Tips for Using Gel Stain – General Finishes Java
While planning our house transformation from honey oak to white, we knew that we wanted to keep some wood/darker tones in the house. We like the depth and contrast of the light and dark, but I was worried about the re-staining process. Our house was a foreclosure which sat empty for many years. In that time period the elements really took a lot out of the wood. Plumbing issues caused water damage and the extreme temperatures caused wood that was dried out and cracking. The previous family also had several young children and animals that really beat up the doors and window sills with name carvings and scratches. We knew immediately that the wood trim would have to be replaced, but the doors are solid and in order to keep on budget for our house renovations, we wanted to try and save them.
I’m all for using some elbow grease but I wasn’t sure what it would take to get the wood to a clean, bare surface. After a lot of research, we decided to give General Finishes gel stain a try. I was hopeful that the mix between a paint and stain would solve the issue of wood damage and help us to keep and love our existing doors.
I read a lot of reviews and decided to go with General Finishes in the Java color. Looking online, the Java color can look really different depending on the wood type and how it’s applied. I was worried about it looking black but compared to their other color choices, I thought Java was worth the shot.
I removed all of the doors and hardware and then moved them onto saw horses in the garage. Make sure you label them! On the top, unfinished part of the door, I wrote the room it goes in and then I put the hardware for each door in it’s own labeled labeled, Ziploc bag.
I took my electric sander to all sides in order to buff out the scratch marks and to strip the old varnish. Hand sanding was needed in the panels and grooves.
After sanding I vacuumed up the dust and washed the doors down with a mixture of TSP and water. I used old cloths and make sure you wear rubber gloves.
I let the doors dry for 24 hours.
The premise is to wipe it on, let it sit a bit and then wipe it off. Drip the rag into the gel and just start rubbing it on. I tried different techniques and time limits for leaving it on. I recommend you start with one section and then play around with the time length you leave it on to get the right color. I found that I would apply it to half the door at a time, then start wiping some, but not all, of it off. (Some people use form brushes to wipe it on. I tried this approach first but I thought it took longer and I didn’t have as much control over the amount of stain applied.)
It will be very streaky at first. Note: you can’t go back over a section until it is all the way dry (24 hours). If you do, it will pull up what you put down. So don’t worry about fixing any sections, you will take care of it in later coats.
The first day I did the tops and sides of the doors. You have to let it dry for at least 24 hours. I’m impatient and tried to skip ahead and it doesn’t work well. It made more work for me because it pulled up the stain and I then had to wait another 24 hours to fix it.
The next day, we flipped the doors and I did the first coat on the other side. (For the accordion closet doors, I decided not to stain the backs so I moved right on to coat 2) Again, I waited 24 hours and flipped them back. I gave each side 2 coats and then did a partial 3rd coat in the areas that needed it. To do these touch ups, we removed the doors from the saw horses and stood them upright, gently resting a corner again the wall of the garage. I wouldn’t recommend this for the other all-over coats because it was unstable, but for touch ups it worked well and allowed me to do both side on one day.
Word of caution – do not do this in your garage on a breezy day. I really needed to have the doors open for the ventilation and light but dust or dirt could be blown in. Make sure you are starting in a clean environment.
After the last stain coat was applied, I waited another 24 hours to move to the next step. For the topcoat, General Finishes Satin, we kept them standing up against the wall. I had my husband hold them so they would be more steady and then to dry we balanced them against the garage wall using only the top corner of the door.
I used the rags again, dipped it in the clear varnish and then rubbed it all over the door. You don’t want it to be really thick or it can drip. Just make sure the door looks wet. I did 3 coats of the clear, waiting at least 12 hours between coats.
Make sure you let this dry well or it will be tacky. It’s tempting to add another coat quickly but that will actually lengthen the overall drying period. When you are wiping it on some of the stain will come off. As long as you waited at least 24 hours between coats, the amount lifted will be minimal. It was enough to give my rag a reddish color but the door color stayed the same. If you put it on before the stain is dry, it will lift most of it up.
- The damaged parts of the door (dried out areas, water damage, etc) soaked up the stain immediately. I couldn’t wipe the color off, it immediately went to the darkest tone of the Java (nearly black). Also, the stain will hold differently in the places you sand all the way down to the wood. If you want a consistent color, make sure your sanding is uniform.
- While you don’t have to get all of the existing stain off of the wood, make sure you take the shiny varnish coat off otherwise the stain just get pushed around on it. I found it didn’t set well in the areas I missed parts of old varnish.
- Be willing to change your game plan. When I saw that the damaged parts were holding the stain differently than the other areas, we made the decision to give them more of a rustic feel by intentionally making the color inconsistent instead of uniform.
- For the door cracks I used foam paint brushes to push the gel into them. The creases in the panels took extra attention.
- Makeup remover wipes are easiest for getting the stain off of your skin. Nail polish remover works as well.
This is a lengthy process due to the drying time. I did one level of the house at a time to ensure we always had a bathroom with a door. It took me 1 day to prep, 4 days for the two coats of stain, 2 days for stain touch ups, 2 days for the topcoat, 1 day to dry and then the last day put back up. Overall, this process was a pain but completely worth it! No doors for nearly 2 weeks was a hassle, but we love how they turned out and we saved a ton of money by not replacing them. I went on to follow this same process for our banister and our fireplace mantel. What a huge difference this has made in our house! For all of the staining I did (doors, closets, our banister and our mantel) I went through a about two and a half quart-sized cans of the stain and two and a half quart-sized cans of the topcoat. I also went through 3 bags of rags, 2 boxes of nitrile gloves and 2 packages of makeup removal wipes.
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