had a lot of experience working with regular wood stain, but I had never worked with gel stain. However, it was easy-to-use and yielded exactly the results that I was going for. I was so thrilled with how the bathroom vanity turned out that a few months later, I gel stained all of my kitchen cabinets. It was a huge project, but the results were phenomenal, especially for the money.
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Gel Stain Kitchen Cabinets

The stain went on easy – just like painting. And again, there’s no need to wipe it off. I did three to four coats, and while it did look streaky during the first and second coat (it is supposed to), the third coat is magic. One thing you have to be careful of is leaving a build-up in the corners and grooves. These will harden and dry, and then stand out like a sore thumb. After each coat, thoroughly check the grooves and other areas for any build-up. After three to four coats, the cabinets looked great. You can get by with three coats, but four seals the deal. There were absolutely no streaks or uneven surfaces. As far as color, Antique Walnut is a solid dark brown – like Hershey’s chocolate brown. As far as smell, the stain isn’t too pleasant on the nose. Make sure to keep your area well-ventilated. I did a lot of the cabinet doors in the garage with the garage doors wide open, but I still prefered having a fan, blowing out the stinky air. (The good news is that the polyurethane sealer is water-based and has little to no smell.)​ Will it match? During this project, we added a cabinet to our kitchen, so we ordered two new, unfinished cabinet doors. I was worried about the gel stain looking the same on the unfinished cabinet doors – as the rest of the kitchen, where the gel stain was resting on top of an oak finish. I’m happy to report that the gel stain went on the unfinished doors easily and matched all of the old doors almost perfectly. The only difference is the two new doors looked a tad shinier than the other doors. In hindsight, we would have only used one coat of polyurethane.
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Gel Stain Kitchen Cabinets

General Finishes Gel Stain In short, General Finishes Gel Stain is a DIY dream. If you are up for the work, you can completely change the look of your dated kitchen cabinets or bathroom vanities. You can also refinish furniture with this stain. It’s easy-to-use, involves little prep, and produces high-quality results. With kitchen renovations costing thousands of dollars, this gel stain is about $30 for a quart (that goes a long way). My only complaint is the strong smell, but a well-ventilated area solves this. Earning 5 out of 5 measuring tapes, it’s my best kept secret. ​

Gel Stain Kitchen Cabinets

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