How to Refinish Wood Cabinets with Gel Stain
DIY

How to Refinish Wood Cabinets with Gel Stain

Looking for ways to refinish wood cabinets? Look no further than General Finishes Gel Stain.

It is so easy to use and 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 hood. It was such a beautiful piece but it looked so bland.

I planned to paint the wood cabinets with a soft white chalk paint.

And wanted to make the hood stand out from the rest of the cabinetry but wasn’t sure how to do it.

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Rustic Farmhouse Spring Home Tour

Before Using Gel Stain on the Hood

I poured over Pinterest for months to come up with an overall design. Since I chalk painted the cabinets white, I decided to stain the hood to bring out the pretty details and become a statement piece in the kitchen.

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 gets lost in the kitchen.

The former homeowner built this hood from scratch and did an amazing job. It was pretty but bland and lacked a venting system.

We wanted to make it 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 stain. I poured over Pinterest to learn 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.

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 after applying gel stain.

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 just 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…

Rustic Farmhouse Spring Home Tour

What You Need to Gel Stain Kitchen Cabinets

How to Gel Stain Cabinets

  • If you are refinishing cabinets, remove all the doors and hardware, label each and diagram where they go.
  • Clean and de-grease surface well. Wash and rinse well after degreasing to avoid leaving residue behind.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area. Use gloves to avoid getting stain 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 surface is finished, use a 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 literally 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 bucket. Be sure to wipe all of your edges so you don’t accidentally leave glops of 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 same process.
  • Allow to dry 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 topcoat 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!

How to Refinish Wood Cabnets with Gel Stain
Close-up of the gel stain finish.

How to Apply the Top Coat

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 top coat. 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 to dry overnight.
  • Sand down the surface with a 220 sanding pad in the direction of the wood grain. Wipe off dust with shop towel.
  • Apply 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 to dry over night before applying the third coat. Follow the same process as the second coat. Then allow to dry for 72 hours before use.

Note: Although I used a flat finish there still is a natural sheen to the piece. It looks gorgeous in person and I would choose to use the flat finish again.

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?

How to Refinish Wood Cabinets with Gel Stain

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.

How to Refinish Wood Cabinets with Gel Stain

How to Refinish Wood Cabinets with Gel Stain

This hood is my favorite piece and I am very proud of it.

Now that’s it’s all done, I love my kitchen!

It was really fun to decorate for spring.

And I recently decorated it for fall.

I’m thinking about what to do for the holidays. This is what I did last year.

If you are thinking about trying to gel stain kitchen cabinets, I highly recommend it!

And if you are considering chalk painting cabinets, check out my FAQ with lots of answers here.

 

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How to Refinish Wood Cabinets with Gel Stain

 

 

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6 Comments

  1. I know this is a crazy question, but I’m asking because I really don’t have a workspace to remove all of the cabinets. Since gel stain doesn’t really drip and I understand that you can apply it on vertical surfaces, is it absolutely necessary to remove the cabinet doors? I was thinking as long as I remove the handles and tape the hinges then I should be ok? Any input would be appreciated ☺️

    1. Hey there Amber! It’s a good question. I totally hear you in not wanting to remove the doors. But if it were me, I would still remove the doors. I hope this helps! xo

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