Gel Stain

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Forum topic by stumpknocker posted 05-05-2011 05:45 PM 2640 views 0 times favorited 12 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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28 posts in 2838 days

05-05-2011 05:45 PM

I applied, or rather tried to apply, a gel stain to a small nightstand I had made for my daughter. The stand is made from poplar and was sanded to 600 grit. I turned the legs and sanded them to 600 grit. The directions on the can were followed but in my opinion the gel was to thick and dried much to quickly. The poplar did not absorb the stain as I had expected and left a less than desirable appearence. In fact it was really ugly. After drying, I sanded as much of the gloppy finish off as I could and reapplied an oil based stain which worked much better and at least made the stand presentable. By the time I finish it will look O.K. but even though the can said not to thin the gel, if I ever use the stuff again I will thin it before I use it. Anybody got any suggestions or experience with gel stain?

12 replies so far

View Brandon's profile


4152 posts in 2974 days

#1 posted 05-05-2011 05:49 PM

I don’t have much experience with gel stain, but it could be that it was sanded too fine. If I’m staining something, I usually don’t finer than 150 grit.

-- "hold fast to that which is good"

View superstretch's profile


1531 posts in 2716 days

#2 posted 05-05-2011 06:25 PM

It might be because you used poplar too. From what I remember, poplar takes stain somewhat poorly and tends to get blotchy

-- Dan, Rochester, NY

View stnich's profile


118 posts in 2947 days

#3 posted 05-05-2011 06:30 PM

I agree I think you sanded the piece to fine. I also usually sand the poplar that I stain to 120 or so. Gel stains can be finicky and by definition are not penetrating stains. They basically lay on top of the wood. I find that you have to move quickly and get it on and wipe it down as quickly as possible. I use a lot of poplar on the clocks that I make. I use a wiping stain (not as thick as a gel) usually Zar and I get a great finished product. I try to avoid penetrating stains on poplar because of blotching.

View Bertha's profile


13529 posts in 2716 days

#4 posted 05-05-2011 06:41 PM

the only success I’ve ever had with gel stains is using them as a glaze. I can’t stand them.

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4147 days

#5 posted 05-05-2011 09:23 PM

I’ve used gel stain once, as an attempt to darken something that had already been heavily polyurethaned. I see no point in using it further, as it didn’t even work well for that. Maybe for staining fiberglass where fake grain has been cast into it.

I agree with Brandon that you may have sanded too fine to start with, I try to not go over 220 ‘til after I’ve got a few coats of my final finish on, but even so I’m not a fan of gel.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View Howie's profile


2656 posts in 2945 days

#6 posted 05-05-2011 09:54 PM

I agree, you over sanded and with poplar you should have used a blotch control.

-- Life is good.

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3181 days

#7 posted 05-05-2011 10:03 PM

Yep, a gel stain is designed to lay atop the wood…not necessarily penetrate it. The utility of this is for projects where you need to color wood when the wood might be slightly mismatched in terms of original color, absorption rates, and varying wood types.

You apply it to the wood and spread it around, going with the grain. You may or may NOT wipe this off. It depends on what you are looking for, but for many people the issue comes with wiping it off. For such applications, I would finely brush on the gel stain, NOT wiping off the excess. For me (and MANY others), using it otherwise just leads to frustration.

In other words, you can’t treat it like a traditional stain.

Like a few mentioned, gel stains actually work well as glazes.

-- jay,

View Bertha's profile


13529 posts in 2716 days

#8 posted 05-05-2011 10:09 PM

I agree that 600 on poplar is quite fine. You probably inadvertently made a dust slurry once the gel stain was applied. A good wipe-down and some conditioner may have helped but maybe not. There’s always next time:)

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View stumpknocker's profile


28 posts in 2838 days

#9 posted 05-06-2011 12:51 PM

I wished I had asked about the gel stain before I used the stuff. I had not thought about sanding to fine but that could have made the problem with the gel stain worse. I probably won’t put myself in a situation where I use it again. Thanks for the replies.

View Steven H's profile

Steven H

1117 posts in 3083 days

#10 posted 05-06-2011 08:53 PM

Poplar is one of those wood that is difficult to stain and prone to blotch.
Even the washcoat helps little or not. (greenist wood)

I use dyes for this particular wood.
Sand up to 180.
Dye the surface
Then seal with 1 pound shellac.
Next apply dye again.
Top coat it with any finish you like.

I agree with other that you sanded way over you need to.
It is true that sanding up to high will prevent any stain to stick.

Sand to 150 or 180 grit.

Directions can be find here

View fredf's profile


495 posts in 3732 days

#11 posted 05-07-2011 04:17 AM

Popular needs to be sealed before staining, a couple coats of thinned shellac will do wonders. I try not to use popular where its going to show . . .

Don’t give up on the gel stains, I have had the best luck with them, Ive had good luck with these not real cheap, but not overly expensive either. I got a gallon of Zinzer seal coat sanding sealer (DE-WAXED shellac) thinned it a bit and wiped on a couple thin coats then wiped on the stain, Ive used on pine, and will be using on oak and maple in near future. the best thing you can do is to take some scrap pieces and try different things till you get it the way you like it!

-- Fred, Springfield, Ma

View bench_dogg's profile


63 posts in 3160 days

#12 posted 05-07-2011 05:34 AM

Step 1: Throw gel stain in trash.
Step 2. Refer to Steven H post above.

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