Gel varnish - seems like I made a poor choice for this project

... or perhaps more than one.
My first mistake may have been the fairly dark stain. I see now what perhaps should have been obvious: a dark stain accentuates flaws. My scant past experience with stains was confined to plywood, and not so dark. So fewer flaws to begin with, and less color to settle in the scratches. I don't think I sanded any less thoroughly than on other projects; but those likely have the same flaws, only not very visible.
As for the gel varnish (General Finishes Satin), that is proving to be a real pain to apply to the "ladder" sides of the units.
[for reference] https://www.flickr.com/photos/gdguarino/14345718196/in/set-72157644207411490/lightbox/
Applying it is easy enough, but wiping the excess out of all those inner corners, and then checking for any spillover on the front and back, takes a long time. And then I need to re-check for any that gets on the inner surfaces when I do the fronts and backs. I'll add that time isn't the problem; no surface went more than a minute - maybe a minute an a half at worst - between application and wiping off. In addition, although it's only one coat, it looks a little duller than I had hoped.
Yes, I made test pieces. But somehow the effect seems different when I see it over a larger surface. I gave a quick rubdown to some surfaces that won't be seen (I tried a few things: brown paper, 0000 steel wool, a white abrasive pad, 600 grit sandpaper). All of them seemed to have a beneficial effect, so maybe I'll do some of that in the end too.
I've got one coat on everything, but I am seriously considering using something else for the following coats. Perhaps wiping poly, which I've had good luck with before. Any problem with that choice? Or anything else I might try?
On the plus side, my wife thinks the coloring and finish lend a certain "rustic" quality to the pieces, which she likes. I'm less certain I like the effect, but I have a feeling they will look a lot better standing in my living room than they do laying on a workbench under floodlights.
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On 11/28/2014 12:44 PM, Greg Guarino wrote:

I have never never ever never ever liked General Finishes Gel Varnish.. That is why 99% of the time I used Bartelys, Lawrence McFaddens, and Old Masters. The first two went out of business although LMF is being produced again by a company that bought the rights and formula to reproduce.

You should be looking at a minimum of 3 coats. The first coat is only going to change the color the second might start to show a bit sheen. If you think all those cracks are tough with a rag, think about a liquid and a brush.....

Yes as the last step.

Stick with what you have started with so that you will know what is needed to get a finish you want.
Oh, and consider using Old Masters gel varnish in the future.

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On 11/29/2014 3:35 PM, Leon wrote:

Well, I managed to get three coats on, and it is looking much better. I know it was a little stupid to worry that the first coat didn't look the way I had hoped, but the process was so laborious that I was in an unforgiving mood.
I'm not sure that the application difficulty was due to anything special about the General Finishes product (although having no other point of reference I can't really say). But the problem, as I see it, was the need to apply *then remove* the excess from all 144 of the inside edges that I so innocently designed into the project. The flat shelf surfaces were easy, as were the surfaces on the unassembled parts.
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On 12/2/2014 12:59 PM, Greg Guarino wrote:

than heaped with product. I have been using gel products for 25 plus years and do a lot of this by habit. With the rag fresh out of the can, wipe the larger amount of product on the wide easy to get to surfaces. Wipe the inside corners and cracks with that same rag but with the excess amount of the product removed. Dont redip the rag to do the tight corners, use the residual amount on the rag. Basically there is little to nothing to wipe out of those cracks and tight spots and those will receive the least amount of wear.
You learn, with practice, how much to apply. Too little and you end up scrubbing the surface to squeeze the stain or varnish out of the rag. Too much and your excess removal rag fills quickly and tights spots become difficult.
Remember too that applying excess is just that. If you don't put too much on you have less to remove. Weather you apply lightly or heavily you end up with about the same amount after wiping down.
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On 11/28/2014 1:44 PM, Greg Guarino wrote:

I would expect so. I personally don't have much use for gel products. On a project like this (it's looking very nice BTW, so don't be too critical or too hard on yourself), it would be very difficult to maintain a nice even coating in all those corners and crevices.

The first coat always does, and it should. It only seals the surface. Don't buy into marketing hype about one-coat (or even two-coat) finishes. There is no such thing.

Just be careful about changing horses in the middle of the stream (you can do it, but you need to be sure it's the right horse). If you change, be sure all products are compatible. In general, you don't want to be switching back and forth between solvent/oil and water-based. A lot of less experienced finishers still think poly is the be-all, end-all, pinnacle of wood finishes. It is not. A wiping varnish is something I would suggest as a better option than the gel for this project.

It's certainly most important that you (and your wife) like the way the final finish looks. It makes no difference if any of us here like it, or your neighbor, Uncle Ted, or the mailman.
Finishing is a process. If doing good work is important to you (and it clearly is from your posts), then finishing is not just another step in the project. It is a whole project unto itself. You will reach a conclusion to this journey, but don't forget that at this point, it's the journey that matters. The destination is only one of many, with many more to come.
Learn what you can with this project. Do the best you know how. Don't let hindsight blind you from reality. And don't fret over what might have been. This is not your last chance, and nothing is forever.
JP
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