Gel Stain

Gel Stain from General Finishes is home of the popular Java Gel Stain featured across the nation's social media for upcycling furniture and cabinets. Gel wood stains are heavy-bodied and do not penetrate as deeply into the wood as liquid oil-based wipe-on stains do, providing the deepest, richest colors of any oil-based stain available.​

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<---Tech Data Gel Stain

Professional Enduro Catalog

Colors-Gel Stain

Preparation for Raw Wood Projects

Before applying paint, all raw wood projects require preparation sanding, and all existing finishes require prep cleaning and sanding. If you skip this critical step, your finish may fail.

See our video: How to Prep Sand Raw Wood

  1. Sanding schedule: 120-grit sandpaper followed by 150-grit. Do not over-sand with fine-grit sandpapers; this will close and seal the wood grain, preventing ideal color absorption. Do not use steel wool with water-based finishes; the particles will get trapped in the finish and rust.

  2. Remove the dust with a tack cloth or a water-dampened rag.

  3. Let dry completely before applying General Finishes product.

Preparation for Projects with an Existing Finish

For high-use areas with heavy grime build-up and oil from hands, give your project a deeper cleaning.

See our video: How to Prepare Existing Finishes

  1. Scuff clean with a Scotch Brite pad and a 50:50 mix of denatured alcohol and water. Dry 1-2 hours. Avoid cleaning with products containing phosphates (salt), which can linger in the substrate and produce a white haze. If your project requires a deeper cleaning, see Power Prep Cleaning Highly Used Existing Finishes below.

  2. Sand lightly with a fine-grade (220-320) foam sanding pad or 400-grit sandpaper.

  3. Remove dust with a non-sticky tack cloth or a water-dampened rag. 

  4. Let dry completely before applying General Finishes product.

Power Prep Cleaning Highly Used Existing Finishes

See our video: How to Power Prep Existing High Use Finishes for Stain or Paint

  1. Scrub clean with a detergent, such as Spic and Span or Dawn, using a Scotch Brite pad.

  2. Rinse well with water.

  3. Scrub clean with a Scotch Brite pad and a 50:50 mix of denatured alcohol and water. Dry 1-2 hours.

  4. Sand lightly with a fine-grade (220-320) foam sanding pad or 400-grit sandpaper.

  5. Remove dust with a non-sticky tack cloth or a water-dampened rag. 

  6. Let dry completely before applying General Finishes product.

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General Finishes Gel Stain Application Steps

Hand-Application over Raw Wood:
See our video on How To Apply Gel Stain to a Raw Wood Surface or illustrated instructions here.

  1. Even though General Finishes Gel Stain is thick, be sure to stir the stain to reincorporate solids that have settled to the bottom of the can.

  2. Use only with adequate ventilation. Open windows and doors, or use other means to maintain fresh air flow during application and drying. 

  3. If desired, thin stain with 10-15% mineral spirits.

  4. There is usually no need for General Finishes Pre-Stain Conditioner Natural to improve color uniformity. Gel Stain is loaded with pigments that provide deep uniform coverage.

  5. Test your complete finishing process before starting. The stain color is affected by variances in wood and deepened with the application of topcoat.

  6. Divide your project into manageable sections: top, side, drawer, door, table seam.

  7. Apply a slip coat of mineral spirits over the raw wood to help the stain glide on the surface and reduce lap marks.

  8. Working quickly, apply a LIBERAL coat using a natural bristle brush, foam brush, pad applicator or roller. Gel Stain dries quickly for all the reasons customers love it: it is loaded with colorants and solids. If not enough stain is used, the surface may dry too quickly, causing an uneven appearance. On large projects, leave a wet edge between sections to prevent lap lines. On large surfaces, get a buddy to help apply the stain.

  9. Stain a complete section and wipe off the excess evenly with the grain using absorbent shop towels or terry cotton towels for larger projects. Check for missed spots and lap marks before moving to the next section. Do NOT use cotton t-shirts to wipe away stain because they will "push" the stain around and not absorb it.

  10. Immediately correct lap marks by rewetting the entire working area with stain and wiping off the excess.

  11. Pull excess stain out of corners and details with a bristle brush.

  12. Let the stain dry 24+ hours in ideal conditions: 70*F/20*C, 50-70% humidity. Inadequate dry time is one of the top reasons for Gel Stain finish failure. You can tell if an oil-based finish is dry if it is no longer tacky, cool to the touch, and if you can press a cotton ball over the surface and nothing sticks. If in doubt, wait longer. Increase dry time if:

    • Humidity is over 80%

    • 3+ coats are applied (not recommended)

    • Thick coats are applied

    • Layering General Finishes water- and oil-based products:

      • Water over oil: Let oil-based products dry 72+hr before applying water-based products

      • Oil over water: Let water-based products dry 24+hr before applying oil-based products

    • If Gel Stain is tacky after 5 days, dry time requirements have not been met and it may never dry. The only alternative is to strip off the finish and start over.

  13. Optional: apply a second coat to deepen the color. Apply no more than 2 coats.

  14. Finish with 3 coats of General Finishes topcoat, letting each coat dry 72 hours.

Always seal General Finishes oil-based stains with 3 coats topcoat to lock in the color. You can use either oil-based or water-based topcoat. When layering water-based and oil-based products, increase the dry time:

  • Water over oil: Let oil-based products dry 72+hrs

  • Oil over water: Let water-based products dry 24+hrs​

DO NOT use General Finishes Enduro-Var Topcoat with oil-based products.

General Finishes Arm-R-Seal

  • Thinner consistency.

  • Oil-based.

  • Ambers.

  • Available in Satin, Semi-Gloss and Gloss sheens.

  • Because of its thinner consistency, Arm-R-Seal is easier to apply over large and detailed surfaces, such as kitchen cabinets.

  • General Finishes most durable retail topcoat and suitable for high-use areas.

General Finishes Gel TopCoat

  • Thick consistency.

  • Oil-based.

  • Ambers.

  • Available in Satin sheen. This satin is shinier than Arm-R-Seal satin.

  • Durable and suitable for high-use areas.

General Finishes High Performance or General Finishes Flat Out Flat Water Based Topcoat

  • Looks "white" in the can.

  • Drys clear.

  • Water cleanup.

  • Brush or spray.

  • High Performance is very durable and suitable for high-use areas.

  • Flat Out Flat is designed to look and feel like a wax finish; it is recommended for low-use projects.

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Clean up application materials and hands with mineral spirits or waterless hand cleaner, like Goop or Gojo.


Take great care when disposing of product-soaked applicators. Application materials, such as brushes and towels, containing oil-based products may spontaneously catch fire if improperly discarded. Immediately place all application materials soaked with this product in a sealed, water-filled metal container. Dispose of in accordance

with local fire regulations. 

Clean up spills with mineral spirits immediately while wet. If oil-based finishes dry, they are difficult to clean off any surface, clothes or carpet. Carpet may discolor if cleaned with mineral spirits.

Protect your workspace with a tarp, your hands with gloves, and your clothes with an apron.