Get to Know the DIY Magic of Gel Stain
Test this easy-to-use stain product on your next DIY project.
Gel stain is my fave, and I think you’ll like it too. It’s stain without the intimidation factor, and a product that works on surfaces beyond ordinary wood. This stain is easy to use, and if you try it, I think you’ll agree that it’s hard to be disappointed with the results.
A few years ago, I transformed my standard oak kitchen cabinets. Gel stain was my product of choice – but that was decided after I did an extensive test run using ordinary oil- and water-based stains looking for the perfect product.
Emily Fazio, 2012
It was hard to find consistency with the traditional stains, and a consistent end result is important when you’re trying to get 23 cabinet doors to look professionally refinished. The gel stain is a thicker consistency (think: pudding) which makes it perfect for vertical applications that would be ruined easily by drips, and it’s really easy to use. Note that I didn’t say that it’s a mess-free option, but its thicker consistency does make it a more “controllable” and a less splashy option for DIY enthusiasts. When applied over wood, like I did with my kitchen cabinets, you’re still able to see the grain behind the stain, but the real perk is that you can even use this product and its range of browns to make materials like fiberglass and metal look like wood. Interesting, right?
Unlike traditional stains, the thick product sits atop the surface being stained like a paint, and like paint, you’ll find that you are probably going to need multiple coats to get the perfect, non-streaked finish that you desire.
Get to know gel stain for your next staining project, and be amazed with the results. See how I used an espresso-colored gel stain to make-over a set of picture frames for use on my home’s gallery wall:
Find a variety of wooden picture frames at thrift stores and rummage sales. They can be a range of colors and existing stains, they could even be metal or painted. Gel stain is known for being a product that works on most surfaces without any prep, but a quick wipe down with a piece of fine grade sandpaper can really help that first coat of stain adhere well.
Unlike traditional oil- and water-based stains, gel stain is very easy to apply. Don rubber or latex gloves (the more fitted, the better control you’ll have), and dip a rag into the stain. Wipe the stain evenly across the frames.
The first coat should be thick. Put it on and don’t wipe it away in the same way you would when working with traditional stain. Remove globs, especially from crevices in the surface. It’s going to dry looking quite streaky; subsequent coats will be thinner. Keep in mind that the stain won’t absorb as much as a traditional stain (the stain will absorb slightly into unfinished wood, but not into non-porous surfaces). It will retain a thick, pudding-like consistency and dry on the top of the surface.
Expect to have to apply 2-3 coats until the finish is even or opaque. Ideally, and according to most manufacturer guidelines, you should wait 24 hours between each coat. If you’re worried about nicks and scratches in the product you’re staining, apply a coat of water-based polyurethane to protect the finished surface.
Our gallery wall hangs in our living room, and because all of the frames used were treated with the same stain, the fact that they were an inexpensive assemblage is easy to overlook. When we’re ready to add more items to the wall, we can use the same treatment so that it still looks like a set.
Don’t be hesitant to try gel stain with all kinds of home projects. Just see what I did to this set of lamps!