You can use gel stain to give old wood furniture new life. General Finishes gel stain is an easy way to breathe some life back into dated decor.
I inherited a set of heavy oak bookshelves from a co-worker who purchased new furniture. At the time, my living room and dining room resembeled a college hangout. They were dressed by a black leather sofa, a black swivel recliner and a bachelorpad black and silver TV stand. All this furniture came minus the pool table my now husband had sported in his living room. Good stuff I tell ya!
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The bookcases didn’t add anything to the look of the room, but they at least provided some storage. I used the larger piece for dishes and miscellaneous whatnots while the smaller one held a fish tank and Christmas decor.
When I finally found my decorating mojo, I got the guts to stain the smaller bookcase. I didn’t have much experience refinishing furniture. In fact, I would say I had none; but desperation and a tiny budget propelled me onward. Hours of sanding were not my type of fun so I searched for way to hopefully skip that part. Painting wasn’t an option because my husband is not a fan of painted furniture (poor me).
Enter General Finishes Gel Stain. It was a little messy, but overall, for a beginner, I thought the stain worked great. What’s makes it a real winner is that it can be used on wood and wood laminate; so even if you don’t have 100% wood, your veneer can probably take this stuff.
In my opinion, this gel performs similarly to paint. The directions say to wipe it off, but I found light coats with no wiping worked best. The opened can resembeled grape jelly. It does have a bit of an odor, but it’s no worse than paint and doesn’t linger in your home for long. I stained my bookcase indoors but would have preferred to do it in the garage. Buuut I live in Florida, and y’all, it gets hot here!
I mentioned the mess earlier so please be warned; cover any and everything near your project. To be fair I’m a messy DIYer so this probably wasn’t the stain’s fault. A little of the stain spilled on the carpet and there was no getting it out. Thankfully a nice little plant covered my oops.
How to use Gel Stain to update furniture
- Drop Cloth
- Several Old rags (for initial cleaning)
- TSP Substitute(optional)
- Sandpaper or sanding block (both 150 and 3-400 grit)
- Electric palm sander (optional)
- Foam Brushes (you may want a few)
- Soft bristle paint brush (I LOVE this Wooster Brush)
- Foam Roller
- Gel Stain (I used General Finishes)
- Polycrylic (Miniwax) in Clear Satin
Experience Level | Intermediate| Cost | About $60 for all supplies excluding optional items
Time Investment | 4 Hours working time; 3 Days including drying time
Prep is really key to polished results. Do yourself a favor and don’t skip or skimp on the prep.
- Put down your drop cloth. (Ahem…the mess.)
- Start by cleaning the furniture. I like to use a TSP Substitute to ensure deep down dirt is gone.
- Using 150 grit sandpaper, lightly sand the piece everywhere. It took 2-5 minutes to do the entire bookcase. I used my palm sander on large surface areas and a sanding block on hard to reach areas. I didn’t spend much time because it’s not really necessary. You want to scuff the surface of your item to give it some ‘tooth.’ The tooth grips the gel and allows it to adhere.
- Wipe down the furniture with a damp rag or tack cloth to remove any sanding residue. Sand or dust prevents the gel from adhering.
- Open the can of gel stain and mix with a paint stirrer until you get a nice creamy consistency. I used it right out of the can, but you can pour it in a pant tray if you like.
- Lightly dip the tip of your foam brush into the gel and smooth it onto your piece. Keep a rag around to wipe away drips. The stain doesn’t dry quickly so you have plenty of working time. Your goal is nice even strokes for a smooth finish. Don’t panic like I did. It will not look good the first round. But trust me…keep going.
After one coat, the bookcase looked like this. Good but not great. The second coat yielded a less streaky appearance.
- Let the first coat dry for 6-12 hours. I just waited overnight.
- Repeat the process and you will see a dramatic difference. My bookcase only needed two coats because the java color is really dark. If you choose a different stain color you main want to do more coats to get your desired finish.
- Allow to dry for 6-12 hours.
- Once it’s dry, use a foam roller and small brush to roll on a thin coat of sealer. I used Polycrylic, but you can also use a General Finishes top coat. I haven’t tried it myself but it gets great reviews. Avoid getting bubbles in your finish by rolling smooth even strokes. Don’t push or press on the foam, let the roller do the work. If you do by chance get bubbles, gently brush them out using the tip of a paint or foam brush.
- Allow the sealer to dry for 1 hour.
- Lightly sand using 300-400 grit sandpaper. Use a delicate touch.
- Add a second coat. Let dry, And you’re done!
It seems like a lot of steps, but it goes by fast.
I added fabric to a poster board and mounted it to the back of the bookcase to add some flair.
My hubby loves dark wood and he gave this project two thumbs up. What do you think?