Gel Stain problems on oak project

On the recommendation of someone here, I bought some Rockler Mission Oak Gel stain for a bookcase project. Previously I had used tradtional solvent based stains. My woodworking experience is fairly limited. The stain is darker than I would have picked out, but I am listening to SWMBO to keep things happy on the homefront.
The project is a bookcase, oak plywood and oak trim. I live in Houston where its hot and humid. I sanded through 220.
I stirred the gel stain before applywith an old cotton sheet scrap. When I applied the gel stain to a test board, it seemed easy to do. On the large parts, like the sides, it was difficult to use in my opinion. The Gel did not spread very much, and had to be worked a lot. When I attempted to do large surfaces, it dried quickly and became a thick blob sort of texture, and this made the plywood blotchy. It also left white un-stained parts in the deep grain, you'd have to really work it get those stained completely as the gel is pretty thick and doesn't flow like the solvent based stains.
It got so bad I needed to "cut" the thickening gel stain so I used some thinner on a new rag to get it to spread out evenly and remove the dark spots from what would normally be the highlight section of the wood. The thinner worked, but when you step back and look at the project now, it looks horrible with a big light spot where I used the thinner and other screwups.
I have four of these bookcases assembled, this was the first one. I plan on using the thinner and sanding out some of the problem spots and re-staining, taking care not to go through the plywood venier.
Does anyone have any suggestions on working this gel stain when it seems to dry so fast? What sort of rag is best? Maybe a squegee or brush to get the stuff spread out faster? I've got a lot of SF to cover on these bookcases.
Thanks,
Scott
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Scott I live in SW Houston and have been using gel stains since the late 80's. IIRC the Mission Oak gel stain from Rockler is made by Lawrence McFadded, a top quality product. That said, gel stains are different from regular stains. You must apply the stain "liberally" in a circular motion to get the stain down into the grain of oak. Additionally you must almost immediately wipe away the excess stain "before" it starts to thicken and harden. Keep a clean cotton rag handy and immediately wipe off the excess after applying. Oak veneer plywood is much more porous than regular solid hard wood oak and you must apply even more heavily and again, immediately wipe off the excess.
If the stain does start to get blotchy you can apply more to the same area and this will normally remoisten and clear the problem up. Thinner will work to remove the stain. Remove all of it and restain. On the porous plywood surfaces it is best to not apply the stain to more than a square foot at a time before wiping off the excess. You can go a bit farther on solid wood.
Just remember to wipe off the excess with the grain immediately after applying. The stain does not have to soak in and you "cannot" wipe it off too soon.
I do not sand past 180 grit with a finish sander.
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Thanks - will do.
curious, what sort of finish do you favor? I've had good results with the Rockler's wipe on poly & oil mixture. It says 3 coats but if you do that its a bit overly glossy in my opinion.
Scott
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McFadden's Gel Varnish. I have been using Bartley's since the late 80's and the finishes portion of the Bartley's business was recently bought out by Lawrence McFadden. LMF has been in business for a very long time but mostly worked with the trades. They will sell to the public and you get pretty good discounts if you buy in case lots. Typically a gel varnish will cost you in the neighborhood of $15 per quart regardless of brand. LMF in cases of 4 quarts runs about $32 IIRC. I was very impressed by the LMF gel varnish when I used it for the first time last week. I have never seen a gel varnish come in any other finish other than Satin. This is also true with the LMF varnish.
Typically a varnish should not get any glossier with more coats except for the fact that until the wood stops soaking up the varnish it may appear to have a dull finish. Once the "soaking in" has stopped the sheen should remain about the same regardless of the amount of coats. If you are getting too shiny for your liking use a satin finish for the last coat, that will dull the previous coat a bit and typically the higher gloss underlayers will not dull the grain as much as multiple coats of a satin finish.
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"scott" wrote in message

You might want to consider trying shellac as a topcoat with this product.
FWIW, I've used the gel stain that you refer to on a recent project, and Leon's advice on using it is consistent with my experience with the product.
For a topcoat I sprayed amber shellac ... gave a very authentic Mission look to the project. Although a bit darker than with clear shellac, it was exactly what I was looking for.
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