How to Use Gel Stains on White Oak


White oak is a highly durable hardwood with a light, golden tone that is commonly used in interior home applications such as for trim work and cabinetry. Use white oak for trim or cabinets if you want a neutrally toned wood that can easily be stained with gel stain to create a color that goes well with your home décor and interior style. Golden stains can be used to bring out the natural tone of the wood, or cherry or brown stains can be used to deepen the color. Stain your white oak with gel stain rather than liquid stain for a stain that is easier to control and that achieves even, non-blotchy coverage. Most gel stains are oil-based, therefore oil-appropriate pre-treatment and post-treatment products should also be used.

Step 1

Prepare the wood surfaces for finishing by sanding. Begin with 120-grit sandpaper and sand until you achieve a smooth surface. Finish the sanding by following up with 220-grit sandpaper. An electric sander can be used to ensure fast, consistent coverage. Sweep and vacuum away the excess wood dust so no particles get caught in the stain.

Step 2

Wipe all surfaces to be stained with a cloth that has been dampened with denatured alcohol.

Step 3

Paint a single, even coat of oil-based wood conditioner or sanding sealer onto the wood. This will help guarantee consistent coverage and coloring once the stain is applied. Apply the conditioner or sealer with paintbrush strokes that follow the direction of the wood grain. Apply the conditioner or sealer within two hours of staining.

Step 4

Coat the wood with a generous and thick layer of gel stain. Use a clean cotton cloth to apply the stain. Let the stain sit and soak into the wood for three or four minutes. Work in small sections if necessary to prevent the stain from sitting on the wood for too long. Wipe off the excess stain with a clean cotton cloth and work in direction of the wood grain. Allow the stain to dry for at least eight hours or until completely dry. Smooth out or darken the color with additional coats of stain if necessary. Let the stain dry between each coat. Let the final coat dry sufficiently.

Step 5

Finish and seal the stained wood with a gel topcoat or other manufacturer-recommended protective finish. Apply gel coat generously with a clean cloth, the same way the gel stain was applied. Let the stain sit and soak into the wood for three or four minutes. Wipe off the excess stain, working in the direction of the wood grain. Allow the topcoat to dry for at least eight hours and apply an additional two to three coats until you achieve an even surface sheen. Always allow each coat to dry before applying another.

Tips and Warnings

  • Work in a well-ventilated area to avoid toxic inhalation of vaporous wood-finishing products and wear rubber gloves to avoid skin absorption.

Things You'll Need

  • 180-grit sandpaper
  • 220-grit sandpaper
  • Clean cotton cloths
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Wood conditioner or sanding sealer
  • Gel stain
  • Gel topcoat


  • Gel Brochure & Application Instructions
  • White Oak Wood
  • Minwax Gel Stain - Directions
Keywords: trim work, oil-based stain, gel topcoat

About this Author

Mason Howard is an artist and writer currently living and working in Minneapolis. Howard's work has been published in the Creative Quarterly Journal of Art & Design and New American Paintings. Howard has also written for art exhibition catalogs and publications. Howard's recent writing includes covering popular culture, home improvement, cooking, health and fitness. Howard received his MFA from the University of Minnesota.

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