Gel Stain over Lacquer in Place

A customer wants a built-in piece darkened after installation, without removing it. Will gel stain work over pre-cat lacquer? July 29, 2011

I recently installed a small project for a customer. It's built of white birch and stained a dark brown. The customer approved the color and now wants it darker, but unfortunately it can't be removed from its location. It was topcoated with a Valspar pre-cat lacquer (my work). Their painter said it could be darkened by applying a dark gel stain over the finish. Has anyone heard of doing that?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor R:
You can sure do that. Basically you are glazing the piece, but you will then need to topcoat it. First sample a small piece before you do the whole thing - most importantly. Your schedule would look something like this:
1. Scuff sand with 320. Blow off.
2. Wipe on gel stain, then dry brush or rag off excess (I suggest the dry brush).
3. Wait until dry (minimum 4 hours, for peace of mind overnight).
4. Topcoat - preferably spray, as since you are probably new to this, you could lift off your glaze with heavy brush strokes.

From contributor O:
Just mix some walnut dye into some topcoat and spray again.

From contributor M:
I would go the dye stain route. Thin your topcoat as far as you can and mix your dye as needed. Once you have your color, lock it in with topcoat. More control and transparency. Do it on part of your original sample first.

From the original questioner:
I've used tinted topcoats to obtain desired tones. The problem here is that the cabinet has been built around and can't be removed. Spraying is not an option. Someone else is telling the project manager that the piece can be darkened without removing it with a gel stain and I don't see how that can work.

From contributor M:
Sorry, but that is a painter's fix. I would do samples and make my case. Let the clients see the difference.

From contributor I:
If the client signed off on the color I wouldn't worry about it. Give them a price for having it removed and re-spraying it darker. Anything can be done for a price, or just let someone else cobble it up. Either way you won't loose any sleep!

From contributor P:
Many gel stains have a polyurethane binder and do not have to be topcoated like a normal stain. So you could stop there if you're happy with the sheen and feel.

From contributor I:
I would not get involved with this. I would warn them that the quality of the finish would not be the same. Let them pay the painter to do this so that they can get mad at him instead. Toning, of course, would be the correct way to do this.

From contributor M:
There is value in taking care of your client. We just need to know which one to go out on the limb for.