Every now and then - not very often - I run across a product that changes my life. Or at least opens up a ton of creative twists to projects I hadn't even thought of before. Enter 'gel stain'.
I'll caveat this with 'I hate stain'. Yes, it has a gorgeous depth and radiance that you can't get from paint but it's seriously awful. It's sloppy messy and drippy. I can't use it without making a disaster in the process. It won't come out of my brushes (or my hair) without copious amounts of smelly mineral spirits. I usually want to *enjoy* my projects and staining annoys the fun out of the process so I typically avoid it altogether.
But again, enter 'gel stain'. I kept coming across it on Pinterest and the pie-in-the-sky, too-good-to-be-true descriptions became more and more intriguing. Words like 'non-drip', 'no mess', 'easy wipe on', and 'apply with an old sock' made me feel like I was really missing out on something big. I finally gave in.
One quart of Minwax Wiping Stain cost me about $15 (and no, Minwax is not a sponsor nor have they sent any free/discounted product to me). The stain has the consistency of gelatin when it's first opened but a quick stir changes it to a creamy thickness. First, I went the 'old sock' route and used latex gloves underneath one of my son's old socks to avoid staining every bit of my fingers. It was like working with an oil based paint glaze and I loved it! I tried small amounts at a time, working each dollop into the thickness and pattern I wanted. Since the gel is thicker than traditional stains, I could manipulate it easily.
For example, my faux library card catalog cabinet became the first guinea pig. I built it into a blank wall for added storage but didn't like how the gray paint finish turned out. It just didn't feel like an old school, worn-wood library card catalog. The gel stain went on top (I didn't sand anything prior...I know, I know - this is a mortal sin) and covered up the gray paint. With only one coat, I completely changed the look. And because I was using my fingers in the sock, I could make the stain on the little 'drawers' more streaky, like wood grain.
The stain made a HUGE difference!
For a second, and more risky test, I used it to make over my boyfriend's bathroom. I wanted a more uniform (not streaky) look on the baseboards, window frame and sill, door, and vanity with this project so I applied three coats total. The first two coats went on with the sock because it was easier but the third was applied with a sponge brush. The end result was a solid, no-streak look with a brilliant color that really popped against the sage green!
In both cases, I was elated with the results. I found that the more coats applied, the deeper and darker the color. When I originally bought the can, I wasn't thrilled with the sample color on the label - it was lighter than I wanted. But after three coats on the second project, it was exactly where I was hoping it would be.
Clean up was effortless. I simply refolded my drop cloth because there was NO. DRIPS. AT. ALL. That alone was beyond amazing to me! The used gloves, socks, and the sponge brush didn't need to be cleaned so I threw those away. I did end up with some stain on my elbow (not exactly sure how but that's normal for me, lol) but those came off easily with a paper towel and a bit of mineral spirits, followed by soap and water. If you do go the brush route and need to clean it, use mineral spirits (yeah, stinky but if that's the only negative thing, I can deal...).
Gel Stain - yay!