I am in the middle of a project using a gel stain
for the first time.
This stuff is seriously thick and I am having
good success but I have found one very annoying
thing about the product.
This stuff seems to "flash off" at a very quick
rate and I have a hard time getting the finish
smooth and pretty on certain areas.
Most of the time it rubs out pretty but if I
fool around too long, the problem occurs.
It seems to drag and which off course takes some of
the cotton rag with it onto the tables I'm working on.
I then have to wait for it to dry and then clean the
area off and redo it.
How do you tell when the stuff is ready to come off
and not do it too early ???
How can you fix an area that got roughed up without
sanding ??? Can I use a rag soaked in paint thinner
to just wipe it off and redo the area ???
Combination of the product (some gel stains are harder to apply), and you
could be doing too big an area at a time. I usually pick around a square
foot, then wipe it off immediately with a separate "wipe off" rag.
This second "wipe off" rag, once you've got it wet enough with the gel stain
from wiping, is key for smoothing those areas that got too dry.
AAMOF, I might judiciously fold and use the "application" rag as a "wipe
off" rag pretty quick after starting the process, using a new application
Regardless, the key, IME with gel stain, is to do small areas at a time.
Pat I have been using gel stains for about 20 years now. Some dry quickly,
some not so quickly.
I have adapted to "immediately" wiping off the excess after wiping on a
square foot or so. Because gel stains normally do not have a problem with
lap marks not having a wet edge is not a problem. Typically leaving the
stain on longer "does not" result in deeper penetration. Typically once the
stain hits the wood the stain has done its job, you can immediately remove
If you have a hard time removing the excess, you are waiting way too long
regardless of what the can says.
Application of the stain should be a very easy process, wiping off the
excess should be as easy as wiping it on, so if your surface is getting
tacky before you wipe it off, wipe much sooner. Again, immediately is not
You can apply more gel stain to moisten the dried areas and smooth out and
you can remove with thinner. Removing with thinner however tends to result
in a bit of a different look as the stain remains in the pores of the grain
especially in red oak.
That said, General finishes also makes a gel varnish. IMHO it is too thin
and does not leave a very thick protective layer. For years I was a
Bartley's gel stain and varnish fan but recently discovered that Bartley
sold the stain and varnish portion of their furniture business to Lawrence
McFadden. I have found that the Lawrence McFadden Gel Stain And Varnishes
to be very easy to work with. In particular I like their gel varnishes.
They have been around for a very long time and sold to furniture and piano
manufacturers. You can buy their products on line and can get substantial
discounts when buying in case lots. Typically 1 quart of their gel products
is about $15. A case of 4 quarts is about $30.
Pat I happened by them by accident. I read an article indicating that
Barleys had been bought by Lawrence McFadden and so I went to the site. I
inquired about like colors to Barleys and in doing so they wanted to know if
I had a particular Bartley color on hand. I ended up sending to them a 1/2
pint of Bartley stain for 2 quarts of my choice of LMF in return. I loved
the LMF Gel Varnish.
If you give them a call they will send you an order form that indicates the
case pricing. They are a relatively small and still family owned business
that has been in business since 1875. A small business that has been in
business for over 125 years must be doing something right. ;~)
Of all the Gel varnishes and stains that I have used, this product seems to
be the cream of the crop.
I take it you have tried General finishes as well.
I didn't realize that gel products have been around
Between gel stains and needing to learn how to
spray, I'll be a busy boy this summer.
I'm going to the Charlotte woodworking show
tomorrow and hope to learn some more.
Yep... there is a LOT to be said for a business
that lasts that long.
I have been using General Finishes since 1979. I prefer their liquid
products, they are kinda new to the gel products.
The first time I used a gel stain, Bartley's was in 1989 IIRC when I started
remodeling my kitchen. IIRC LMF was making them before that.
In January I built a mobile Maple kitchen cart for a customer. The customer
at one time helped his father renovate kitchens and bathrooms. He thought
that I sprayed the varnish finish on the cart. I used the LMF gel varnish.
If you have not discovered this yet, let me add that gel varnishes and
stains have a very nice advantage over most other finishes. Typically they
are dry to the touch 5-10 minutes after you give them the wipe down. the
varnish is applied the same way put it on and immediately wipe it off. With
this advantage DUST is not a problem, it is not going to stick of cause
problems. I typically don't do any prep to keep dust away from the project
that I am gel staining or apply a gel finish to. No need to scuff the
previous coat before applying the next coat and if you find a smudge you
typically have several hours to apply more of the product to soften and
smooth out the problem area.
IMHO the only disadvantage is what you are witnessing if you wait too long
to wipe the excess off, but even that can be fixed.
Plywoods typically take a bit longer to dry than solid woods.
SFWIW,years ago back in Cleveland, found WoodKote, a company based in
Oregon, at a lumber yard.
Here in SoCal, found WoodKote stocked by a local Ben Moore store.
I do a lousy job with most stains, but using WoodKote's gel stain, I get by.
Pat - something to remember, here. I am not smart enough to have said
this, but have always remembered it after the first time I heard it.
"Practice on your scraps, not on your projects."
Good finishing takes practice, and lots of it. Great finishing is an
art. It is learned just like any other aspect of woodworking, mostly
through research and practice. It is one of those things that you
never entirely learn, and you never really entirely master. In its
own way, that is what makes it so interesting.
I have never, ever, understood why someone will make a project that
invests many hours of their lives using skills that have taken years
to develop, build it from expensive woods and hardware using tools
that cost thousands of dollars only to all but ignore the finishing
I know some great woodworkers that don't have ONE, not one, single
book on finishing. They think they are so smart they can read the can
and go on to do great work. Others seem to think it is voodoo, and
they love all the woodwork, but almost stroke out when thinking of
applying finish to their masterpiece.
Good finishing can save and even make a project. Sadly, many times,
great carpentry is hidden away in details, unappreciated by most
except a fellow craftsman. On a coffee table that has a couple of
drawers, do you actually think most people enjoy looking at the hidden
dovetail joints more than they do the well finished expanse of wood on
I went to a client's house about 6-8 months ago, and he had just
finished building a nice cherry hall table for his entryway. The
carpentry work was actually quite good, and considering his limited
shop, it was even better. But the finish? He thought because he went
to a "pro store" and bought "WhackerSeal Super Deluxe 2000" and
"Stainmaster Platinum Pro Stuff" he did good. He tried to buy a good
finish in a can.
Just because it isn't common in your area doesn't mean it is a good
product. Just because you buy it from a boutique doesn't mean it is
In the end looked a little amateurish, and it didn't have to be that
way. He was concerned about the finish, but was glad to tell me it
was his first time finishing a big project. Time build: 6 months of
weekends. Cost of materials: $350. Time to ruin the project with
poor finishing: two weekends, and he proudly told me it didn't even
take all day either weekend!
Ouch. That was easy to see.
Anywayyy.... ranting editorial is off.
You can thin the product (write down your new formula!) by taking a
measured amount out of the can, and mixing in mineral spirits to
slightly thin to a consistency you like. So NOT thin in the can!
If you are serious about getting in the middle of finishing, go down
to the dollar store and get yourself a cheap set of
measuring cups, preferably metal, and a set of metal measuring
spoons. Download one of the many conversion tables out there that
allow you to try other formulas or suggestions from the manufacturers
(or others) that change "cooking measurements" of your spoons into
international units. (Ex.: 1 tbsp = 15 ml.)
When I get a formula I like for the project, I mix it in one of those
GLAD brand throw away containers, and write the manufacturer's name,
my formula of color mix, and any other materials and thinners on the
lid. (Ex: I am prone to mix just a little dark red mahogany with the
dark walnut to give it an instant "toned" highlight - but not
always.) The gel stain will keep in one of those for the length of
the project, and I have the formula at hand if I run short.
Hey... quite foolin' around over there! See below.
It is easy to overwork gel stain. You didn't say what kind of wood
you are working on, but for any soft wood, it is always good to use a
Somewhere I have a recipe for homemade conditioner that uses Elmer's
white glue (not yellow) and distilled water. It is mixed in a ratio
of 1 part glue to 10 parts water. Try any conditioner on a scrap and
let it dry for a few hours before using it on your project. Of
course, after you condition your wood, try your stain on it as well.
You may find that with conditioner your color may be lighter than you
expected. Certainly lighter than applying stain to bare wood.
Test on scraps. Pay attention to the times you use to apply it. See
If you use a rag with thinner, you will have the opposite problem.
Now you will dissolve the thin areas of stain around the blotchy parts
as they will take longer to dissolve. You will make it worse as you
will pull off most of the stain leaving the little dried bits adhered
to the wood. If you sand (unless you sand everything to the same
level) you will make it worse still.
If you have blotchy areas now, clean off the whole surface with
thinner soaked rags, and start over. It's about the only way to get
Try applying the stain this way:
Roll up a small applicator about 4" long, and about an 1 1/4" around
out of plain white cotton jersey. Fold the edges before rolling so
that you don't get threads or edges of the dauber.
Thin your stain to the proper consistency. Scrap test it for time and
even application. This is the time to try your application technique,
on those scraps.
Dip your application quickly into your thinner. (C'mon... you knew
there had to be a trick, right?) You don't want the applicator wet,
just damp, so squeeze out all the thinner you can. Wetting the
applicator helps keep the solvents in the material as the cotton won't
absorb them from your stain making it dry on the applicator as you are
Do not use the stain (or any other finishing material for that matter)
out of the can. Dip into your stain mix container and get a bunch on
the applicator. Do not be timid about this, load that baby up. Rub it
on the wood as evenly as possible. If it is softwood, I rub parallel
to the grain. If it is a porous hardwood, I run in a figure "eight",
then the finishing strokes are parallel to the grain.
Work quickly, making sure your stain material doesn't get tacky.
Apply, rub out to desired color and move on, always staying on the
damp edge. Do not go back over your work. If it is still uneven,
just apply a thinner coat over the top of the existing, and don't rub
off as much in the light areas. With a little practice, this isn't as
hard as it sounds. Just remember, spot dressing up of a light area
is dicey, and if you do it you have to live with the idea that you
may screw up more than you fix. Small touchups aren't usually a
Here's the second trick. I don't ever apply, wait, then remove gel
stain. I apply, then work out the color, removing excess gel as I
go. I don't worry about inconsistencies in color, but focus on a
consistent overall color, which will be your indicator of a consistent
application. The wood will absorb the stain at different rates, even
with a conditioner.
But due to their specific properties, gel stains present you with an
opportunity you don't get with conventional stains. I apply, paying
careful attention to what the gel is doing. If it is running out OK
but drying rapidly enough that I am having trouble blending my wet
edges, I speed up my application and apply less material. That is
about all I pay attention to. Why?
Because you can easily go over gel stain the same day, applying
another coat of color. This is very important to keep the blotchiness
or inconsistencies in color down to a minimum. If I am finishing
something really nice, I plan on two thin coats of color as opposed to
one trying to hit it spot on with the first shot. Most woods seem to
do better with two thin coats of stain rather than one heavy one, as
it gives better depth of color.
Wait at least one full day before finishing. If you put on a clear
coat that is heavy with solvents, make sure you put down a coat and DO
NOT go over your work. (Of course if you are spraying you can ignore
all of this...) You will dissolve the stain if you do and the finish
will be inconsistent under your finish, which is a disaster. I don't
know about the garden variety water based stuff from the big boxes,
but professional rated water borne finishes have such strong chemicals
they will dissolve the applied stain as well if you over work the
Whatever it is you are working on over there, I hope you post some
pics on Photobucket or similar soon!
I agree completely.
Reminds me of a story....
Many years ago, I made custom waterbeds. Some were simple, but many were
large, elaborate affairs. The cost varied not only with the wood and
design, but the finish as well,
I got an order for four pyramid waterbeds from four different clients. Each
was different in terms of pedestals, "extras" and finish. One guy wanted an
elaborate bed but balked at paying big bucks for a fancy finish. And this
was a finish he insisted on having too. I tried to discourage him, but he
was adamant about this. He insisted on applying the finish himself.
So I made the bed. He was happy with it. I bought him his finish from a
store that specialized in marine finishes. It is what he wanted. I had only
used this finish a couple times before. It was an incredible amount of work
that took over two weeks to apply and cure. I gave him complete
instructions and told him he could call me with any questions.
I went by to see him a couple months later. The bed was up. It had the most
horrid finish I had ever seen applied to wood in my life. Dried vomit would
have looked better. I was shocked. He said that he should have paid me to
apply the finish. I don't know how anybody could have done such a horrid
job. But he found a way. He wanted to save some money.
That experience helped me to swear off on elaborate finishing schemes.
Simple is best. And it takes time to develop a "touch". Not everything in
life can acheive instant gratification. I have made mistakes in my life.
But this episode is the epitome of bad finishes. It also made me swear off
on impossible clients. I would never agree to such an arrangement ever
Older and wiser...
Bless your heart for sharing this info.
I hope most of the other folks are paying
attention here, cause I think we just got
a good lesson.
I knew better when trying a new "thing"
but you pretty well covered that subject.
I didn't even consider a pre-stain conditioner
with this gel stain, cause I didn't think it
was going to have penetration rate of the
regular oil based stuff.
I'm not the "king of the Idiots" but I'm
certainly one of the crown princes.
Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
"If" I don't take it to the burn pile,
I'll post a picture or two.
Clipped another chapter of "How to do it" by
Remember the tag line from the movie, "The Karate Kid"?
"Wipe on, wipe off"
Work in a small area, say 1-2 sq ft, at a time.
Complete the "wipe off" before moving on to next area.
I'm not much of a stain guy, but the above worked for me.
BTW, got rid of a lot of old cotton T-shirts in the process.
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