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How To Make Stain Darker Without Sanding (Easy Gel Stain Before And After)

I LOVE this EASY General Finishes Java Gel Stain Before And After Makeover. It’s a great way to make furniture stain darker without sanding!

Easy Gel Stain Before And After Makeover

I finally got a chance to try General Finishes Java Gel Stain and it was A-mazing. I probably first read about it 6 years ago, when we were living in Egypt. Egypt is not like the US, in a lot of ways.

So, big box hardware stores are nowhere to be found. And all of my tools were tucked away in Cincinnati awaiting our return to the US.

Since I couldn’t DIY with it anytime soon, I added trying it out to my mental must-do list. Well, this month, I finally had a reason to give Java Gel Stain a try.

Image of stools with General Finishes Java Gel Stain. For a post about How To Make Stain Darker Without Sanding (Easy Gel Stain Before And After)
These stools look beautiful after using General Finishes Java Gel Stain on them.

I tried finding some nice counter stools to use at our kitchen island. But, all of the best stools were never the right color. Finally, I decided to buy 3 stools that matched in no way at all.

Those stools were a good style, comfy enough and they seemed like they’d hold up to abuse (because you know how 2 little boys are). Luckily, I new a way to make the furniture stain darker without sanding it.

Before photo for a General Finishes Gel Stain Before And After.
The original stain color was too light and orange colored compared to my island.

Let’s get to how I pulled off this General Finishes Java Gel Stain Makeover.

How To Make Wood Stain Darker Without Sanding

Prepping For Gel Stain

As I hoped, General Finishes Gel Stain is easy to use! I didn’t need to do any heavy prepping on the surface. I started by wiping the stools down with TSP, to remove any grease and grime.

If you don’t have TSP, a little Dawn Dish Soap mixed into warm water is a great cleaner and degreaser too. Just be sure to wipe the soap residue off with a clean, damp rag.

Furniture before using gel stain to darken stain without sanding.

Scuff Sand The Furniture

After the stools dried, I lightly sanded the entire surface with sandpaper (150 grit to 220 grit). You don’t need to sand off the old stain. This is just a Scuff Sanding.

A scuff sanding lightly scratches the old finish so that the new finish has a rough surface to grab onto. After scuff sanding, I wiped off the dust with a very slightly damp cloth. That. is. it. I was ready to stain.

Lightly sand the entire surface of your furniture with 150 grit to 220 grit sandpaper or sanding block.

Apply General Finishes Gel Stain

I put on an old pair of dish gloves and grabbed another piece of clean, lint-free, scrap cloth to use to apply my paint. I like saving old t-shirts for jobs like this.

After opening my tin of General Finishes Java Gel Stain, I gave it a good stir, scraped the stain off of my paint stick, and dipped my clean cloth in the stain.

You just want enough for a small area because you don’t want to leave it thick and it will start to dry pretty quickly.

Use a scrap cloth, foam brush, or quality nylon brush to apply the gel stain.

Just work in small sections spreading the stain with the grain of the wood. Keep double and triple checking any areas you may have just touched with the cloth. You can’t be too cautious here.

Work each area with a thin layer. After you finish you should leave it for 12 to 24 hours to dry, depending on temperature and humidity.

My stain looked dry after just a few hours, but I did wait the full 12 hours, just to be safe. In my case, I decided to go for a second coat.

It looked good after the first coat, but I thought a darker shade would look best with that island. For the second coat, you don’t need to sand. Just go through the staining steps again and wait 12 more hours.

Image shows a baby hand on a stool with General Finishes Java Gel Stain before and after photos.
Up close, you can still see the wood grain. The look is very natural. And look at the super cute chunky baby hand!

Apply A Protective Top Coat

After the 2 coats of General Finishes Java Gel Stain dried, I applied a protective top coat. I made a mistake here because I only applied 1 layer of top coat.

Those stools get daily use, so they really need 2 to 3 layers of top coat.

So, after 4 years of using those stools, I ended up having to reapply the gel stain and 3 coats of top coat. You can see me do that in the video below.

Use whichever top coat you prefer over this gel stain. I like General Finishes Flat Out Flat and Minwax Polycrylic in a Matte sheen.

After photo for a post about how to darken wood furniture without sanding.
The new stain color looks so much better with our island!

How To Restain Furniture Darker Without Sanding – Video

Update 4 Years Later: 1 Coat of Top Coat Wasn’t quite enough for stools that get a lot of use and cleaning. So, I used the Java Gel Stain over the old stain again. Here’s a look at that update.

Seeing someone do something always helps me understand the DIY better. Watch this 3-minute video for a better look at each of the written steps.

How To Stain Wood Furniture Without Sanding Or Stripping - Using General Finishes Gel Stain!

How Can I Make Furniture Stain Darker Without Sanding?

You can make furniture stain darker without sanding if you use gel stain, like General Finishes Gel Stain. But most types of gel stain can be applid over the existing stain finish.

Just be sure to clean the furniture and scuff sand it before applying the gel stain. And, you’ll need to pick a gel stain that is as dark as or darker than the existing stain finish to get an even color.

Is General Finishes Gel Stain Good?

Yes, General Finishes Gel Stain is good! I have used it on a few projects now, and I’m never disappointed. It’s easy to use and provides great, rich, wood stain color. I highly recommend this gel stain.

Just check out those stools to see how beautiful General Finishes Java Gel Stain looks. The finish is a gorgeous matte sheen, which I am really liking right now.

Image of stools with General Finishes Java Gel Stain. For a post about How To Make Stain Darker Without Sanding (Easy Gel Stain Before And After)
Don’t forget to Save or Share this guide for how to darken wood furniture without sanding.

Can You Use Gel Stain On Stairs And Railings?

I have to say one more thing, a couple years ago, I completely sanded and refinished our stairs. It was a massive, dirty, horrible job for three weeks. It was absolutely grueling.

Especially when you have a one-year old living in the house. After that first coat of General Finishes Java gel stain, I wished I could go back in time and use that gel stain instead of sanding those stairs.

It would have probably saved me at least two weeks and a whole lot of cleaning dust off of every surface in this house. Oh well, next time!

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Feeling inspired? Now that you know how to make stain darker with this General Finishes Java Gel Stain before and after, get out there and do it too.

Follow the links above to get the things you’ll need. Have fun and let me know if you have questions. Or post pictures of your work and tag Abbotts At Home on FB, I’d love to see it!


Monday 17th of April 2017

Lovely! What a difference it makes :)

Carol ("Mimi")

Tuesday 11th of April 2017

Great post! I've never used the General Finishes gel stain before, so it's nice to read about how easy and effective it is. The stools look fabulous with your island. The finish is so smooth and lustrous.


Tuesday 11th of April 2017

Thanks so much, Mimi. I do love this stain!


Monday 10th of April 2017

I love the new color so much better. Thank you for sharing at Dishing it and Digging it link party.

Julie Christiansen

Monday 10th of April 2017

I LOVE LOVE LOVE General Finishes gel stain. I did my entire staircase with it last year. Your counter stools look fantastic!


Monday 10th of April 2017

I wish I had used it when I did my stairs. I'm still finding dust on the walls from all that sanding. :)


Sunday 9th of April 2017

What a lovely finish, it looks so professional!

Comments are closed.