Monday, August 27, 2012

Gel Stain: The DIY

Here is the DIY I promised regarding the gel staining of our master bathroom vanity. If you'll remember here I talked about how we envisioned a darker color for our kitchen cabinets, and our master bathroom vanity was going to be the guinea pig for the project.

Let's get a refresher of the before and after, shall we?

Much, much better, right? In fact, I've already started doing our kitchen cabinets the same way! Can't wait to share that once it's all finished!

To do this project I used the following:
Latex gloves
A sock (you could use a rag, but a sock is just so much easier & you have more control)
A foam brush (harder foam rather than soft, to get in the corners / grooves of the cabinets)
A foam paint roller
Sanding block & fine sand paper (and/or an angled block for grooves)
Blue painters tape (to protect the walls)
Some brown kraft paper & masking tape (to tape off an area on the floor)
Painter's pyramids
Rag / water (to wipe dust after sanding / before staining)
General Finishes "Java" Gel Stain
General Finishes Satin Poly Top Coat

General Finishes stain - I highly, highly recommend it for this project. The lid picture on the left? Yeah that was enough stain to do the first coat on about 75% of the vanity makeover! It goes a LONG way!
This project is pretty simple overall, but it does take a couple times to figure out the best way to get the stain in the corners, cracks, etc. but that all depends on your cabinet design. It's also a pain waiting for it all to dry, but you can't really help that.

Step 1: Clean your cabinets.
Be sure to get any grease, gunk, etc. off your cabinets before staining. If a rag & water isn't enough, try using any spray cleaner that's meant for wood.

Step 2: Protect your area.
I used some brown kraft paper and masking tape to protect the floors around the cabinets themselves and some blue painters tape to protect the walls (especially since they were just painted!). Pretty self explanatory, although I did get a few marks on the walls myself! (Good thing we had paint left over!) I also set up an area in the garage with a tarp to lay the cabinet doors and drawers on which gave me some more space to work and lay everything out to dry.

Area to stain

Step 3: Lightly sand everything.
This is easy to over-do. You'll notice your cabinets will probably have a slight shine to them; this step is simply getting that shine off and getting down to the wood. Don't over sand, just about a minute per door, drawer, etc. using a fine grit sandpaper is plenty. Be sure to get into the grooves and corners as best you can. The side of our vanity was not real wood, but we treated it like it was and everything turned out just fine!

Lightly sand, as you'll see the grain of the wood is still fully intact.
Step 4: Glove and sock up.
Put your glove on, then put the sock over the glove. I recommend also putting a glove on your non-dominant hand because I found myself not thinking about what I was doing and using my other hand to grab things, flip things, touch the foam brush that I used with the hand with stain on it, etc. I washed my hand when it had stain on it, and it all came over very simply, so if you don't mind a little stain for a while, then it's no big deal.

Pro tip: use your husband's / boyfriend's / brother's sock instead of you own. Who wants to waste their own sock?
Step 5: Stain!
Super simple: just take your wannabe sock puppet, dip it into the stain (or swipe it off the lid for the first few applications) and wipe it onto the wood. I found the best way to do this on the doors was to first use the foam brush to get stain in all the grooves / corners, and then spread that out with the brush as best you can to avoid it being goopy in the corners, then just use your sock to wipe it the excess onto the wood, as if you had meant to get the goopiness there in the first place.

Wipe stain on, super easy!
Step 5a: On the 3rd coat I used a foam roller to get a nice clean, even coat without any streaks. It worked out fine for me because the corners / grooves were already a little darker than the flat parts of the wood since I had used extra stain to be sure they were filled in the first place. In the end, it all came out the same shade.

Foam roller 3rd coat. I should also mention I switched to a 4" foam roller for when I did the kitchen.. simply because it had interchangeable roller covers and this little guy did not.
Step 6: Let it all dry.
I would say step 6 is "get paranoid because after the first coat the doors look streaky and terrible"... but that feeling goes away. Let the first coat dry for a minimum of 12 hours, the second coat for a minimum of 24 hours, and the third / final coat for about three to five days. Yes, for you impatient people, that long! It was super hard to wait for them to be finished, but the last thing you want is to put the top coat on too early and have all your hard work go out the window.

Step 7: Top coat.
Put on 2 coats of the satin gel poly top coat (letting dry in between coats as directed on can) and you're finished! Just add hardware if you're using any and enjoy your new cabinets!

Finished product! Love the vanity makeover with the gel stain!

Looks a little dark in these photos, it's not black, it's a deep espresso brown. And I'm in love with it.


  1. Ok. So I've been debating on completely gutting the kitchen or restaining the cabinets. I was so afraid to tackle such a large project. I will attempt to test out my skills per your instructions on the bathroom vanity!

    1. Hi Imelda! Starting with a bathroom vanity was definitely my best option since I hadn't tackled anything quite like this before! It's definitely a safer route as replacing a bathroom vanity (if necessary) is WAY cheaper than a whole kitchen! You'll have to let us know how it goes - we'd love to see!


  2. I seen similar posts re. this gel. Yours looks fab, nice work. Can I ask you if the grain still shows through? I have the same yuk builder grade honey oak trash everywhere and am debating white ( yawn ) or espresso.
    Thanks in advance.

    1. Hey there! The grain doesn't really show through at all. I mean, it does enough that you can tell they are wood, but since it's all so dark it kinda doesn't? That was less than helpful so tell you what, I'll take some closer-up photos and post them tomorrow or Wednesday!

  3. I too was wondering if the wood grain shown through. We are planning on staining our kitchen/bathroom cabinets. The problem with ours is that they are stained a dark walnut at the moment. You can go darker but not lighter! lol We are trying to figure out the best way, I just don't want cabinets that look black (as we have black appliances).

    1. Hey Holly! The wood grain does show through but it's all a very deep espresso brown. I just started a post for tomorrow to give a little update on our cabinets and I took some detail shots so you will be able to better see the cabinets close up! In these photos people have mistaken ours for black but in person they are very clearly brown! I hope that (and tomorrow) helps!!

    2. Thank you Nikki. We started staining the kitchen a few days ago using "Java". We only did 2 coats as we kind of liked the slight variation in color. We let both coats dry for 24 hours. I started to put the top coat on and the the stain started to wipe off. We can't figure out the problem unless it just isn't quite dry enough. We are planning on waiting another 24 hours before trying again. Fingers crossed that is all that is needed!

    3. Holly - that's so weird that the stain started to come off! I know when we did 3 coats of the java stain we let the last coat dry for 3-4 days before we did the top coat so maybe it did just need more time? You'll have to let me know how it goes when you try again! (And share photos when it's done!)

  4. Did you ever post the close up shots of your vanity? Can't tell if it looks black or brown. Thanks. love it!

    1. Yes - I did! I'm so so sorry it's taken so long to post! They will be up on the blog on Wednesday!

  5. when you rolled it on with the roller did you wipe off ?

    1. Hey! I did not! I used a foam roller and it made a nice, level coat so I didn't need to wipe it at all. The foam roller was easiest for me to do the last coat that way it wasn't streaky!