Gel Stains (Oil Based)

Gel Stains (Oil Based)


*Can I Mix Gel Stain Colors Together to Achieve Other Colors?

Yes, you can mix similar products together at any ratio to make more color options.

You can also mix with 10% General Finishes Liquid Oil Based Wood Penetrating Stains to obtain a slightly thinner stain than the normal Gel Stain formula.

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Can I use GF Dyes Stains under Gel Stains?

Yes, many professional finishers use Dye Stains to increase the depth of the grain, to even out color saturation, and to achieve deeper colors. Use Amber or Yellow for a golden glow under any gel stain.

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*What is the Best Topcoat to Use over Gel Stains?

You can use any of our topcoats.

Water-based products include General Finishes High Performance or General Finishes Flat Out Flat.

Oil-based products include General Finishes Gel Topcoat or General Finishes Arm-R-Seal. Gel Topcoat is thick, while Arm-R-Seal is much thinner, and is easier to apply large projects.

Always allow 72-hour dry time when applying water-based products over oil-based products.

Find more information about Oil Based Gel Stains here.

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*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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Can Gel Stain be applied over a high gloss paint finish?

Possibly but not recommended - the high gloss is an issue.

Folks have successfully put Gel Stain on more surfaces than we ever dreamed of including fiber glass but if you want to proceed, TEST your procedure on the inside of a door first, let the door cure for 14 days. Then further test the finish by duplicating normal wear and tear: washing, scrubbing, scratching, etc to see if the finish bonds to the surface. It might not adhere.

If you want to proceed with your project, the cabinets need to be sanded with 150-180 grit sandpaper before attempting to apply the Gel Stain. If you cannot achieve enough abrasion by sanding, apply a De-Glosser, available at any paint store. We think Milk Paint would be a better choice as paint is more flexible and tends to adhere well to many surfaces, but test to your satisfaction before proceeding. Milk Paint is available in Dark Chocolate, a very close color match to Java Gel.

More information about Oil Based Gel Stains.

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*Can Gel Stain Be Used Over Laminate?

GF advises extra care and prep when applying any finish over laminate surfaces because they are specifically designed not to mar and therefore they are not very "sand-able", making adherence difficult.

In addition to this non-permeable surface factor, General Finishes Gel Stain is an oil-based product, and it is more difficult to obtain proper drying characteristics over a dense manufactured surface such as laminate. Gel stains, as all wood stains, were formulated to go over raw wood which has an "open" surface and can absorb some of the stain.

Customers have reported the successful use of Gel products over laminate surfaces. Here are two techniques:

  1. Using Dark Chocolate Milk Paint as a Base under Gel Stain (Dark Chocolate Milk Paint was formulated to mimic the color of Java Gel Stain)
  2. Several techniques using only Gel Stain/no paint or primer


  • If you can abrade the surface by sanding, you will increase your chances of success. If you choose to proceed, test for adhesion on a hidden area of your project before getting started.
  • If you are applying GF Gel Stains over existing "sealed" finished wood or any impenetrable surface, TRIPLE OR QUADRUPLE the drying times of all the finishes used because the stain cannot soak into the surface.
  • De-Glossers: GF does not recommend the use of a de-glosser as a REPLACEMENT for prep sanding and cleaning. They are sold by manufacturers that advocate that it is ok to cover up dirt and grime, which can create a problem. GF feels that appropriate cleaning and sanding delivers a better result and saves money.
  • If you have physical issues with the labor of sanding, at least clean the project before using a de-glosser.


  • “Power clean” by scrubbing with a solution of water and a strong detergent such as Dawn or Spic & Span, using a Scotch-Brite pad. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Then follow with a second scrubbing with a 50:50 mix of denatured alcohol and water, also using a Scotch-Brite pad. Let dry completely.
  • Sand with a power sander. 150-grit followed by 180-grit sandpaper. (some users reported using 220 grit sandpaper). Wipe off the dust.

You can apply Java Gel Stain several ways:

  • With a roller for a painted effect (from ABHall), painting on with a chip brush followed by pouncing with a plastic bag for a textured effect.
  • Brushing on followed by a mineral spirit dry-brush technique. See mineral spirits dry-brushing technique in this video
  • Apply a slip-coat of mineral spirits first using a chip brush to give you more open time. While the mineral spirits is still wet, paint the Gel Stain on using a chip brush. While the Gel Stain is still wet, GENTLY smooth out the surface with a folded blue shop towel going in the direction of the grain. 
    Tip from Andrea Allred: Dry brush Gray Gel Stain on top the next day for a weathered look. 
  • Paint on two coats of Gel Stain, letting each coat dry 72 hours. Create the look of faux wood by sanding each coat lightly.
  • Allow the Gel Stain to DRY 72 HOURS. If it is still tacky and cool to the touch, let it dry for days. Let it dry, let it dry, let it dry. Lack of dry time over existing surfaces is the number one reason for Gel Stain failure!
  • Seal with 3 coats of topcoat, allowing triple dry time. As previously stated, you can use Arm-R-Seal over dark colors and High Performance over light colors.

NOTE: When using fine wood finishes, water and spills must be wiped up in a timely fashion. If this a high-use area near a sink, consider replacing the countertop instead. If this a low-use area such as a bedroom dresser that needs a tune-up, you will be fine.


Test your entire procedure (preparation to topcoat) on a hidden area first and let it cure for 7-10 days. Then further test the finish by duplicating normal wear and tear: washing, scrubbing, scratching, etc. to make sure the finish bonds to the surface.

See more General Finishes FAQs here.

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*How Can I Prevent Gel Stain from Hardening in the Can?

As the Gel Stain is used, the volume of stain in the can is displaced with air, causing the stain to start curing. Gel Stains harden up more quickly than liquid oil stains for all the reasons folks love them - the extra colorants and solids within the stain that provide such great coverage also harden up more quickly than other stains.

During storage, the oxygen or moisture that's sealed in the container continues to cure and thicken your stored product, ruining the leftovers. Here are some tips to ensure your Gel Stain remains in great working condition.

  • Decant the amount of stain you'll need into a foil covered bowl and reseal your can right away. Every minute the can is open the stain is curing. 
  • Be sure to REALLY clean the chime and the lid of the can to assure a tight seal.
  • Use Bloxygen to help remove excess oxygen from your can of finish to help preserve it longer.
  • Store your sealed cans upside down.
  • Transfer any unused stain to a smaller container once finished with your project or buy Gel Stain in smaller cans to begin with.
  • Plastic Wrap??  Haven't tried it, but you get the idea! Anything to prevent contact with air is key.

Watch Tips on Storing Leftover Wood Finishes here.

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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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Can GF’s Gel Stain be used outdoors?

Do not use General Finishes Gel Stain or any oil based finish outside where this direct exposure to water. If your furniture will be resting under a cover and not exposed to direct water, you may have a successful result. We recommend our Milk Paint or Exterior 450 products instead.

Watch Exterior 450 Topcoat Overview Video Here

Watch Exterior 450 Stain Overview Video Here

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Do Gel Stains Require a Topcoat?

All stains need a top coat. Think of stain as the color and top coat as the sealer and protectant.

The high urethane content of General Finishes Gel Stains results in a lustrous finish that tends to fool people into assuming no sealant is required. The beauty of Gel Stain comes from thick thick urethane which can carry a LOT of color to any surface, but that color must be sealed in with top coat. An added bonus of top coat is that it also protects the wood from drying out.

Think of stain as the color and top coat as the sealer and protectant.

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Can Gel Stain be sealed with wax instead of top coat?

Wax can be used over Gel Stain, if you prefer. Just let the Gel Stain dry 24-48 hours before applying the wax. Note: wax is not a durable product. It needs yearly reapplication, will show daily use (finger marks and smudges) and may be very difficult to remove if a future topcoat application is desired.

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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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*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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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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*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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Can I use denatured alcohol mixed with shellac to condition raw wood before applying Gel Stain?

Yes. Denatured alcohol is the solvent used in Shellac. A 50/50 mix is commonly used when conditioning wood before staining.

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Can gel stain be used on ceramic tile around a fireplace?

Gel Stain is engineered for wood, but it has successfully adhered to more surfaces than we could have imagined. However, since tile cannot be abraded properly though sanding,  lasting adhesion may be difficult if not impossible. 

Milk Paint will have a better chance of adhering than Gel Stain. Dark Chocolate Milk Paint was created to match the color of Java Gel stain, for example. Both products are more likely to adhere if they are applied over a tile-appropriate primer. 

Contact a tile store for recommendations regarding a primer that can help finishes stick to ceramic tile. 

Even with primer, we cannot give any guarantees that the finish will adhere properly or last. Always test for compatibility between your primer and Milk Paint or Gel Stain before beginning.

If you choose to proceed, test your procedure on a hidden area first and let it cure for 7-10 days. Then further test the finish by duplicating normal wear and tear: washing, scrubbing, scratching, etc. to make sure the finish bonds to the surface.

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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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*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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*Can I Use Interior Wood Stains Outdoors If I Coat With an Exterior Topcoat?

Interior wood stains are formulated for interior use and do not contain UV absorbers, mold retardants or HALS (Hindered amine light stabilizers used to protect the polymers from the effects of photo-oxidation.) Waterbased interior stains are much more likely to fail.

You could try this look on an exterior door that will not receive a lot of sun, but be prepared for more maintenance than usual. It is not recommended.

Everyone should note that all exterior finishes need to be maintained at some point - MOTHER NATURE wins the longevity war

Watch Exterior 450 Topcoat product overview video

Watch Exterior 450 Stain product overview video

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