Technique Tips


*Will Gel Stains Darken with Another Coat?

Yes, each layer will darken your project even more. You can also start with a lighter color Gel Stain and layer on darker colors.

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*How Can I Create a Custom Glaze, Wash, Varnish or Stain?

You can design your own custom glazes, stains, washes, and varnishes with General Finishes intermixable water-based products. **Do not mix General Finishes Glaze Effects with General Finishes Water Based Stain (including Pre-Stain Natural) See tips and recipes below.

For all of the following mixes, GF recommends the following two steps:

  1. Applying a base layer of High Performance Top Coat before applying your custom glaze.
  2. Protect all of these finishes with 2-3 coats of top coat when you are finished.


Milk Paint + Winter White Glaze Effects OR Milk Paint + Water Based Whitewash Wood Stain

NOTE: Do not add more than 50% paint. If you add more than 50% you will have so much pigment that it will be difficult to wipe away the finish. **Do not mix Glaze Effects with Water Based Wood Stain. 


For example, Pitch Black Glaze Effects + Winter White Glaze Effects

Experiment with proportions and colors.


Water Based Wood Stain + 10% High Performance Top Coat
Oil Based Wood Stain + 10% Mineral Spirits

Note: Make sure that you wait 72 hours before applying a water-based topcoat on top of an oil-based stain.


Water Based Wood Stain  + High Performance Top Coat 50:50 ratio
Dye Stain + High Performance Top Coat 50:50 ratio


1 part Milk Paint + 1 part Pre-Stain Natural [50:50 mix]
1 part Milk Paint + 1 part Glaze Effects - Clear Base [50:50 mix]
1 part Milk Paint +  2 parts Water Based Stain Natural [1:2 parts]

Note: Proportions are relative to the color you are reducing. Some colors may require 2 parts clear base to reduce strength, others may require 1. Begin with a 50:50 mix, and add more clear base if necessary.

You can further increase the color palette by mixing 2 or 3 Milk Paint colors together before adding the clear base.

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*I Just Watched Your Video on Dry Brushing Gel Stain. Can I Use Ethynol Alcohol Instead of Mineral Spirits to Keep the Brush Discharged During Application?

Yes, but it will evaporate much more quickly so you will need to re-wet the discharge pad more frequently.

See the video below for how to update existing finishes using a dry brush technique.

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How can I thin Gel Stain?

Gel Stain can be mixed with up to 50% Liquid Oil Stain but be aware that this will thin the viscosity.

We recommend starting with 10% Liquid Oil Stain and testing to your satisfaction. Add more Liquid Stain as needed up to 50%. The mix will be thin and more translucent with less color saturation and intensity, but will not lose any of its properties for adhesion and curing.

How to thin Gel Stain to create a glaze

We recommend adding up to 10% mineral spirits. You can add more mineral spirits, but test first. The mixture will thin out quickly and also reduces color intensity. Using more than 10% can affect the performance and durability of the finish, but as a glaze, this is not as critical an issue because your topcoat will protect the finish.

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*What is the Best Applicator to use for Milk Paint and Water Based Topcoat?

Either bristle or foam brushes will work well with Milk Paint and Top Coat. The folks at GF might use several types of brushes for a project.

For example:

  • We like to use a bristle brush (which loads up more paint) to get Milk Paint on the surface, and then use a water or Extender dampened foam brush to smooth out the finish.​
  • ​​​​​​Bristle brushes are particularly helpful on vertical and detailed surfaces but they can produce subtle texture.
  • Foam brushes tend to produce a smoother finish which can be particularly helpful on flat horizontal surfaces.
  • Pad Applicators or paint rollers are also helpful on larger horizontal surfaces such as a table top.

For folks who don't want to invest in several brushes, the foam brush is our recommendation.

The very best application method is spraying.


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*How Do I Remove the Smell of Tobacco from Furniture Before Refinishing?

  1. Spray your project inside and out with Ozuim Sanitizer.
  2. Place a box or bowl of charcoal briquettes inside your project.
  3. Cover your entire project with plastic and let it sit for 24 hours.
  4. Clean your project with a Scotch-Brite pad and a 50/50 mix of denatured alcohol and water.
  5. Sand the surface with a 150-grit or 180-grit sanding pad. We recommend Softback Sanding Sponges.
  6. If there is still a bit of lingering odor, a coat of shellac may help.

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How do I know if my finish is dry enough to recoat?

There are several ways to determine whether a surface is dry:

OIL BASED products are dry if they are no longer tacky and do not emit a smell.

WATER BASED products are dry if they no longer feel cool to the touch and a powder will form with light sanding.

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Should I use Pre-Stain Conditioner Before Staining a Douglas Fir Door to prevent blotching?

Douglas Fir is a difficult wood to stain evenly. A 50|50 mix of your Exterior 450 stain color and Exterior 450 Clear would be a better choice for an exterior conditioner. Blotching may still occur even with this procedure.

After applying the conditioner mix, let it dry 2-3 hours. Allow more time in humid weather. Then a apply the stain color of your choice. Multiple coats will deepen the color.

Watch Exterior 450 Topcoat Overview Video Here

Watch Exterior 450 Stain Overview Video Here

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*How Do I Create a Glaze with General Finishes Gel Stain?

Yes - we recommend adding up to 10% mineral spirits. You can add more mineral spirits, but test first. The mixture will thin out quickly. Using more than 10%  can affect the performance and durability of the finish, but as a glaze, this is not as critical an issue because your topcoat will protect the finish.

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Can I use steel wool to buff out water based finishes?

Never use steel wool with water based finishes because the particles can become embedded into your project and rust. Klingspor Synthetic Wool and Mera MIrlon 1500 synthetic wool are great alternatives.

Steel Wool is still an acceptable option for oil based finishes. Liberon 0000 Steel Wool is a good choice, as it does not shred as easily as the hardware store brands. 

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*How Do I Prevent Bleed Through When Applying Whitewash Over Espresso Water Based Wood Stain?

Water Based Stains will always exhibit a bit of bleed through. When glazing with any color over water stains, we recommend some type of seal coat is applied first.

Unfortunately, the two colors you have chosen do not work very well together. Expresso will always bleed if Whitewash is applied directly over top. In the future, seal the Espresso stain with a coat of Shellac, and then General Finishes High Performance Topcoat. Allow both to dry, then apply Whitewash as a glaze (1 part stain, 1 part topcoat mix).

Here are two remedies we recommend to fix for bleeding that has occurred:

  1. Strip away finish and start over. 
    Stain with Espresso, top with Shellac, and then with 1-2 coats High Performance. After the HIgh Performance has dried, apply the Whitewash as a glaze (1:1 stain & HPTC). Seal with High Performance.
  2. Paint over the bleeding stain. 
    Seal current finish with Shellac and then paint with Seagull Gray Milk Paint.

Any time you apply a light stain over a dark stain there is a possibility of bleed through. Therefore, it's important to seal off the base color first. 
If the look of the wood grain is not important, Dark Chocolate Milk Paint is an exact match to Java Gel Stain when painted, and it could be used as an alternative base color.

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Should I use a coat of Gel Topcoat on raw wood to achieve an more even color before staining?

While Gel Stain can be applied over an existing finish, it was originally engineered for raw wood surfaces. We prefer applying the Gel Stain over a slip coat of mineral spirits instead of topcoat as shown in this video, "How to Apply Gel Stain to Raw Wood"

The slip coat will reduce the drag and help the stain "glide on" easier. The other important technique shown in this video is to apply the stain liberally in sections and remove the excess quickly. Gel Stain is so pigment rich you will get an uneven application if you try to dab it on with a dry rag.

Applying over a layer of top coat is acceptable, but there are two big benefits of applying the stain directly to the wood or over a slip coat.

  1. The beauty of the grain is highlighted. This effect will be greatly diminished if the stain is applied over an existing finish.
  2. Less coats are required to obtain a dark color.

Preparation and application techniques along with dry time between coats are all different when applying Gel Stain over raw wood vs. an existing finish.

Dry time differences

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*Which General Finishes Products Would Work Best on a Restaurant Table?

GF has two products that would work well.

For non-professional finishers, we recommend using General Finishes Arm-R-Seal Topcoat.

Arm-R-Seal is oil based and will amber. Be sure to apply liberally with a foam brush or roller, letting the product self-level a bit. A liberal application will help you avoid streaks caused by back-brushing and pressure. Stir product thoroughly before and during application because flatting agents settle quickly in a solvent base finish.

For experienced professional finishers who spray, we recommend our two-step General Finishes Conversion Varnish, which would cure in half the time and dries clear.

Even though General Finishes products are water resistant, they are not impervious to standing water condensation (like an epoxy finish). As with any fine furniture finish, spills should be wiped up in a timely manner. We recommend using coasters to protect your wood from water condensation and pot holders to protect from heat.

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*What Wood Finish Would Be Best to Use On an Existing Wicker Finish?

It would depend on whether you plan to use the furniture outside or under the protection of a roof. Theoretically, both water and oil-based products could be used.

For example, you could "antique" wicker with thinned Gel Stain to pop up the color depth on an aging piece of natural wicker. However, Gel Stain is not exterior-rated and is very thick, making it cumbersome to apply and wipe off on a highly textured surface such as wicker.

In general, we would recommend using water-based finishes on wicker because they can be spayed.

For an exterior finish, use our Milk Paint because it is an exterior rated paint, does not require a topcoat, and has superb adhesion and color longevity characteristics. If using in an exterior space, clear coating with Exterior 450 is optional.

One challenge would be proper preparation over an existing surface. Prep sanding is not effective because of all the varied surfaces of wicker, so thorough cleaning would more essential. Use a brush and a 50|50 mixture of denatured alcohol and water.  

The second challenge is that wicker moves when used so be prepared for cracking if you are using paint. Fortunately, a casual look is a popular one for porches and cracking would be acceptable.


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*How Important is the "Hardness" of a Wood Finish?

The hardness properties of a wood finish are formulated around the objectives of use. A hard finish is desirable on projects that get heavy wear such as kitchen cabinets or table tops.

But in other situations, such as an outdoor topcoat, a desired property of the finish is elongation, which allows the topcoat to expand and contract through different extremes of temperature.

A flooring finish is another example where hardness is not the major objective of the formulation. Just like outdoor furniture, wood floors expand and contract through the seasons of the year, responding to heat, air conditioning and changes in humidity. The floor finish needs to elongate or flex as the wood moves.

This can be problematic for floors which are often subject to heavy use, including dogs nails. Pet nails will not scratch a good floor finish all the way through the wood, but the nails will indent or imprint the surface of the floor.

It is impossible to combine equal properties of flexibility and hardness in a floor finish, so you have to accept some limitations at the outset. You can improve the life of your wood floor finish by selecting a denser wood for your floors, hickory, maple or white oak instead of pine for instance.

Or just live with the indentations. This is another instance where dogs rule.

Heavy sunlight will also affect harder finishes applied in sun-saturated areas such as window sills, causing finishes to become brittle and crack.

You can keep costs down and have a better result if you match the properties of the finish to the needs of the project.

One of General Finishes hardest water based topcoats is General Finishes Enduro Conversion Varnish, which requires a catalyst and is recommend for use by professionals. It cures in half the time of most topcoats, allowing the finisher to pack and ship sooner, but the price point would make it overkill for other uses. Other factoids:

It is impossible to combine equal properties of flexibility, hardness and chemical resistance in a finish, so be sure to select the correct product for your finishing project.

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What is the best way to obtain a more durable finish with a flat sheen?

The popular flat sheens are lovely but they have different attributes than glossy finishes. The flatting agents required to reduce sheen in flat or matte topcoats also slightly reduce clarity, water resistance, durability and resistance to chemicals such as ketchup, soap, chemical cleaners, or ammonia. This is not much of a concern in low use areas but is important for table tops or kitchen cabinets.

Here is a tip to improve the performance of your finish and still obtain a matte sheen: Use a semi-gloss sheen for the first two coats and a flat for the third for optimum performance.

General Finishes is constantly seeking new resins and additives to improve the performance of our finishes.

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Does adding Dye Stain Reducer to Dye Stain lighten the color?

Yes, one of its uses is to dilute dye stain colors. Dye Stain reducer is the clear base the we use when manufacturing our dye stains. We make the reducer first, then add the dye color.

It is easy to make your own custom color Dye Stain by adding in 10% increments until you achieve the color you want. It is not possible to mix too much of our dye stain or reducer together.

Additionally, General Finishes Water Based Stains can be mixed into the reducer, which will lighten the color and thin the viscosity so it will penetrate deeper into the wood.

You can also mix other manufacturers dyes such as TransTint dye concentrate, sold in many wood working stores.

We do not recommend using water to lighten dye stain. Reducer has ingredients to help keep color molecules dispersed evenly in the can.

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*What Topcoat Should I Use on Padauk Wood?

Padauk Exotic Wood

We recommend an oil-based finish such as General Finishes Arm-R-Seal.

Oily woods can be tricky with any topcoat. The high oil content affects the drying process of the finish coats and Padauk has a very high oil content. Sometimes oily woods dry fine and sometimes they take weeks.

Try wiping the wood with alcohol or acetone to dry the oils before coating. This technique may help but does not work all of the time - each piece of wood is different.

To be safe, always plan on a long dry time.


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What are the benefits of using sanding sealer before applying topcoat?

There are four benefits to using sanding sealer as the first seal coat prior to topcoat

  1. Faster production time. Sanding sealer is a softer finish designed for faster sanding and faster drying.
  2. Save money - it costs less than topcoat if your project warrants purchasing a third product.
  3. The film builds (thickness) faster because the particle size is larger.
  4. It has strong adhesion properties. It does not stop tannin or dye bleed through, but it definitely improves adhesion.    

However, it only makes sense if your project is large enough to warrant the purchase of a third product or you are a professional volume user. 

Sanding sealer can be used over many surfaces:

  • Raw wood: Use as the first coat when clear coating raw wood. 
  • Painted Wood: Use as the first coat when clear coating painted surfaces. 
  • Stained wood: Use as the first coat when clear coating a stained surface.
  • Clean, prepped, existing surfaces: Use as the first clear coat if faster film build and improved adhesion are desired. 


  • We recommend no more than 1-2 coats, then finish with 1-2 coats of topcoat.
  • Sanding sealer dries tack-free in 10-20 minutes. Drying Time: 1-2 hours under normal conditions. (70F -50% humidity)  
  • Sanding sealer can be used with all of our water-based and oil-based finishes EXCEPT Endur-o-var.
  • For more application notes, see our product page


  1. Apply one coat of sanding sealer.
  2. Finish sand.
  3. Apply two coats of topcoat, finish sanding in between coats.

Here is a video on finish sanding:


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*How Do I Prep Kitchen Cabinets with an Existing Finish Before Painting or Recoating with a Stain?

This response is true of prepping and existing finish on furniture, but kitchen cabinets are more problematic because they are work areas where grease, steam, food splatters and oil from hands are common. Prep is basically degreasing and abrading the surface for better adhesion. Oil or substances on hands really show up on a failed re-finish around doorknobs and hands if the surface is not cleaned thoroughly.

Because of this, General Finishes believes there is no such thing as a "no prep" paint. We would be leading our customers down the path failure if we touted our products as such. Dirt, grime, oil from hands, wax, dusting sprays that contain silicone, oil soaps or wax prevent good adhesion causing the possibility of chipping, peeling and flaking - all signs of a failed finish. This is the number one reason we see for finish failure. The second is not allowing enough dry time.

The heart of the problem is that we often don't know what was used on the cabinets previously. If dusting sprays that contain silicone have previously been used, the risk of finish failure is high. There are no guarantees with silicone - it is almost impossible to remove. Here are our recommendations. It sounds like a lot of work because it is - charge more.


  1. Scrub with a degreasing detergent such as Spic and Span or Dawn soap first. Follow with a thorough rinse to remove all the soap.

    WATCH this video about cleaning with Dawn detergent.
  2. Clean with a 50/50 mix of water and denatured alcohol. Let your piece dry thoroughly.

    We prefer a 50/50 mix of denatured alcohol and water because it does not contain phosphates, is inexpensive, is readily available and does not require rinsing. You can use commercial furniture cleaners but check the label for phosphates - they will leave a residue behind that requires rinsing.
  3. Scuff sand with a 320 Grit Klingspor Ultra Flex Sanding PAD (or 400 grit sandpaper) and remove the dust. There are other sanding PADS out there - just make sure the grit is not too aggressive or you man sand down corners and edges down to bare wood.
  4. Put down a coat of General Finishes Sanding Sealer. GF Sanding Sealer can be used over cleaned and prepped existing finishes that will create a strong barrier with superior adhesion properties. The resin particle is larger so it builds fast, and finish sanding is a breeze.

    (Note: We cannot comment on other sanding sealers because several on the market state dry times that are so short that our paint and stains would fail.)
  5. You can apply Gel Stain over the sanding sealer after 24 hours.
  6. You can apply paint or water based stain over the sanding sealer after 3 hours.
  7. You can apply a white primer over the sanding sealer if you want to color correct for a white paint.



  • You can use vinegar, bleach or ammonia solutions, but our experience shows they are usually not aggressive enough for kitchen cabinets. We do not recommend using ammonia with water-based finishes as it can cause the finish to blush (turn white).
  • Never use steel wool with water based products because the particles can become embedded and rust. Some alternatives are Klingspor Synthetic Wool and Merka Mirlon 1500 synthetic wool.
  • Steel wool is still an acceptable option with oil-based finishes. GF recommends using oil-free 0000 wool from Liberon because it doesn't shred as easily as the hardware store brands.
  • NEVER USE mineral spirits to prep clean before applying water-based finishes. You can correct this problem by cleaning again with a 50/50 mix of denatured alcohol and water. Let your project dry 24 hours before applying water-based products.

There are two ways to protect yourself:

  1. Use a contract and have customers sign off on a warranty. It is extremely exhausting and frightening to be faced with a customer angry over a failed finish. You cannot warrant a finish over unknown substances. Here is a suggestion for your contracts:

    We cannot warrant finishes over an existing piece of furniture without knowing the history. If products containing silicone dusting powders, oil soaps or waxes have been previously used on the piece, they may contaminate a new finish and prevent adhesion. In these situations, it is best to strip and sand the entire piece. Occasionally, a previous wax finish or silicone may be impossible to remove.

    ______(Initials) I acknowledge that this piece has never been waxed/polished with a silicon-based dusting spray or cleaned with oil soaps.

    ______(Initials) I have no knowledge of waxes, silicone-based dusting sprays or oil soap products being used on my cabinets.
  2. Take the most used drawer or door in the kitchen and test your finish schedule first. And charge for it.

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*Can I Use Steel Wool with Water Based Finishes?

No, because the particles can become embedded and rust. Some alternatives are Klingspor Synthetic Wool and Meka Mirlon 1500 synthetic wool.

Steel wool is still an acceptable option for oil-based finishes. GF recommends using "oil-free" 0000 wool from Liberon because it doesn't shred as easy as hardware store brands.

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*Is Topcoat Required Between Gel Stain and Water Based Glaze Effects?

Yes - this is not a good place to take shortcuts. GF Gel Stain gets its deep rich hue from a large number of colorants. Seal the stain with a topcoat before applying glaze to prevent "color pull."

The glaze will also glide more easily over the surface after topcoat is applied, allowing you greater control of how much color you want to use. Be sure to wait 72 hours when applying water-based finishes over oil-based finishes.

Here is a sample finish schedule:

  1. Prep sand and clean
  2. Apply stain
  3. Apply a layer of topcoat to prevent color bleed thru and make glazing easier
  4. Apply Glaze Effects
  5. Apply 2-3 coats of topcoat to protect the entire project

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What Sanding Equipment Should I Use?

Festool 125 ES

GF's recommendation: (there are other great sanders in the market. These are the ones we are familiar with) Most pros own more than one sander as they are designed for different objectives.


  1. Festool and Mirka systems are designed for the serious, high production professional.
    • Festool is a system not limited to just sanding equipment. All Festool tools hook up to the Festool's dust collection. For those of you in the Chicago area, JCLicht carries the full Festool line.
    • The Mirka is a great sanding system and is comparable to the Festool. Higher-end users report finding this system worth the cost.
  2. Bosch offers the GET75-6N 6 In. Dual-Mode Random Orbit Sander with decent performance at a more palatable entry-level pricepoint and also makes a great dust collector.
  3. SurfPrep will adapt to any dust collector. Surf Prep's foam sanding pads are now compatible to several models of sanders in other brands.


Any good shop vac will adapt to any sander that has a dust port connection. Rockler sells a great adaptor to connect your shop vac to any sander. Woodcraft offers Festool and sells many models of dust collection.


  • Check out the pricing on sandpaper for all sanders at Klingspors Woodworking Shop. Klingspor is an abrasive manufacturer that has options for multiple sanders. They have 9-hole paper that fits all Festool sander for half the price of most other places.
  • All the Festool sanders are 9 holes on 5" sizes including the 5" Jetstream. The 6" models have 17 holes.
  • Mirka makes Abranet which is a mesh abrasive pad that works on all types of sanders.


  • Most customers would find the 5" is suitable for furniture and cabinets. We use the big 6" Rotex on large flat surfaces like tabletops.
  • Surf Prep excels at the specialty 3x4" rectangular shaped cabinet sander and their big 3 2/3" x 7" sanders for flat tabletops.

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What type of micro roller should I use when applying finishes to wood.

What roller should I use when applying finishes to wood

  1. Velour works best for laying down very thin coats, almost like you're spraying - perfect for cabinets. Great for Brushable White Enamel or even White Poly.
  2. Micro-Fiber lays down a much heavier coat. Use this for full-bodied finishes such as General Finishes Milk Paints or primers. These load so much paint that they may leave a texture when using a high viscosity material like GF Milk Paint - just feather it out with a brush.
  3. Nano Flock works best for applying thin coats of water based topcoats. They hold the product to be able to a do long strokes. These are also good for feathering out bubbles and lap marks. 
  4. Foam rollers work best for stains as they absorb a lot of product. This is helpful when staining large surfaces such as table tops.  Do NOT use foam rollers with water-based topcoats - these cause it to aerate and produce bubbles. 

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