Repairing & Trouble Shooting Oil Based Finishes


*How Can I Reduce the Sheen of an Oil-Based Topcoat? I Used Semi-Gloss and It's Too Shiny.

You can rub down the finish with 0000 steel wool and General Finishes Orange Oil to lower the sheen.

Pro Tip: GF does not recommend using steel wool with water-based finishes because the particles can become embedded and rust.

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*Why Does My Oil Finish Have a Haze When Applying Arm-R-Seal Over a Linseed Oil Based Stain?*

Linseed oil stains take a LONG time to dry. When applied too soon, Arm-R-Seal will likely prevent the linseed oil-based stain from gassing out and drying completely due to solvent entrapment, causing a haze.

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*Why Isn't the Salad Bowl Oil I Applied to Walnut Serving Boards Drying After Two Coats?

Some pieces of wood contain a lot of oil and walnut can be finicky.

The oil in the walnut wood may be causing the problem you've described - a longer dry time might have been needed over an oily wood. If the wood does not dry over the next few days then it may be necessary to sand down and start over.

Unfortunately, if the first coat does not dry, the second will never dry.

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*How Can I Lighten the Color of the Java Gel Stain I Have Applied?

It's always possible to darken a stained surface, but you cannot lighten a stained surface after the finish has dried.

When the surface is still wet, you can try to lighten the color by scrubbing with mineral spirits. If the finish has hardened, you will need to sand down your current stain and start over or use one of our paints.

You can mix GF Gel Stain colors to create a custom color.

You can also thin Gel Stain with 10-15% mineral spirits.

Always test our color on a hidden area of your project before beginning.

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*How Do I Correct the Haze That Appeared When I Applied Gel Satin Topcoat Over 3 Coats of Gel Stain?*

Haze (the technical term is blush) is caused by too many coats applied too quickly. A recoat time of 12 hours is not enough dry time when applying over an EXISTING finish. To remove the blush or haze, you can either wipe the area with a strong solvent, like xylene or lacquer thinner, or you can try sanding out the haze and then reapply the topcoat.

Always allow more dry time when applying oil-based products over an existing finish. Here are General Finishes recommended dry times for applying multiple coats of Gel Stain and Gel Topcoat over an existing finish.

  • Dry-Time to Touch: 4-6 hours
  • Dry-Time to Recoat with Stain When "Wiping Off": 72 hours. Do not recoat until you are sure the stain is dry. If in doubt, wait longer. Humidity or cold temperatures will increase dry times.
  • Dry-Time to Recoat with Stain When "Painting On": 72 hours. Do not recoat until you are SURE the stain is dry. If in doubt, wait longer. Humidity or cold temperatures will increase dry times.
  • Dry-Time to Apply Oil-Based Topcoat over Gel Stain: 72 hours
  • Dry-Time to Apply Water-Based Topcoat: 72 hours
  • Dry-Time for Light Use: 7-10 days
  • Dry-Time Over Laminate or Other Non-Porous Surfaces: At least 72 hours, likely more. Test to your satisfaction before proceeding.
  • CURE TIME: Cure time for all General Finishes oil-based products is about 30 days. During the curing process, protect your flat surfaces and avoid placing heavy items on horizontal surfaces or sliding anything across the surface.

Dry time and cure time are unrelated. In simplest terms, here is the difference between drying and curing: Drying is the evaporation of solvents in oil-based products, and water in water-based products. Curing is when the product hardens for full use.

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*How Do I Remove a White Mark Caused By a Vodka Spill?

The term for white or cloudy marks is blush, caused by some type of moisture in the finish. Alcohol damage is more severe than water rings.

General Finishes tests all our topcoats against both isopropyl and denatured alcohol with results showing recovery within an hour.

In most cases, the white mark will fade if the spill is cleaned up in a timely manner. If the alcohol had been sitting on the surface for an extended period then it might not be able to bounce back.


The afflicted surface needs to be scuffed and sanded first. Second, we recommend applying a sanding sealer to protect the top. Sanding sealer has a larger resin particle, so it will provide a better build for the next sanding step.

Learn more about General Finishes Enduro Sanding Sealer here.

Then finish with your topcoat.

Future forward, if you have a project that receives high-use, a glossier sheen will be more durable. The flatting agents that are required to formulate flat sheens cause a slight loss in durability and water resistance.

If you are set on a flat sheen on a new project, use two coats of semi-gloss first and finish with the flat sheen topcoat.

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*How Can I Get Stain and Topcoat to Adhere to Knots on Pine? When I Apply the Topcoat, the Stain Starts Pulling Off.

Uneven Gel Stain on Knotty Pine

Pine is full of pitch (rosin or tar) and stain alone will never adhere to these areas. The knots are so dense and hard there is no grain to hold the stain in place

To fix, sand the table lightly with 120-grit sandpaper and restain the table. To improve adherence of the stain, mix 2 parts Gel Stain with one part Gel Satin Topcoat. Apply as many coats of the mix as needed to obtain the desired color, allowing 24-hour dry time between coats.

Note: The stain may never adhere well to the knots because they are too dense to hold a stain. You can try dry brushing the knots with the stain to deepen the color and the protect with topcoat.

Note: Pine knots will always continue to bleed through a light paint. You must incorporate the knots as part of the finish design.

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*Why is Arm-R-Seal Blotching Over an Oil Based Stain on a Table I am Refinishing?

Arm-R-Seal Blotching

The problem areas on your table are probably caused by surface contamination from oils, waxes or cleaning products used over the years.

Contaminants from dusting sprays that contain silicone will also impact the appearance and adherence of a finish - silicone is almost impossible to remove. Oil soaps and wax can also cause adhesion failures. This may be why the finish is performing differently on the leaves vs the table top. Adhesion failure is often more obvious in the deepest patterns of grain because the contamination is driven deep into the grain. 

Unfortunately, even though you sanded the table down to raw wood, sanding alone will not remove this type of contamination. In fact, sometimes the friction heat of sanding will drive contaminants deeper into the grain. 

You have two options, and we recommend the first:

  1. Strip, sand and refinish the table. Use a strong solvent such as a paint stripper and, brushing the surface with a soft brass brush to clean out the grain. Follow this by cleaning with 0000 Medium steel wool and mineral spirits.
  2. Buff the existing finish with 0000 steel wool and mineral spirits, particularly in the affected areas, and then re-apply several more coats of Arm-R-Seal

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*How Do I Match Putty Wood Filler to a Dark Stain?

Putty comes in two forms, pre-colored or as a stainable wood filler designed to fill minor imperfection such as nail holes, cracks, and gouges in the wood surface. Putty will display stain a bit differently than wood, so it is not a "perfect" fix, but a good one.

The goal is to get the best possible color match to either the color of the raw wood or the color of your existing finish.

The easiest route is to buy a putty that is pre-mixed with color. Both Famowood and Timbermate make colors of putty in several shades. Famowood is available in both oil-based and water-based formulas. Timbermate is an interior grade water-based filler and comes in 13 pre-mixed colors.

Be careful to note if you are buying a solvent (oil) based putty or a water-based putty. Either will work as long as you observe opposing dry times when switching as you would do for finishes.


  • Water over oil: a minimum of 72 hours
  • Oil over water: a minimum of 24 hours

If you cannot purchase the right color match, you can tint the putty with stain to create a custom color. For example:


  • Prep sand your piece. If you are using with an existing finish, thoroughly prep clean and scuff sand your project first.
  • Press wood filler into defected area.
  • When dry, sand flush with surrounding surfaces after approximately 15-30 minutes, depending on temperature, depth of fill and whether the putty is oil or water based.

Finally, another good putty is Color Putty. They make both water and oil-based versions in ready-made colors. This is a soft putty that can be used AFTER the project is finished to fill nail holes or small imperfections.

ALWAYS TEST filler, stain and finish combinations on a small area before applying to your project.

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*How Do I Remove Water Stains or Discoloration Before Staining Raw Wood?

Sanded oak table with water stain before

You can use oxalic acid when trying to remove discoloration or water damaged spots. The entire surface needs to be treated and then neutralized with a clean water wash.

Mix 4 oz. per quart of warm water. Wipe the entire surface down with the mixture and allow to dry completely. Rinse table with a clean damp rag. Finish sand with 180 grit followed by the final sanding schedule below. Make sure to wear a  dust mask when sanding wood treated with oxalic acid - the dust can irate the nose. 

Lastly, finish sand with the appropriate grit paper:

  • Oil-based products: 150-grit
  • Water-based products: 220-grit

It’s not a bleach but it will brighten the wood back to its original color. 

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How Do I Remove Watermarks From an Existing Finish?

Sometimes watermarks cannot be removed.

Dark rings are an indication that the watermark is in the wood.

White rings are an indication that the watermark is in the finish.

Possible solutions:

Apply Oxalic Acid mixed 6 oz per quart of water. This can minimize the discoloration but there are no guarantees.

Use bleach is a last resort option. It can remove some rings but may cause a permanent change in the wood.

Your best option is to sand out with 100 grit followed by 120, 150, and then 180. Restain with a darker color.

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