How to Use Oil Base Gel Stain Over Existing Finishes

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General Finishes Gel Stains contain urethane, which allows the gel stains to be used for finishing over existing top coats, stains, and paints. 

Prepare existing surfaces first by cleaning well.
If you are applying gel over another finish you need to clean the surface well with a mixture of one-half water and 
one-half denatured alcohol. Dip a maroon Norton Non-Woven Sanding Pad into cleaning solution, and scrub surface to make sure any contaminates, such as wax or oil, are cleaned off the surface. This solution also prepares the existing top coat for adhesion. Dry off excess liquid with a paper towel. Let surface dry two hours, and then sand with 400-grit paper or soft back sanding sponge, such as Norton super fine. Wipe with tack cloth or a slightly damp rag (water) to remove dust, and let dry. This is not a heavy-duty sanding but a light buffing. Mineral spirits and steel wool can be used for cleaning as well, if you are top coating with General Finishes Oil Based Gel Stains or General Finishes Arm-R-Seal Oil Base Topcoats. 

If you are using water base top coats to finish later, use the denatured alcohol solution only for cleaning; do not use mineral spirits or steel wool. 

• It is best to cover any glass with paper that is cut to size, and tape the edges with blue painter’s tape; also remove or tape off any hardware as the gel will stick to it.

• Use tarps, plastic, or cardboard to cover any flooring or carpet.

Clean up gel stain spills with mineral spirits immediately while wet. If stain dries, it will be very hard to clean off any surface, clothes or carpet. Carpet may discolor if cleaned with mineral spirits.

Staining with the gel stains over existing finishes – 4 different ways 

1. Apply On, Wipe Off Method

• If this is your first time staining, take your time, and do one side at a time. Start on the back first so you can practice and perfect technique. 

• Apply gel stains liberally with a cotton cloth, pad, brush, or Handi Painter applicator. Wipe off excess with clean T-shirt material. Refold material often to keep a dry area for wiping, so gel does not smear.

• If your door has a raised panel apply stain to the inside center section first and wipe off excess on the edges of the frame panel first. Then even out the center of the panel.

• On the frame of the door, apply stain on the whole frame and edges. Then wipe out the top and bottom first, wiping with the grain, and then wipe the vertical sides. Always make sure to blend any areas that connect. If you are having trouble wiping off evenly, or the gel stain is getting sticky, work on smaller sections, such as one frame section at a time, until you get the hang of it. Check that all areas are wiped out evenly on the back and side edges before laying it down to dry.Old cotton T-shirts work well for wiping the gel stains. Remember you need to leave some color on for a darker color. Do not wipe all the color off, or it will be hard to build color.

• Now that the back has been dry for 24-48 hours, flip over and move to the front side. If you have raised panels, start with the inside panel first, as it will take more time to wipe or brush out. Do the same process as the back side

You can do the entire door at one time, but you need to lean it up to dry against a wall or cabinet so it can dry out well on both sides. Use cardboard or plastic to lean against, as it will stain. Also when doing both sides you have to make sure all fingerprints are wiped and evened out on both sides before letting it dry.

Dry time is one of your most crucial steps. If it is rainy, cold, or winter, dry times will be longer; this is normal. If the color is being removed when applying a secondary or topcoat, stop. Let it dry another day, and then continue. If in doubt waiting longer is always better.

• Apply a second coat to fill in color and give more depth. This second coat is usually brushed on, and you can again wipe excess off or take the brush and dry brush over the entire area, working and evening the stain as you go. Keep several dry brushes or rags handy for wiping excess off brushes. Several coats can be used to add more color or depth. Always let dry fully between coats.

Wet a brush with mineral spirits to even out any areas, such as corners or deep molding, that are hard to wipe with a rag. If you mess up, use a slightly dampened mineral spirits rag to remove unwanted areas that need to be reworked. As long as the gel is still wet you can remove the product. If the gel is dry and needs to be removed, it can be sanded back off after it has been dry.

2. To Wipe Stains On

• Wipe on with a T-shirt in a circular motion, which will work stain into the grain, and follow by wiping out in the direction of the grain. This is normally done if you want to add just a little color to areas that have been damaged and down to raw wood or to touch up lightly damaged areas.

• Let items dry 24-48 hours. Apply more coats to even color and get the depth desired.

3. Brushing Stain On

This method is normally used if a very dark, almost painted, look is desired and can be done using techniques 1 and 2.

• 1. Brush stain on by using the stain sparingly and basically dry brushing it on, evening it as you go. When the brush becomes full, wipe off excess on rags.

• 2. Brush stain on heavily with bristle or foam brush, and then remove excess stain. Using the flat part of a dry bristle brush angled a bit, brush across and feather out in the direction of the grain pattern.

Additional stain coats will give a darker color. When dry brushing on lightly, dry time will be 24 hours. When brushing on heavy, dry time will be longer; let dry 48 hours between coats. If it has been rainy, humid or cold out, dry time will be longer.

After any of these techniques you can pad the stains out while still slightly damp. Let dry a half an hour before padding so as not to remove too much material. Padding can help blend surfaces, breaking up grain lines, if you feel they are too strong.

4. How To Dry Pad Stain To Blend

• Take a square of T-shirt and form a small ball. Put another square over the top, giving a nice smooth pad that fits in your palm. Dab the stained area, blending and smoothing out any heavy lines. You can also use a dry natural brush to help soften or smooth out any lines.

Adding Top Coats Over Gels For More Durability and Protection

If you are finishing heavily used items such as kitchen cupboards, bathroom vanities or tabletops that need water and scratch resistance, you need to apply 3 to 4 coats of topcoat over these gel stains to make them water- and chemical-resistant. Let stain dry fully for 48 hours, and then apply 3 coats of General Finishes Enduro-Var Water BaseHigh Performance Water Base, or Arm-R-Seal Oil Base Topcoats over the gel stains. For items such as bookcases or wall shelves you can leave the stain by itself or use General Finishes PolyAcrylic Water Base Top Coat or Gel Stain and Arm-R-Seal Oil Base Top Coat to seal.

If you want a painted look, use General Finishes Dark Chocolate Milk Paint. It matches the General Finishes Java Gel Stain and will cover in two coats.

Many ask if the gels can be used on laminate or plastic non-wood surfaces. It does stick to some and not to others. To test, apply gel stain, let dry for 48 hours, and then try to scratch it off. If it comes off easily, then it’s not sticking, so don’t use it. If it’s hard to scratch off, then you should be good to go. Make sure on these types of surfaces to let them dry good and long, a minimum of 48 hours for each coat.

There are many ways to use this gel stain. Perfect your own technique. Not everyone finishes the same way; just make sure to experiment on the back side, not the one you see. There is no right or wrong way. As long as it gives you the desired look, and you let it dry long enough between coats before applying more, you should be good to go.



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  • SA
    Can I use gel stain on an existing engineered oak floor using the described technique? I don't want to sand down to the bare wood.
  • FB from Little Hocking
    Yes, but be advised the Gel stain is not a floor coating. To protect the Gel Stain, you will need to Top Coat it after the Gel Stain completely dries with a suitable floor finish. General Finishes HP Poly and/ or Crystalac Polyoxide. Both have UV Inhibitors to protect the color and are both wear resistant.
  • MV
    Hello! I just finished sanding and applying one coat of an oil based stain to my table top and it appears splotchy. Can I use a gel stain directly over the oil based stain to even out the color? Or do I need to seal the wood first?
  • LH from Parkersburg
    MV - To answer your question: You can apply the Gel Stain directly over the oil stain to even out the color. It wouldn’t hurt to lightly sand the existing stain with 150-180 grit to create a little “tooth” for the gel stain to hold. - Tom at General Finishes.

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