For The Home, Stain

General Finishes Gel Stain: Kitchen Cabinet Makeover

Are you thinking about refinishing your kitchen cabinets, but don’t want to spend the time stripping and sanding the old finish off? I have the perfect solution! General Finishes Gel Stain can give your kitchen cabinets a fresh look.

Oh, and make sure to follow us on Pinterest! Read on, to find out how I refinished my kitchen cabinets for less than $80 without stripping or sanding.

I decided I wanted to refinish our kitchen cabinets to match our hardwood floors. At first, I wanted to paint them white, but our painter and realtor suggested staining. Both our painter and realtor had painted their cabinets white and they were always having to clean them.

I had just spent almost a month refinishing an oak coffee table, end table and dining room table. I wasn’t  thrilled about the idea of starting a new refinishing project. Stripping, sanding, staining and applying a top coat is a very time consuming process so I started looking into other options.

I decided I would try using the Minwax Gel Stain because you didn’t have to completely remove the existing finish to change the color of the cabinets. I picked up a can of the walnut color gel stain and tested it on the back of one of the cabinet doors. It didn’t seem to make much of a difference. I applied a second coat the next day, hoping the color would be darker but it still didn’t make much of a difference and I was pretty discouraged.

The picture below shows the General Finishes Antique Walnut Gels Stain on the left, and the Minwax Walnut Gel Stain on the right. Granted, they are 2 different colors from 2 different companies, but you can clearly see which one covered better in 1 coat.















I decided to do a little more research, and that’s when I came across General Finishes. General Finishes had RAVE reviews on every website I searched on.

I went to the General Finishes website to search for a store that carried their products near me. I picked up a can of the Java Gel Stain and a can of the Antique Walnut Gel Stain. I tested both colors on the back of another cabinet door and I immediately saw a difference. What surprised me the most was the difference in quality between the Minwax Gel Stain and the General Finishes Gel Stain. As it turns out, General Finishes has a much higher solid content than Minwax does, which is part of the reason that it covers so well.

Now, I wanted the color of the cabinets to match our hardwood floors. Our hardwood floors are a dark brown, and the cabinets were Golden Oak; Gross! I started with the Java Gel Stain color, and it had a little too much red in it for my purpose. That’s when I tried the Antique Walnut color, and it was perfect! Now that you have a little background info on my project, lets get into the ‘How To’ details!

Materials You Will Need:

There’s a lot of different techniques you can try with Gel Stain. Regardless of the technique you use, here are a few supplies that you will need:



Cleaning your cabinets:

The first thing you’ll want to do is clean the cabinets with TSP. I found it easier to mix the TSP and water in a spray bottle because it was always mixed up and ready to use! I’m all about finding the best methods and techniques so I thought I would try cleaning one of the cabinets with an all purpose cleaner rather than the TSP to see if it was really necessary to use the TSP mixture. My findings? USE TSP! There was a big difference between the two cleaners and it was obvious that TSP did a better job.

After cleaning the cabinets with TSP, you’ll want do a light sanding. This helps the Gel Stain stick to the surface. I’d also like to share my thoughts on using liquid sander also known as deglosser. My personal opinion is that they’re not worth it. I think sandpaper does a better job preparing the surface than any deglosser on the market. However, I know people that have had great luck with deglosser’s. It’s hard to say one way or another. I’d recommend trying both options, the deglosser on one side and sandpaper on the other. Compare the two, and see which one works best for you.


My biggest concern was that the Gel Stain was going to look more like a paint than a stain. I wanted to be able to see the wood wood grain. I tried many different application techniques, to see which one gave me the look I wanted. The picture on the left is after applying 1 coat of antique walnut and wiping it with a paper towel. The picture below shows what the cabinet looks like after applying a second coat.

















I can not stress enough how important Dry Time is.

  • Dry-time to touch: 4-6 hours
  • Dry-time to recoat with stain: 12 to 24 hours.
  • Dry-time to apply oil based topcoat: 12-24 hours
  • Dry time to apply water based topcoat: 72 hours
  • Dry time for light use: 7-10 days
  • Cure Time: 30 days.

Once I got the color the way I wanted it, I decided to work in sections so I wouldn’t overwhelm myself. I started by removing all of the cabinet doors on one side of the kitchen and I put all of the hardware in a ziploc bag so I wouldn’t lose anything. I also wanted to stain the insides of the cabinets because I think they look better when the outside matches the inside.

I applied the stain using a foam brush and wiped it off with a paper towel. I also tried wiping the stain with a lint free rag but it seemed like it was picking up more stain than I wanted.

I also wanted to mention that I used saw horses (click here to purchase the saw horses I used) with a piece of plywood as a makeshift table in the kitchen. It worked well because I didn’t have to worry about getting any stain on the plywood because it was just a scrap piece of wood. I was able to lay the stained cabinet doors that were drying, on the bottom half of the saw horses so I always had a work space on top of the table.

Side Note…

Even though our cabinet pulls were already a satin brushed nickel color, the hinges weren’t. We wanted them to match which is why we used Rustoleum’s Universal Spray paint in the Satin Nickel Metallic color.

Top Coat

Finally, once all of the cabinets were stained, I used General Finishes “High Performance Water Based Flat Top Coat”. To be honest, I was reluctant to use a water based top coat. I didn’t have good luck with the ones I had used in the past. On the other hand, I also didn’t want to use an oil base top coat because of the strong odor, and the way that it yellows over time. I am so glad I used the High Performance polyurethane because it was everything I was looking for in a top coat. It had little to no odor, and it was quick and painless to apply. I applied 3 coats per the instructions on the can. This water base top coat also protects against water and heat which is an important factor to have in a kitchen.

Thank you so much for reading about my kitchen cabinet makeover! Feel free to leave any questions or comments below! As you may or may not have read in the ‘About’ page, I am a paint department manager. I only recommend products that I’ve personally used and know work well. If you have questions regarding your own project, send me an email and I’m more than happy to help!

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