For Vertical Applications, Try Gel Stains

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May 02, 2011 | Linda Merrill

jmatzick/stock.xchngThe process of wood staining is a relatively straight forward one, but it does take some practice to learn to control the amount of stain applied for the most consistent finish. And, if you’re refinishing existing moldings, applying a liquid stain to a vertical surface has its additional challenges. This is where the use of a gel stain product may come in handy.

Gel stains, as the name implies, is a stain that has been thickened to the consistency of a gel and as a result, there is less of a risk of running, which makes it a good choice for vertical applications. It’s also easier to produce a more uniform finish with a gel stain because it doesn’t sink into the wood like a liquid stain does. Certain wood species, such as walnut or mahogany, are porous and liquid stain colors the woods more deeply than a gel stain, which sits on top of the wood like paint.  Therefore, if you love the natural grain of these woods, then you would want to use a liquid stain that will sink in and highlight the grain. If, however, you wish to diminish that natural variation, a gel would be your choice. Likewise, a gel stain would be the answer if you wanted to match different wood species in your home, without ripping out the flooring or cabinetryDIY Resource:

If you wish to darken the stain of existing floors, cabinets or moldings, a gel stain is a good choice because it will sit on top of the old finish and produce a consistent finish. Just be sure to prepare the wood by cleaning and lightly sanding it to remove the gloss of old varnishes or other topcoats. When applying a gel stain, apply it in thin layers. If you are seeking a dark finish, apply multiple thin layers to get towards the look you wish. A single thick layer will not result in a consistent finish and it will be gummy to work with. Because the stain sits on top of the wood, it can tend to rub off in well-used applications such as tabletops. A clear wood finish topcoat is recommended when using gel stains. DIY Resource:

Gel stains are not appropriate for all staining applications, however. If the wood surface is highly intricate, as is the case with carved wood pieces or deep moldings, gel stains will tend to collect in the corners and will be harder to remove. In these cases, a liquid stain is the better choice for a smooth consistent finish. If you’re looking to achieve an aged look to your wood, then a gel stain will work well precisely because it will collect in the crevices and will mimic the look of dirt collected over time. Gel stains can be used for small craft projects to achieve an aged patina as well. They can be used on metal or plaster pieces with a light application on the flat surfaces and more product applied to the corners and crevices. This will also serve to highlight the details of a low-relief pattern.

Linda Merrill is a Networx writer.  See more articles like this one, or get help with your home projects on

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