Gel stain allows you to create a smooth or brushed finish for a wide range of surfaces. This product is easy to apply and is very forgiving. Find about the benefits of using a gel stain, how to apply this finish, and when to avoid this type of finish.

Everything You Need To Know About Gel Stain

Staining a surface adds color and emphasizes the natural grain of the surface. This is a popular way to renovate wooden furniture and to finish other DIY projects. Did you know that there were different types of stains you can use as a finish? Let’s talk about gel stains and how to use these products.

The Benefits Of Gel Stains

You are probably familiar with liquid stains if you enjoy renovating furniture and working on DIY projects. Gel stains have a different formula that creates a thicker consistency.

Gel stains are easy to apply, and you can get a uniform layer regardless of the surface you are working on. Instead of penetrating a surface like a liquid stain would, gel stain rests on the surface and forms a protective layer.

You can find clear gel stains as well as gel stains with pigments. The color range is limited compared to paint, but you can easily add pigments to a clear stain.

Gel stains are perfect for porous surfaces that would absorb a liquid stain too quickly, but you can use gel stain on virtually any surface to get a uniform finish.

It is possible to emphasize the natural grain of a wooden surface by creating a brushed or rolled finish or to hide small cracks and crevices by creating a patina finish. A gel stain will also even out a wooden surface with a lot of knots or damages.

Gel stain goes on smoothly and creates a uniform color, even if you apply it to different materials. You can apply it on a porous and non-porous surface and still get the same pigmentation. Gel stain is your best option if you are working with a wood that won’t absorb a liquid stain well, such as maple or birch.

These products are ideal for beginners. It is very easy to correct mistakes, and the result will look great regardless of the application technique you use. Gel stain doesn’t run like a liquid product, which makes it the perfect finish for a vertical surface.

Gel stain is easy to apply thanks to its thick consistency and can be used with any surface you are working with. It requires very little preparation, and you can use different application techniques in function of the pigmentation and finish you want. The result will look like something between painting and a liquid stain.

How To Apply Gel Stain

Applying gel stain is very easy, but it is a time-consuming process. Here are the steps you should follow to get optimal results.

Prepare The Surface

Preparing the surface shouldn’t take long. A gel stain will coat the surface instead of penetrating it and will easily adhere to a wide range of materials.

You need to sand the surface lightly before staining it. There is no need to sand as thoroughly as you would if you wanted to apply a liquid stain.

You should sand the surface to get rid of impurities and dirt. You can stop once the natural grain of the wood is visible. More sanding will be required if you are working with old furniture.

You can apply a gel stain over an existing finish. Gel stain can be applied over another stain, a coat of paint, or a top coat. All you have to do is clean the surface thoroughly and buff it.

The best way to clean over an existing finish is to mix water with denatured alcohol. A mix with one part water and one part denatured alcohol will work, but you might need to add more denatured alcohol if the surface is covered in dirt and grime.

Scrub the surface with this mix, and use a cloth or paper towel to pat it dry. You can then use fine sandpaper to lightly buff the surface so the gel stain will adhere to it.

Do A Test

Always do a test on a small area that won’t be visible. This will give you an idea of how well the gel stain adheres to the surface, and you will see what the finish will look like if you wait for the area to dry.

You could try to brush and wipe the gel stain to see what different application techniques look like.

Different Application Techniques

You can either use a paintbrush to create a brushed or rolled finish or apply gel stain with a lint-free cloth. Using a cloth will create a more even result, but the pigmentation will be stronger if you use a brush.

If you want a brushed or rolled finish, dip a paintbrush in the gel stain and use up-and-down motions to apply the finish. Follow the grain of the wood to emphasize it.

If you want a smooth finish, apply a small quantity of gel stain to the surface and use a lint-free cloth to spread it. Use large sweeping motions and wipe off the excess stain with a different cloth. You can use a foam applicator with this technique instead of a cloth.

Working on small sections will make applying the gel stain easier since you won’t have much excess product to wipe off. Because this method doesn’t allow for a strong pigmentation, you will probably want to apply several coats of gel stain. This method will be perfect if you are using a clear stain to get a smooth finish.

You can add pigments to a gel stain. You will need a pad to dab the pigment and gel stain and get them to blend them.

If you make a mistake when applying gel stain, dip a rag in some mineral spirit. You should be able to clean the area and start over again. If the gel has dried, you will need to sand the area to remove the finish.

You can apply as many coats of gel stain as you want. Additional coats will create a darker pigmentation and will make the finish smoother. You will need several coats if you want a smooth patina finish, but you can get away with one or two coats if you want to preserve the natural grain of the wood you are staining.

You will have to wait several hours for gel stain to dry before you can apply an additional coat. Check the instructions that came with the product you decided to use to determine how long you should wait.

Seal The Gel Stain

Don’t forget to apply a top coat to seal the gel stain. Even though this product is thicker than liquid stain, you still need to stain it to make it last longer.

Ideally, you should wait an entire week before applying a top coat. You can use varnish, lacquer, or shellac depending on the finish you want.

Apply the first layer directly on the gel stain and let it dry. You can then lightly sand this layer and apply another layer of top coat.

When Not To Use Gel Stain

Gel stain is suitable for a wide range of uses. This product is easy to apply and ideal for beginners. It works on many different materials, and you can create several finished depending on the application technique you use.

However, there are a few scenarios where gel stain wouldn’t be ideal:

  • A limited number of colors are available. You will have a much wider selection of colors if you use paint instead.
  • You can create a brushed, rolled, or patina finish. If you want a different finish, consider using a liquid stain with a top coat.
  • Gel stain can hide the natural grain of porous woods such as oak, ash, or walnut. A liquid stain will bring out the natural grain of these woods instead of coating it.
  • It can take more than ten hours for a coat of gel stain to dry, and you will have to wait a week before you can apply a top coat. A liquid stain will be a better option if you need to complete a project quickly.
  • Wiping off excess gel stain isn’t easy if you are working on a surface with a lot of angles and small nooks such as a bookcase. Paint or liquid stain would be a lot less messy for this type of project.

If you aren’t sure about using a gel stain for a project, do a test on a small portion of the surface you want to stain and let it dry. You could do a test with a liquid stain or with paint to compare pigmentation and finishes. You can sand and buff the areas you used for these tests if you don’t like the result.

Gel stain is a very interesting product to work with if you are renovating wooden furniture or need to add pigmentation and a smooth finish to other surfaces. This product is easy to apply, and you can get amazing results even if you are new to staining. The main downside is that you have to wait a long time between coats, but the result is worth it.

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