Shocking Cabinet Makeover! Ditch the drop cloths & see how gel stain transforms cabinets in jaw-dropping pics. DIY magic under $50!
Stuck in a rut with dated cabinets that drain your kitchen charm? You don’t need a contractor’s wallet or a sledgehammer to unleash the rustic magic your space deserves.
Forget the paint fumes and elbow grease of traditional cabinet makeovers – we’re about to unlock the budget-friendly secret weapon transforming kitchens across the land: gel stain.
And to prove its power, I’m throwing open the doors (and before-and-after photos!) of my own farmhouse kitchen, where a boring old hood vent found new life with a dose of gel stain magic.
Prepare to witness a transformation so dramatic, that Joanna Gaines herself might do a double take. We’ll ditch the drop cloths and embrace the ease of gel stain, leaving you with cabinets boasting rich, characterful depth at a fraction of the cost.
So grab your favorite cup of brew, settle in, and get ready to unlock the rustic potential hiding in plain sight – all thanks to the wonder of gel stain! Wait until you see how my hood vent turned out using General Finishes Gel Stain.
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About Staining Cabinets
Breathe new life into your tired cabinets with the transformative power of stain! Whether you’re craving a cozy farmhouse vibe or a sleek modern edge, a fresh coat of color can work wonders. But when it comes to choosing a weapon, the battlefield’s divided: gel stain or traditional stain?
Traditional stain, the OG, soaks deep into the wood, highlighting its natural grain. It’s perfect for bringing out the beauty of oak or walnut but can be tricky on uneven surfaces or blotchy woods.
Gel stain, the new kid on the block, sits atop the wood like a colorful glaze. It’s a dream for beginners, offering even coverage and hiding blemishes with ease. Think bold, opaque shades or subtle antiquing effects – the possibilities are endless!
So, which team are you on? I’m on Team Gel stain. Here’s how I got there.
Cabinet Refinishing With Gel Stain
Have you ever stained wood before? It sounds like a daunting process but it’s so easy to do, and even simpler using General Finishes Gel Stain.
This type of wood stain applies a deep, rich color that an oil-based stain does not achieve. When we renovated the kitchen a few years ago, I struggled with how to refinish the vent hood. It was such a beautiful piece but it looked so bland in my farmhouse kitchen.
I planned to paint the hood vent with a soft white chalk paint like the wood cabinets, but wanted it to stand out from the rest of the cabinetry. So I ultimately decided to stain it.
There are so many different types of cabinet finishes available today. Which one you choose is personal to the look you want to achieve. Since I wanted the hood vent to be the focal point, I decided to go with General Finishes Gel Stain in Antique Walnut.
And the transformation is unbelievable! If I paid a contractor do this, the cost to refinish cabinets would have been astronomical. Instead, my cabinet refinishing cost was a can of gel stain and a few extra supplies that I pretty much had on hand.
Cabinet Refinishing: Before Using General Finishes Gel Stain on the Hood
I poured over Pinterest and Google for months to come up with an overall design on how to refinish kitchen cabinets. Since I chalk painted the cabinets white, I thought it would be overkill to paint the hood vent white too.
So I chose to stain the hood to bring out the pretty details and become a statement piece in the kitchen. The former homeowner built this hood from scratch and did an amazing job, didn’t he? It was pretty but bland and lacked a venting system. So the hood vent was for decoration only.
The former homeowner installed these cabinets and built the hood himself about thirty years ago. While the craftsmanship is incredible, the detail is almost unnoticeable and the hood vent gets lost in the kitchen.
For this kitchen remodel, we wanted to make the hood operational so we purchased a vent insert that could be installed after refinishing it. After researching different types of stains, I started seriously considering gel stains.
I poured over Pinterest to learn cabinet refinishing and how to apply gel stain. While most articles worked with General Finishes Gel Stain in Java, I chose to go a shade warmer and lighter with General Finishes Gel Stain in Walnut.
Take a look at this close-up of the hood. The beadboard detail is barely noticeable. I always knew the hood had this detail but didn’t appreciate it as much as I do now after applying gel stain.
The gel stain that I used on my hood vent. And the color is gorgeous!
Cabinet Refinishing: Preparing to Gel Stain the Hood
Whenever I work with a new product, I practice on a few pieces before going “all in” to build up my confidence and see how I like it. Since I finished painting the cabinets white and was in total “go mode,” I went for it.
I read the directions on the can, several articles on Pinterest and visited General Finishes’ website to view their tutorial here.
I must have watched that video 10 times to ensure I knew what I was doing before gel staining cabinets.
When I was ready to get started, I remember heading to the basement with the repeated mantra “if it doesn’t look right, you can always paint it; if it doesn’t look right, you can always paint it.”
And I have to admit, I was pretty nervous to start but when I’m ready to go…I’m ready to go.
So here is how I did it…
How to Refinish Wood Cabinets with Gel Stain
Refinishing wood cabinets with gel stain is a pretty quick process. What takes the most time is the drying time because you need to allow 24 hours between coats for drying. Be sure to work in a well-ventilated area too. Wait until you see how easy it is to stain wood cabinets!
Supplies Needed Gel Stain Kitchen Cabinets
If you’re looking to add a little bit of style to your home, then gel-staining kitchen cabinets might just be the perfect solution.
With a few simple tools and materials, you can transform old cabinets into something truly amazing. If you are redoing cabinets and want to try this method, here’s what you need gel stain kitchen cabinets.
- 1 Quart of General Finishes Gel Stain
- 5 Foam Brushes
- 2 Rolls of Shop Towels
- 1 Quart of General Finishes Top Coat
- Sandpaper (various grades)
- Mineral Spirits
- Bucket or garbage bag to toss stained towels
- Staining brush
- Several paint mixing sticks
- Plastic gloves to keep the product off of your hands (trust me, you need them!)
How to Gel Stain Cabinets Directions
- If you are refinishing cabinets, remove all the doors and hardware, label each, and diagram where they go.
- Clean and de-grease the surface well. Wash and rinse well after degreasing to avoid leaving residue behind.
- Work in a well-ventilated area. Use gloves to avoid getting stains on your hands. Open the gel stain can and stir well. The gel stain is very gloppy but will smooth out after stirring.
- If the surface is unfinished, prep sand with 120 and 150-grade sandpaper to rough up your surface. If the surface is finished, use slightly stronger grade sandpaper to rough up the finish.
- Work in sections and do not stop while are working. The staining process is pretty quick, but don’t stop until done to avoid overlap marks and have a nice even finish.
- Apply a slip coat of mineral spirits because it helps the stain glide on, spread evenly, and reduces lap marks.
- Saturate the foam brush then get it on the surface quickly. Completely spread it out, then wipe it off. You will glop the gel stain onto several areas of the surface.
- Spread the stain out to a nice even coat with a shop towel.
- Remove the excess stain. Toss stained towels in the bucket. Be sure to wipe all of your edges so you don’t accidentally leave glops of a stain behind.
- As you get the stain off the surface, start wiping with the grain of the wood. Check your surface to see if you missed anything.
- Let it dry overnight before applying a second coat. I did two coats of gel stain using the same process.
- Allow drying for 24 hours before top coating.
While the stain looks gorgeous after gel staining, it almost seems like you can skip top coating but don’t do that!
It is so important to apply a top coat after the stain dries. General Finishes sums it up pretty well, so consider this: gel stain is the color and the top coat is the protection of that color. Therefore, don’t skip top coating!
Cabinet Refinishing: How to Apply the Top Coat Directions
Since the hood is in the kitchen directly over the stove where I boil a lot of water, I used a high-performance-based finish so it would hold up better. I chose a flat finish because I prefer the look of a matte finish.
Here is the process:
- Open the can and stir well until the gel topcoat smooths out. Wear gloves to keep the product off of your hands.
- Follow almost the same application process as the stain except apply a thinner coat for the first application of topcoat. Use the foam brush to apply and even out as you are working.
- Wipe off the sides of your wood surface. Use a staining brush to lightly brush out the finish in the direction of the grain. Do not apply pressure – just let the brush lightly drag on the surface.
- Allow drying overnight.
- Sand down the surface with a 220 sanding pad in the direction of the wood grain. Wipe off dust with a shop towel.
- Apply the second coat with the same technique as the first.
- Soak a little bit of a shop towel in the gel top coat to use as a polishing pad, then lightly wipe and polish the surface. Take off just a little bit of the finish, moving in the direction of the grain. Then do one last pass with a clean cloth, almost feathering the finish.
- Allow drying overnight before applying the third coat. Follow the same process as the second coat. Then allow drying for 72 hours before use.
After allowing the hood to dry for 72 hours, a licensed electrician installed and hooked up the new venting system for us.
Doesn’t it look amazing? The finish on the hood is beautiful and has held up very well over the last few years.
I’ve worked with several brands and types of stains before, but the gel stain provides a very rich-looking finish that you do not get from an oil-based stain.
When looking at the before and after pics of the hood, the wainscotting detail stands out so much more after finishing it with this product and it now looks like a very expensive custom piece.
I know the process sounds daunting, but each application is very quick and easy. The thing that took the most time is the 24-hour drying time between coats. But it is well worth the wait.
This hood is my favorite piece and I am very proud of it. Now that it’s all done, I really love my kitchen!
More About Redoing Kitchen Cabinets
Have you ever refinished cabinets in your kitchen or bathroom before? Would you ever try using gel stain after reading this post? I would love to know more in the comments below.
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More Cool DIYs You May Enjoy
- How to Paint Wood Cabinets with Chalk Paint
- How to Paint Upholstery Fabric with Chalk Paint
- Painting the Piano
- Upcycled Vintage Framed Chalkboard
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Want to learn more about me?
I’m a master gardener who’s been gardening and growing things for over 25 years and author of the best-selling book, The Bricks ‘n Blooms Guide to a Beautiful and Easy-Care Flower Garden. With a deep passion for gardening, I enjoy helping others find their inner green thumb with all things plants and flowers, as well as finding ways to bring the outdoors inside their homes.
Get the inside scoop about my background as a master gardener, education, and experience, as well as why I started blogging here.