How to Use a Gel Stain to Finish a Cabinet

Video Transcript

Video Transcript

RON HAZELTON:
I picked up this cabinet at a flea market a few days ago. Now, while it is fairly simple, I think it could be really nice in a bathroom, some place to put towels, washcloths, soap or whatever. But it does need a bit of sprucing up.

Now the first thing I'm going to want to deal with is getting rid of these black marks right here and right here. The marks have been made from water that has come into contact with this steel hardware. The black is actually iron oxide.

To remove it, I'm pouring a quart of hot water into this container into which I'm adding a heaping tablespoon of powdered bleach called oxalic acid. It's available at most paint and hardware stores. After stirring it thoroughly, I brush the solution on the door frets, saturating the wood.
[MUSIC]
As the mixture dries, the stains become lighter and lighter until they're virtually gone. For sanding, I'll first use a 120-grit paper. With my sandpaper cutter, I divide full sheets into quarters — and then fold each quarter into thirds.

When it comes to sanding, it's important to always move the sandpaper in the same direction as the grain. Next, I wipe off the sanding dust with a soft cloth. On the side of the case, there's a compression scratch. Now this is caused by some object that crushed the wood fibers rather than gouging them away.

I can remove this mark by soaking a cloth in water, wringing out the excess, laying the damp cloth over the scratch, then setting an iron on top, creating steam. The steam expands the crushed fibers and eventually eliminates the mark.

Next, I do a second sanding, using finer 220-grit sandpaper. A faster way to sand larger flat surfaces like this is by using an electric orbital or palm sander.
[VERY LOUD SANDING SOUNDS IN BACKGROUND]
The top edges of this little stand seem a bit unfinished to me, so I've decided to add some strips of decorative wood trim.

I cut 45-degree miters on the ends and attach the trim with small brads and a finish nailer. Finally, I set any nails below the surface and apply a cellulose wood filler to conceal the holes.

Well, we've removed the stains from the drawer fronts, gotten rid of some dents and scratches on the sides, given everything an overall sanding and added a nice piece of detail here on the edge. So I'd say we're ready for finishing.

The gel stain I'm using for this project needs a good stirring to thoroughly distribute the color pigments. Once I'm satisfied, I pour a portion of the stain into a one-quart plastic container. The container makes it easier to dip the brush in the material, then slap it gently on the sides to remove any excess.

I brush on the stain in the direction of the wood grain. On vertical surfaces like the sides, the gel consistency keeps the stain from running and dripping. After a few minutes, I wipe off the excess gel, leaving a consistent, even color.

I can control the amount of stain left on the surface by varying the pressure on the cloth pad. Once I'm finished, I'll let the stain dry for about 24 hours. Now since I'm going to be using this cabinet in the bathroom, where there's going to be moisture and steam, I want to put a good, tough waterproof top coat on here, so I've decided to use a polyurethane spar varnish.

Spar varnish was developed for the marine industry. The other thing I like about this finish too or this top coat is that it's got a very slight yellow or amber color to it and that's going to look very attractive on top of this cherry stain.

This brush is suitable for both oil and latex paints. Important because the top coat I'm using is an oil-based product. The brush tip is nicely shaped and the bristles are securely fastened into the metal ferrell. Once again, I'm pouring the varnish into a plastic container so that I can properly load the brush.

I apply the top coat with long, even strokes, working with the grain whenever possible and finishing off with straight strokes in one direction.
[MUSIC]
After waiting four hours, I sand the now-dry first coat with 220-grit sandpaper. Most urethane varnishes need to be recoated within a 4- to 6-hour window. The sanding smoothes the first coat but also roughens it slightly to give the next coat a better grip.

Next, I remove any sanding dust with a sticky tack cloth and apply a second coat. It's important to control dust as much as possible while the top coat is still wet. Now this is a hardware that was on the piece when I got it and in fact, this is what caused those black marks on the drawer front.

Also, you know, it's just not the look that I really want for a bathroom piece, so I'm going to replace those with some ceramic knobs.

Remove marks and blemishes before re-finishing to make an old cabinet look like new.

Use some simple wood working tricks to bring an old wood surface back to life. With great products like Minwax Gel Stain on the market, it is easier than you'd think to have old pieces of furniture, looking like new. The old towel cabinet in this project is a great example.

Clean Old Water Damage
Step 1

Clean Old Water Damage

In many cases, the black marks that you see on old or antique furniture are a result of the old steel hardware getting wet and oxidizing in the wood. These marks can be cleaned using oxalic acid. Mix the powdered compound with hot water and brush the solution on the drawer fronts until the wood is saturated. No scrubbing is required. Simply set the drawers aside to dry, and as the mixture evaporates, the marks will slowly disappear.

Sanding - The First Pass
Step 2

Sanding - The First Pass

Start the sanding process with 120 grit paper. Divide a full sheet into quarters, and then fold the quarter sheet into thirds. This is a perfect size to fit in your hand and will work well for sanding small pieces. Always make sure that you run the sandpaper with the grain of the wood and never across it. After you've sanded the entire piece, wipe it down with a clean, soft cloth to remove the dust.

Repair and Remove Scratches
Step 3

Repair and Remove Scratches

Compression scratches are caused when the wood is crushed by a direct blow, rather than gouged away. To remove these types of blemishes, soak a cloth in water and then wring it out as much as you can. Place the wet cloth over the compression, and then iron it with a common household clothes iron. The steam that is created from the wet cloth will gradually reconstitute the fibers of the wood that was crushed. Repeat this process until the blemish is gone.

Sanding - The Second Pass
Step 4

Sanding - The Second Pass

Now that the wood is clean and the surface has been restored, you can make the final sanding pass before applying the finish. Use 220 grit paper for this step, as it will leave a smoother surface for finishing than the 120 would. You can also use a palm or an orbital power sander for this step. For this project, Ron also decided to add some additional trim to the existing cabinet. Apply that trim before the final sanding, so that you can sand off any nail hole filler that you may add during that installation.

Use a Gel Stain for the Cabinet's Color
Step 5

Use a Gel Stain for the Cabinet's Color

For this cabinet, Ron has chosen to use a gel stain made by Minwax. He begins by stirring the product to ensure that the color pigments are distributed evenly throughout. Next, pour the product into a plastic container, as this is easier to dip out of than the can that the product came in. Apply the stain in the direction of the wood grain. The Gel Stain is ideal for vertical surfaces like these because it won't run or drip like traditional stains.

Wipe Away the Excess Gel Stain
Step 6

Wipe Away the Excess Gel Stain

After a few minutes, come back with a clean cloth and wipe away the excess stain. You can control color of your final product by varying the pressure on the rag as you wipe. Obviously, the more stain you leave behind, the darker the final product will be.

Finish with an Appropriate Varnish
Step 7

Finish with an Appropriate Varnish

Since this cabinet is going to be used in the bathroom, Ron has chosen to use a spar urethane varnish that is designed for marine applications. This product will ensure that the cabinet holds up well in the humidity of the bathroom. Apply the varnish using long straight strokes in one direction. You will also want to make sure that the brush you are using is appropriate for the product.

Sand Between Coats
Step 8

Sand Between Coats

After about 4 hrs, lightly sand the first coat of varnish. This will help eliminate any bumps or rough patches, and will also create a good surface for the 2nd coat to grip on to. Wipe away any excess dust with a tack cloth. Most projects like this require several coats of varnish to create the quality finish that you are looking for.