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Gel Stain - Yuck

by richgreer
posted 02-02-2012 09:53 PM

45 replies so far

View RONFINCH's profile


143 posts in 2921 days

#1 posted 02-02-2012 10:11 PM

Tried it….....HATE it for the same reasons!!!

View Nighthawk's profile


556 posts in 2353 days

#2 posted 02-02-2012 10:13 PM

Didn’t even know stains came in a gel form… learn something new every day…

-- Rome wasn't built in a day... but I wasn't on that job? ...

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4929 posts in 3957 days

#3 posted 02-02-2012 10:26 PM

Rich, that’s why I use dyes like TransTint, etc.
Gels might have a purpose, but I haven’t found it yet.
Remember they old saying, “This too, shall pass”.


View Dallas's profile


3599 posts in 2484 days

#4 posted 02-02-2012 10:33 PM

Rich, they make it to teach you humility and to be humble!

”I find myself asking – Why is this stuff made? Why do people buy it? What are its redeeming virtues (if any)?”

-- Improvise.... Adapt...... Overcome!

View Tennessee's profile


2873 posts in 2511 days

#5 posted 02-02-2012 10:43 PM

In 40 years of woodworking used it once…threw the can out, never again. I’m basically a Minwax guy, or tints.

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View 404 - Not Found's profile

404 - Not Found

2544 posts in 2966 days

#6 posted 02-02-2012 10:56 PM

Bet you’ll be glad to see the back of those…

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3071 days

#7 posted 02-02-2012 11:02 PM

May I add that, relative to liquid stains, gel stain is more expensive.

I’m thinking that there a bunch of fools out there (not woodworkers) who say, “It costs more – it must be better” and they are the ones who buy this stuff.

Opportunity – - I have about 3/5th of a quart of this stuff left that I will gladly send to anyone willing to pay the shipping.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Richforever's profile


757 posts in 3717 days

#8 posted 02-02-2012 11:05 PM

I tested it once when staining poplar. It seemed to prevent the blotching. However, it was a real “hands on” project!

-- Rich, Seattle, WA

View TheDane's profile


5423 posts in 3660 days

#9 posted 02-02-2012 11:18 PM

Rich—I have used it on some small things (e.g. plane totes and knobs) with satisfactory results. I tried to use it on a bigger project (computer monitor console) and had exactly the same reaction you did … I hate the stuff.


-- Gerry -- "I don't plan to ever really grow up ... I'm just going to learn how to act in public!"

View Will Mego's profile

Will Mego

307 posts in 3709 days

#10 posted 02-02-2012 11:18 PM

There ARE some gel stains that are good, and have none of these issues. I don’t stain much, but I’ll do it on cheap wood, and I have a Varathane brand cherry gel stain which I’ve applied more or less generically to anything that needed a stain instead of a normal finish process, and it was about the easiest thing to apply…ever. Additionally, using a gel stain on pieces with lots of vertical surface areas reduces runs and drips very nicely.

So it sounds like you had a bad time with whatever brand you had to use, but those reading who’ve never used it shouldn’t be too terrified at using it, it’s actually pretty easy.

Now that said, those with a choice….I don’t like to use ANY stains, a possibly exception being as a glazing color over some shellac and under another finish. I’d prefer to just use the usual tung oil wiping varnish and hit it with wax afterwards.

-- "That which has in itself the greatest use, possesses the greatest beauty." -

View Ripthorn's profile


1458 posts in 2982 days

#11 posted 02-02-2012 11:29 PM

I have never used gel stains, but have used a gel varnish before. I thought it was fine, but I have since discovered such finishes as fresh shellac and drying oils, which I greatly prefer.

-- Brian T. - Exact science is not an exact science

View SnowyRiver's profile


51457 posts in 3477 days

#12 posted 02-02-2012 11:31 PM

I found the same Rich. I used it on a chest I built a few years ago and hated it. I finally got the job done, but what a mess.

-- Wayne - Plymouth MN

View grizzman's profile


7836 posts in 3300 days

#13 posted 02-03-2012 12:42 AM

if you need that exact color, im wondering if you can add a little paint thinner to it to get it to a more usable state..Ive never used it, and never will, like you i don’t stain my wood, if they want dark wood, tell them to use walnut..its so funny how non wood working people think that when they see a chair that is oak and its some weird color that we know isn’t what oak looks like, they think its real…whoever made the new stain should be hung and dragged…lol….....

-- GRIZZMAN ...[''''']

View Steve Peterson's profile

Steve Peterson

376 posts in 3079 days

#14 posted 02-03-2012 02:09 AM

Not meaning to hijack your thread, but what color is cherry? Is it a dark purpleish brown color like every factory made piece of furniture is labeled? Or is it a beautiful light brown with lots of grain and character?

-- Steve

View live4ever's profile


983 posts in 3007 days

#15 posted 02-03-2012 02:15 AM

Prevents blotching compared to thinner stains and helpful when you want to go dark (pre-conditioner tends to prevent going very dark). Other than that, I agree, it’s a pain in the butt, and wouldn’t dream of using it unless I was trying to stain a blotchy wood.

-- Optimists are usually disappointed. Pessimists are either right or pleasantly surprised. I tend to be a disappointed pessimist.

View joey bealis's profile

joey bealis

177 posts in 2503 days

#16 posted 02-03-2012 02:31 AM

Ive used the gel stains a lot to do distress work on cabinets, and also to make metal doors look like real wood by using a hard bristle paint brush and pulling the grain. Now for actually staining wood I would not dare us it for that and didn’t even really know you could.


View Nighthawk's profile


556 posts in 2353 days

#17 posted 02-03-2012 02:40 AM

Having never heard of a gel stain before (and never looked for one) what advantages is it suppose to have over normal products???

There must be a reason and or idea why they made a Gel if it is horrid to use? just asking cause as I said never heard of it before.

-- Rome wasn't built in a day... but I wasn't on that job? ...

View dakremer's profile


2672 posts in 3088 days

#18 posted 02-03-2012 02:48 AM

I dont like gel stain all that much either, but I’ve had good results with it on pine though (or any wood that would get blotchy). The point of the gel stain is that it does penetrate deep into the wood, and therefor you dont get all that blotchiness.

The only time I’ve ever used it was with pine, and it worked out good for me. It was a bit of a pain to put on and wipe off though

-- Hey you dang woodchucks, quit chucking my wood!!!!

View JockChris's profile


70 posts in 2351 days

#19 posted 02-03-2012 02:53 AM

I too hate gel stain. I have new qt sitting down in the shop… they say its for staining doors or something that vertical and will not run … I’d rather deal with runs than to deal with gel stains…

View JAAune's profile


1798 posts in 2314 days

#20 posted 02-03-2012 03:21 AM

I use them. The alleged anti-run capabilities of gel stains aren’t any advantage but the reduced tendency to splotch is really useful. That along with the fact that it is almost like a cross between a glaze and a stain gives them a purpose. I’ve used them as glazes and also as stains on textured surfaces that needed a little extra color in the details. They have also served well in a pinch when I needed to alter the color of an already sealed piece of furniture slightly and didn’t have any real glaze on hand. Scuff sand the topcoat, apply gel stain and topcoat (compatible with lacquers and shellac).

Since it’s so thick to begin with it’s important to work really fast. Get it on and wipe off before it starts to set. Get a new rag for wiping down as soon as the one in hand starts to get loaded with stain. If it gets too gummy (either on the rag or the wood) it’ll be impossible to work. At that point the only good option is to wipe down the entire piece with a compatible solvent after staining is done. This will lighten up the color a fair bit but the at least it will be a perfectly even color.

Trying to stain a light piece of wood very dark with a coat of gel stain does sound like a nightmare. It’s far easier to achieve a dark color with multiple layers of color. Transtint dyes followed by oilstains work well for me.

-- See my work at and

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2687 days

#21 posted 02-03-2012 04:29 AM

Rich, I used a gel stain on a white oak door I posted previously. Yuck is too kind! I hated it: if I left it on long enough to do anything it got too gummy to wipe off and if I wiped it sooner, it wiped 90% of the color off. Never again! Glad I’m not alone on this as I see so many recommendations to use this stuff.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View BTimmons's profile


2303 posts in 2482 days

#22 posted 02-03-2012 06:35 PM


To answer your question, unfinished cherry is naturally quite light in color, sometimes with pronounced curly grain. It’s actually quite easy to mistake it for maple sometimes. The idea that cherry is naturally several shades darker than a Merlot wine is yet another common misconception thanks to modern furniture marketing. After you see what real quality woodwork looks like, and you then look at the factory made pieces with a “cherry” finish, you start to notice that the factory finishes are very opaque and dark for a reason. This is done to intentionally obscure unremarkable grain and the places where they’ve spliced together more than one piece of wood because it’s slapped together from odd sizes.

-- Brian Timmons -

View blockhead's profile


1475 posts in 3305 days

#23 posted 02-03-2012 06:52 PM

Used it once, hated it and asked the same questions you are asking.

-- Brad, Oregon- The things that come to those who wait, may be the things left by those who got there first.

View MyChipCarving's profile


604 posts in 3122 days

#24 posted 02-03-2012 07:43 PM

Gel stains can be very useful when staining wood that is prone to blotchy results when using an oil stain.
Pine, cherry, basswood, can get spotty when using pigmented oil stains.
I use gel stains when staining some of my carvings.
First step is to seal the wood with a sanding sealer.
Then apply the gel stain to small areas letting it dry slightly before wiping it off.
Let it dry overnight and then apply more gel stain to any areas that need more of the color.
A bit tricky to use but with practice you can get nice results.
Also, not all gel stains are created equally. I’ve found General Finished and Varathane to work well.
Hope this helps.

-- Marty,, 866-444-6996

View TheOldTimer's profile


226 posts in 3083 days

#25 posted 02-03-2012 08:13 PM

I have been using gel stains on everything for the past six years and will never go back to dye stains again.

-- TheOldTimer,Chandler Arizona

View a1Jim's profile


117091 posts in 3574 days

#26 posted 02-03-2012 08:28 PM

I use Gel stains as part of my staining choices. If you have the right brand used the correct way it can be a good product on the other hand a bad brand of gel stain can be a royal pain.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3071 days

#27 posted 02-03-2012 08:41 PM

After reviewing the comments, especially the last one from Jim, I realize I did not say what the brand was. It was MinWax. For the record, I like most other MinWax products.

I also have a theory that it is good to stick with a single brand for stain, finish and/or other finishing products. I assume that products from the same manufacturer are designed to work together. Since I had planned to use MinWax wipe-on poly, I thought it best to stick with MinWax stain. The only MinWax aged oak stain is gel stain.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View cloakie1's profile


204 posts in 2552 days

#28 posted 02-03-2012 08:46 PM

never heard of gel stains either…but if all you guys reckon the stuff is crap then that is good enough for me.
i use mirotone ngr stains..i just brush it on ,leave it for a few minutes and then wipe over it with a rag loaded with 2way thinners to even the stain out….i don’t seem to get splotching.
will avoid gel stains…thanks rich

-- just get stuck in and have a go!!!

View nallen's profile


2 posts in 2874 days

#29 posted 02-05-2012 06:28 AM

The thing you have to understand about gel stains is that they aren’t really stains, that’s why they work on fiber glass and metal, they are paints without titanium dioxide. If you use a product incorrectly, and you are disappointed with the result, don’t blame the product. It’s called a “stain” simply for marketing reasons, I’m sure.

Imagine if you painted your walls using the same methodology you used to apply a stain, it would not work out well at all!

If you apply it as if it were paint, using a bristle brush, and being careful to have a even coat, then let it dry completely, don’t wipe it off, it will dry to a good color. You are applying a thin layer of a translucent oil-based paint with a rheology modifier to make it set up and not flow, making it perfect for vertical surfaces that would be difficult to color in other ways, or surface that do not readily absorb pigments (like shellaced wood.)

View BilltheDiver's profile


253 posts in 2882 days

#30 posted 02-05-2012 08:22 AM

Must be something wrong with me, because I like it. I’ve used minwax cherry gel stain on furniture projects made of poplar, and on small items such as boxes, and I haven’t had any problems with it. It is more uniform than oil based stains and simple to apply and take off as long as you don’t do too big an area at a time.

-- "Measure twice, cut once, count fingers"

View Vincent Nocito's profile

Vincent Nocito

485 posts in 3361 days

#31 posted 02-09-2012 05:10 PM

I have been using General Finishes Gel stain for my interior millwork project with reasonable success. If you have several hundred feet of oak to stain, gel stain couldn’t be simpler. That is not to say it is great everywhere but for a simple one step finish, it is pretty good. Forget everything you know from using regular oil stains or dyes. Gel stain is a different beast.

1. For hardwoods like oak or ash, do not sand to more then 150 mesh. Gel stain is not a penetrating stain and sorta sits on the surface. If you go too fine, the finish just wipes back off. Softwoods should be sanded to 220 mesh otherwise it acts like a sponge and comes out very dark.
2. Surface prep is critical just like any finishing job. Gel stain seems to highlight surface defects like tear out or snipe or planer ripple.
3. Work fast. I spread it on (usually a foam brush) and immediately begin to wipe it off (wish I was an octopus sometimes). Have a large supply of paper towels or rags ready. When the towel loads up, change it out.
4. The open time of gel stain is pretty short so if you are staining a large item, like a door, you may need to either thin out the gel stain with a bit of paint thinner, or break down the project into smaller chunks.
5. Let the gel stain dry completely before attempting either another coat or topcoat. I usually wait about 24 hours.
6. I don’t like gel stain on fine projects with a lot of fine detail. I find it hard to clean it out from small moldings, etc.
7. It works really well on blotchy woods like pine or birch ( without preconditioner). I used it on some interior doors with good results.
8. For furniture projects, I still prefer oil stains or dye and glaze. Gel stain is not ideal if you are using plywood where there is color or texture variation between the veneers.

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 3071 days

#32 posted 02-09-2012 05:27 PM

Vincent – - Thank you for a very informative post. Based on my experience, I agree with many of your points. WIth respect to the other points – I just don’t know.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Martyroc's profile


2712 posts in 2303 days

#33 posted 02-24-2012 02:06 AM

Hi Rich, I am not a huge fan of Gel stains but I do use them, they don’t penetrate the wood they are not designed to. On big projects it can be a pain and if it dries a little before you have time to finish wiping, you need to wipe the piece down with MS to get it off. When I am using a water based stain to get a particular color and I need good penetration. I give the piece 2 coats of gel stain after the water based stain to give it a more textured look, wipe on wait 2 minutes wipe off, repartee after several hours. I am doing my kitchen cabinets now and I included a link to the pictures, the last photo was done this way. let me know what you think.


I use more water based stain now, for 2 reasons if I need a particular color, green, red etc, and my daughter likes to help me in the shop and there is no odor.

-- Martin ....always count the number of fingers you have before, and after using the saw.

View stairman2's profile


1 post in 3008 days

#34 posted 02-28-2012 04:55 AM

I mostly just read all the awsome info on these forums, but I have to reply to this one. I recently did a big staircase and rail system, and the homeowner picked out a dark minwax gel stain. When they sampled it on a piece of pine it matched there floor perfectly. But when I applied it to the oak stairs and rail parts, it wasn’t even close. If you left it on too long it dried like paint. If you went over it with more gel stain it loosened it right up and back down to the lighter color when on oak. I feel for you because I remeber saying the same thing, please let me get through this job. It took me so much longer to try and get the stain dark enough, that I lost my shirt on that damn job. Another product by minwax that is wothless is ployshades. Homeoners think there skipping a step staining amd polying at the same time, LOL, never again!

View fussy's profile


980 posts in 3047 days

#35 posted 02-28-2012 07:42 AM


Fresh-cut cherry can be light pink to reddish brown with dark to green streaks. Ageing develops its’ superlative red-brown with pink to green highlites ooccasionally, the grain swirls or is straight or if quartersawn, beautifully delicately livey flakes. It has chatoyance—the collor changes and shifts as your perspective changes making it seem allmost to sparkle. The color from fresh cut changes rather quickly to a beautiful russet red-brown with the grain very prominent. Stains and glazes do nothing but occlude its’ beauty. If you want histerically beautiful cherry, sand to 250, apply blo with 320 then 400 wet-or-dry paper in a circular motion. Wipe dry, let it dry, then put in direct sun—turning it ocasionally—to get the hue you want. Take it in and let it dry completely, wipe down and apply your favorite clear finish or just wax. I like bees wax mixed with blo. Makes a beautiful piece. When I’m elected President, Cherry and walnut, as well as most exotics will be exempt from stains or glazes. Let the wood talk.


-- Steve in KY. 44 years so far with my lovely bride. Think I'll keep her.

View Will Mego's profile

Will Mego

307 posts in 3709 days

#36 posted 03-01-2012 03:50 AM

Stairman, again the issue might be more minwax than gel stain as a concept. I can’t stand minwax stuff as my childhood is nothing but my father making things look weird with one of their things or another.

-- "That which has in itself the greatest use, possesses the greatest beauty." -

View AJJohnson's profile


3 posts in 2273 days

#37 posted 03-03-2012 02:38 AM

As others have said, quality Gel stain provides more even color particularly on blotchy woods. Birch and poplar for example. It doesn’t drip, which is nice if your boards have dados. And it’s easier to build up than reg stain. I use Old Masters.

View SuburbanDon's profile


487 posts in 2991 days

#38 posted 03-07-2012 02:50 AM

I’m glad I read this post.

-- --- Measure twice, mis-cut, start over, repeat ---

View TCCcabinetmaker's profile


932 posts in 2352 days

#39 posted 03-07-2012 03:03 AM

Gel stains are good for using as a glazing. I pretty much have come to hate minwax after using cabot stains one time…

I used to love minwax products and think nothing of them, til I tried the cabot pigment stains… There’s just a huge difference in how easy it is to use the pigment and get flawless results. You don’t have to worry about running over corners, unevenness caused by smudges, uneven because of overlapping coats of stain… No if you have smudges or anything of the like, wipe down with more stain, and it will even out!

As for Gel stains, well they serve their purpose but mostly I will use them for glazing wood different colors between coats of lacquer. Yes there are better lacquer glazing products available, but they aren’t truely available with great ease in my area, So without ordering hundreds of dollars in samples, it’s just easy to pick up the gel from the store.

-- The mark of a good carpenter is not how few mistakes he makes, but rather how well he fixes them.

View JCantin's profile


179 posts in 3409 days

#40 posted 03-07-2012 02:36 PM

I used it on some poplar boxes hoping it would reduce blotching. It didn’t.

View Sanity's profile


174 posts in 2687 days

#41 posted 03-08-2012 08:17 PM

I have used gel stains and have achieved satisfactory results after gaining some experience. I started using them because frankly at the time I did not really know any better. My tips would be to obviously first test on scrap, and then use a sanding sealer if required particularly if the wood is prone to blotching. Although not recommended I sometimes thin the gel with a little mineral spirits, I find this helps in applying the stain more evenly but is dependant on what look/effect you are looking for. Never apply more than you can work with at a time because as has been mentioned in the thread above when it starts to dry it can become very difficult to work with. Never apply in direct sunlight on warm days! Work quickly and apply with even strokes running with the grain, and wipe off any excess promptly (again with the grain). Let dry for 24 hours between coats. If you are applying more than one coat then extreme care is needed because you can start to disolve the first layer and get an inconsistent finish if you apply too much pressure or keep working on the same area, for example on fiberglass.

-- Stuart

View Sorethumbs's profile


38 posts in 2644 days

#42 posted 03-19-2012 08:14 PM

Nallen Wrote: The thing you have to understand about gel stains is that they aren’t really stains, that’s why they work on fiber glass and metal, they are paints without titanium dioxide. If you use a product incorrectly, and you are disappointed with the result, don’t blame the product. It’s called a “stain” simply for marketing reasons, I’m sure.

Imagine if you painted your walls using the same methodology you used to apply a stain, it would not work out well at all!

If you apply it as if it were paint, using a bristle brush, and being careful to have a even coat, then let it dry completely, don’t wipe it off, it will dry to a good color. You are applying a thin layer of a translucent oil-based paint with a rheology modifier to make it set up and not flow, making it perfect for vertical surfaces that would be difficult to color in other ways, or surface that do not readily absorb pigments (like shellaced wood).

Thank you so much! I read this awhile back and finally had a chance to use this technique this weekend. I got absoultly azmazing results in pine using this. I had dabbled a bit with gel-stains before, without great results. I’m so dang happy right now because I know that I can now achive things with pine that I never could before…THANKS.

View Fuzzy's profile


298 posts in 3985 days

#43 posted 03-20-2012 06:24 PM

Rejecting GEL STAINS because of a “review” by an inexperienced one-time user of same is much like the guys who totally reject biscuits because they have discovered the Domino. They never really took the time to develop a good feeling for the biscuit joiner, so they just move on to another, more “fool proof” technology. NOTHING is fool proof to a sufficiently resourceful fool.

“Trying” any finishing technique without researching & understanding how it works on a particular species of wood at least to the point of being able to make an educated guess as to the outcome is ridiculous. Lots of woodworkers make great strides in their actual woodworking skills, but they just never bothered to develop even mediocre finishing skill.

To condemn all GEL stains because of a poor experience with one brand is akin to condemning all polyurethane finishes because one brand didn’t perform the magic you expected of it.

This whole project started out behind the 8 ball … GEL is not a good choice, generally for Oak … MINWAX is far from the best Gel on the market … the user had absolutely ZERO experience with the use of the product. What else could be more wrong than that ???

-- - dabbling in sarcasm is foolish … if you’re not proficient at it, you end up looking stupid … ... ...

View Retrowood's profile


117 posts in 2416 days

#44 posted 04-13-2012 12:32 AM

I’ve used the General Finishes Gel stain and really enjoyed working with it. Was doing a old gun stock in which I had pictures of what it looked like when new. I was able to apply different shades of the stain to get this color perfectly, I would always allow 24 hours between coats. After allowing 2 days for the final coat of stain to dry thoroughly, I sprayed a coat of Shellac and allowed it to dry overnight. I scratch sanded it and covered it with 3 coats of GF’s Gel Varnish and it came out very nicely. For me the trick was to keep a wet edge although not over apply. Use a 100% cotton cloth and good lighting.

-- Retrowood

View derosa's profile


1577 posts in 2832 days

#45 posted 04-13-2012 03:05 AM

Too bad I didn’t see this when it was first posted. If you are donating a project to a church don’t ask them what they want. Get a general idea, build it, and donate it. Giving an item to a church is like buying a kid a bike. When it is downstairs waiting for them it is the best bike ever and the color couldn’t be more perfect; take them to the store and kids will fuss over color and everything else under the sun. Also the less involvement the church has making it more of a gift and less of a commission the more likely it is that no matter what, even 200 years from now, they won’t be able to throw it away for anything regardless of color; it’s why churches collect pianos that barely work and waste money tuning them even if they never get used.
For actual commissions just get the generals as well, committees can’t agree on everything ever and most of the parishioners that aren’t on the committee won’t care anyways.

-- --Rev. Russ in NY-- A posse ad esse

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