easy gel stain for those oak cabinets

22 August 2012

I’ve used gel stain here and here and here. Love it.

What is gel stain? It’s basically a thicker, pudding-like stain, that is much more forgiving to work with than your typical, watery stain. PLUS, you don’t need to sand it down to a bare finish to use it like you would for a typical stain. Yay for gel stain!!

gel stain

The biggest downside is the drying time. That could also be a plus because it give you more time to work with before the wood absorbs it.

But would it work on my honey oak bathroom cabinets??

january 2012 026 1

Here’s what I did:

1. you barely need to sand them down. Just to rough them up a little, I used a fine-medium grit and lightly went over them. Then clean them off with a wet rag. If they are really dirty, use a good degreasing cleaner.

2.  use a foam brush to apply the gel stain with the grain of the wood.

april 2012 005

april 2012 007

3. You can apply more, or wipe some off, depending on the look you are going for. As you can see, I experimented. I ended up using one good coat of Old Masters gel stain in Spanish oak and left it at that to dry.

old masters gel stain

gel stain on cabinets

4. Let it dry~this is the hardest step!

Try to be patient… it took a good 3 days for it to be fully dry in our bathroom, but we do live in a state with high humidity.

bathroom gel stain

We also used the same staining processs on our bathroom shelves above the toilet:

gel stain cabinets shelves

gel stain oak cabinets

5. For extra protection, especially with kids banging stools up to the cabinets, I would seal them with  a few coats of polyurethane.

It feels like we got a new vanity and shelves with a can of gel stain.

The handles are from the Martha Stewart line at Home Depot. I used some of Martha’s hardware in my kitchen too and have loved them


Any questions??  Have you tried gel stain?



  1. Julie@CraftyandCaffeinated1/8/14, 8:18 AM

    Amazing transformation! Builder's grade oak is my nemesis! I love this gel stain and used the Spanish Oak on my bedroom set and my kitchen cabinets. I didn't follow the directions (intentionally) and chose not to wipe it off, applying it more like a paint in thin layers. I plan to let it weather a bit longer before applying the poly coat. If you are interested in what "not wiping" looks like you can see my kitchen transformation series starting here: http://craftyandcaffeinated.blogspot.com/2013/09/fugly-kitchen-facelift-phase-1-old.html.

  2. Hi Melissas, this post comes at a perfect time.  I have two new exterior doors (fiberglass) that I need to stain to match the existing woodwork and have not been able to find the right color of stain (Minwax Special Wlanut) in gel formula to match.  Also the gel stain that was used in my kitchen (Mastercraft) is no longer made.  

    I've  written and called Minwax a couple of times and their suggestion is to "mix" several stains together to come up with the right color.  I'm a little concerned about experimenting with a finish that will be permanent once it's applied.  Any suggestions?

    Thank you,

  3. Wonderful update of your cabinet! Soon, I am going to be embarking on a huge project of staining all the doors, bathroom cabinets, and handrails a darker color. I've been thinking that gel stain will be the easiest route for this undertaking, so this post was even more encouraging. Also, I'm going to need to do my wood framed windows.  Have you noticed any problems with stickiness on the things you have used the gel stain on? I don't want to be dealing with windows that stick. Thanks for all the inspiration you give on your blog!

  4. Holy Moley!  This is what I've been looking for!! Our bathroom cabinents are probably twenty five years plus old.  I can't stand the thought of sanding something so big (with lots of grooves, but it is just an irk that won't go away.  I can't WAIT to try this!  I can't wait to try this on my stair hand-rail as well!!

  5. Gel stain is an amazing product!  I have used it on a boring oak bedroom set with good success...one of my future projects is to darken the stain on an old card catalog I have...IF it ever makes it to the top of the queue  ;-)

  6. Why have I never heard of this MAGIC STAIN before?!  Seriously, in shock right now.  I see several projects formulating.  Your bathroom looks beautiful :)

  7. So glad you shared about the gel stain.  I am still waiting on the sweet hubby's okay and then I will be using this stuff on my oak kitchen cabinets.

  8. Yes, I just used it for the first time to redo a table I got at a garage sale. Much easier to use than normal stain.

  9. Your cabinet turned out beautifully and is really updated now. Definitely going to try it on the stairs handrail too. I see it all the time when I pick up stain, but just didn't know it would work this well. Thanks for the tips. Do you think it would work on the pickled oak (pinkish) circa early 90's type of cupboards?  

  10. Oh my goodness, its like you read my mind! I have white vanities....would it work on those?? Please say yes.....You just saved yourself about 200 dolla my friend!!!! Looks amazing!

  11. I really want to darken the stain on my stair railing. I've seen so many success stories for gel stain on cabinets, I wonder if it would work for the stairs. It would be SO much easier than sanding all those roundish handrails and balusters!

  12. I LOVE how your bathroom looks. Where did you get that shower curtain?

  13. Wendyjoemt@yahoo.com1/16/14, 10:33 PM

    I just received my stain yesterday and i am working on a yellow oak looking file cabinet before i tackle ANYTHING in my house. THIS STUFF IS AMAZING!! The filing cabinet is laminated particle board and the stain is working great!!!!! Goint to stard on the house tomorrow!


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