How to apply gel stain over veneer/ an existing finish

Sometimes you find a piece of furniture and the stain needs a little refreshing. While I love my orbital sander, not everything needs to be taken down to the bare wood. I tend to refinish mid century modern pieces and a lot of times the drawer and door fronts have a veneer coating. According to Wikipedia, veneer refers to “thin slices of wood and sometimes bark, usually thinner than 3 mm (1/8 inch), that typically are glued onto core panels typically, wood, particle board or medium-density fiberboard.”

You have to be careful when sanding veneer because if you sand too much, you’ll go right through it. Most times, all that is needed is a little love (and a coat of stain!) to make it look its best again.

When I discovered General Finishes gel stain, it changed the way I stained. I feel like I have more control of how much is on my brush and where it goes. Many of my pieces I use a combination of paint and stain. In doing this, I find that one coat of stain and one coat of top coat is sufficient to make a world of difference. Click here to find a retailer near you.

Click here to see a list of the basic supplies needed for gel staining.

Below I’ve documented, step by step, how I apply gel stain on veneer.

  1. Clean the surface that you’re going to be staining with a cleaner/degreaser. This will allow the stain to adhere and penetrate the surface evenly. I use Krud Kutter and it works wonderfully. I spray, let sit for a few minutes and then use warm soapy water to remove. As you can see below, you’ll be amazed at what comes off!
  1. After the surface is dry, use a sanding sponge to lightly scuff the surface. Go with the grain but don’t press too hard. It won’t look like you did much but that’s all you need for the stain to adhere.
  1. Using a dry cloth, remove the dust from the light sanding.
  1. Depending on the edges of what you’re staining, you may want to use painters tape to mark off the specific areas that you want stained. For this piece I didn’t need it because the edge hung over the side of the drawer.
  2. Put on rubber gloves. General Finishes gel stain is a pain in the butt to get off once it gets on your skin!
  3. Before you start to apply, use a paint stir stick to mix the can of stain. You’ll want give it a good stir. A lot of the parts of the stain settles at the bottom and needs to be mixed thoroughly.
  1. Using your foam brush, wipe the stain off the stir stick. No point in wasting any!
  2. Apply the stain in long smooth strokes. You don’t want too much stain but enough to cover the area.
  1. Using a lint free cloth (I use Shop Towels), remove the excess by lightly running it over the area along the wood grain. You don’t want to press so hard that it all comes off but you also don’t want globs of stain on the surface either. What you’re looking for is an even finish.
You can already see the difference between the stained drawer (bottom) and the unstained one.
  1. Let dry. I usually wait 24 hours to ensure it’s fully set and hardened.
  2. Repeat until desired stain is achieved. With veneer, I find that one coat is all that is needed to refresh it.
  3. When the stain is how you want it, it’s time for the top coat. Again, you’ll want to stir to make sure that all the bits at the bottom are combined.
  1. Depending on the size of the area you’re staining, you can use another foam brush or if it’s a smaller area (like a drawer front), I use a Shop towel to apply the top coat. Remove the excess from the stir stick. After that, dip the towel in the top coat.
  1. Apply in the same manner that you did the stain – long even strokes with the grain.
  1. Let sit for 24 hours. Once the top coat has set, re-install the hardware and you’re done!

For more information on how to chalk paint, click here.

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