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Gel Stains

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If you've never tried gel stains, you're missing out on what could be an important part of your finishing repertoire. In certain situations (that we'll tell you about) these thickened stains perform better than thin-bodied (liquid) stains. But, they do have limitations. And, as we discovered, subtle differences exist between the three major brands we tested.

How gel stains compare to thin-bodied stains

To understand how these two types of stains behave differently, imagine a piece of wood as if it were a slice of bread. Applying a gel stain to wood is like spreading peanut butter onto bread. The peanut butter sticks, but it doesn't penetrate the porous surface of the bread. You can spread the peanut butter, but you can't apply it in a thin or translucent layer the way you can, say, warmed butter. Like fluid butter, thin-bodied stains go on thin and penetrate the surface.

Because gel stains lie on a wood surface instead of soaking into it, they uniformly color porous and nonporous areas alike. That makes them relatively goof-proof, and a great help to novice finishers. And, because they don't run or splatter, they're especially handy for applying to vertical surfaces.

Nevertheless, gel stains do have certain drawbacks. We avoid them on projects with lots of tight corners and crevices because the stain collects in these tight spots and is hard to remove. Thin-bodied stains don't have this problem because they wick into tight spots and the areas adjoining them. And, because gel stains don't penetrate as well as thin-bodied stains, they don't bring out the "depth" of the wood grain as well as thin-bodied stains. That's why we prefer thin-bodied stains for porous woods such as oak, ash, mahogany, and walnut.

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Comments (5)
gfgorman0345 wrote:

If you are going to stain fiberglass, use either Wood Kote or Olympic. Do not use MinWax. It's gummy and won't smooth out and leaves a blotchy appearance.

2/18/2014 10:58:39 AM Report Abuse
dagwat wrote:

These thick gel stains are HORRIBLE! I tried MinWax which IMHO is worthless. It is beyond gel, it is a PASTE and although supposedly oak, it was BLACK. The gel stains I've used which were Very Good was Olympic brand, especially Colonial Oak. Beautiful, great thinner consistency yet gelled for use over paint or metal. Works wonderfully, looks great. Unfortunately I can't find it anymore. It appears to have been replaced on everyone's shelves by Min Wax.

3/13/2013 04:03:09 PM Report Abuse
dchellis wrote:

Do not care for the gel stain, I have only tried the Min Wax product, but I always go back to the oil base stain. I would be willing to try from another manufacture.

3/7/2013 12:43:09 PM Report Abuse
harrywoodfinish wrote:

The gel wood stain can in the photo on the first page is Wood Kote's Jel'd Stain. I have used their wood stain many times before, it is a very high quality product.

7/7/2010 10:49:30 AM Report Abuse
jfoliveri wrote:

General Finishes is an outstanding gel stain and has a great wiping gel varnish

5/8/2010 07:55:28 PM Report Abuse

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