Gel Stains in a Production Setting

Can gel stains be practical in a high-volume finishing shop? Opinions vary. October 26, 2007

I have used production stains for about 20 years and the shop I am now managing has been using gel stains. I don't really prefer them, and the dry time to spray lacquer as a topcoat is extensive. What do you think? Which is best for a high production level? We do about 300k a month.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor G:
What kinds of wood is the shop using? Where does the shop get the clear lacquer? Is the industrial coatings distributor you are used to nearby?

From the original questioner:
Mostly alder and cherry. Louis and Company on the lacquer - not too far away. I am not sure what that has to do with my questions.

From contributor G:
Staining the blotchy woods (alder, cherry, maple) is often done with gel stain to avoid doing the time-consuming sealing/staining/toning steps. I'm guessing the finisher who came up with this schedule had that in mind. If you are capable enough, get some of your regular production stain and show them how you can do it faster/better by making samples.

From contributor B:
I use production stains on alder, cherry and maple. If I used gel stains, I couldn't keep up with schedule of delivery.

From contributor P:
Gel stains are very time consuming compared to professional stains. I wouldn't ever consider using them in a production environment.

From contributor N:
What are some good production stains that will not cause blotchiness on maple? I have used quite a few and still have that blotchy problem.

From the original questioner:
The blotchy look can be addressed by thinning a sealer and misting lightly, then staining with any production stain. If you require a darker finish, you can spray the stain on through a HVLP or other rig or tone the lacquer or topcoat, to name a few ways.
Gel coat stain suggests topcoating with either polyurethane or spar varnish. It does not even mention lacquer. I think warranty issues would be a problem.

From contributor R:
I would try a few different gelled type stains before coming to a steadfast conclusion. The one I'm partial to is made by Wood-Kote and can be coated with a lacquer sealer in a couple hours, or with polys in a couple more hours. I'm finishing up a job now and so far have used 4 gallons of this stain with no problems whatsoever. The out of the can color was consistent throughout the whole project. Personally, I think the gelled stains do have a place in the shop, but you have to find the one that works for your particular application.

From contributor T:
We use clear stain base (Valspar/MLC) on alder, maple, cherry first. Just wipe it on like your pigment stain. Been doing this for years successfully and you don't have to tie up booth time with washes and toners.

300k a month and gel stains? How can they (you) do that? 6 - 50K pieces of wood? That much and no flat line finishing? I have 1 1/2 men in finishing doing 50-80K a month with 1 booth, 3 Kremlins, 5 Hafele racks always full, CV, and still am buried in work.

From the original questioner:
We have 6-7 guys working from 6 am to about 9 pm overlapping 2 guys. We have 2 booths and are ordering our 3rd. We do high-end custom residential with a lot of distressing/glazes and special finishes. The gel they use comes in little cans and is more like a creamy texture. As I mentioned, it's very time consuming for this amount of work. I have sprayed for over 20 years and only used gel once, and that was on a fiberglass door.

From contributor J:
Contributor P has it right. Gel stain and production do not belong in the same sentence. Louis and Co. has production stains. That's why contributor G asked. I can't imagine them selling you gel stain or warranting any system that uses gel stain under one of their production finishes. You've got 20 years experience with production stains and you're in charge. You could prove to your boss the benefits with just a few samples and then be the big hero and get a nice pay hike for all the production time you saved the company!

From contributor N:
What would be a fast way to stain maple and still be able to see the grain without hiding it and making it blotchy? I have tried different steps but still seem to get the ugly blotchiness.

From contributor S:
I'm voting pro gel stains... yes, in a production shop. Let me give you a few reasons...

1) Yes, they take longer to apply, but you also save time by not conditioning, sealing, toning, etc. Yes, the one step of applying color takes longer, but you also save time elsewhere.

2) You can have a less skilled employee apply a gel stain (less money), where a spray type stain needs to be done by somebody who can keep those darn lines out of it... easier said than done.

3) My customers love them because they can get a faux glaze look. For those cheapskates like me who don't want to pay for a glaze but love to see the stain hang on in the grooves, you can't beat it.

I love my gel stains (McFadden, to be exact), and I get a little passionate about it.

From the original questioner:
You are surely entitled to feel the way you do. The question was not, are gel stains garbage?, the question was about using them in a production setting. We do about 250k per month in cabinets and gel stain is a huge liability. And if you read the instructions, you see they recommend top coating with polyurethane or spar varnish. Not many of us using those coating in the production setting. But if they work for you, then by all means keep doing so.