3 Tips For Refinishing Furniture With Chalk Paint and Gel Stain

by Sarah
2 Materials
2 Hours

Nothing makes my heart happier than finding an inexpensive older piece of furniture that just needs a little love to bring it back to life. However, for the newbie or DIY dabbler, stripping and refinishing furniture is typically a deal breaker. Hey, even the thought of having to use sandpaper is sometimes a dealbreaker for me! So I totally get it. Below I’m going to teach you how to use two of the easiest (and my most favorite) products for breathing new life into old or outdated furniture.

Disclaimer: In the name of full transparency, please be aware that this blog post contains affiliate links and any purchases made through such links will result in a small commission for me (at no extra cost for you). As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

As you can see from the before pics, this adorable desk was definitely a well loved piece that needed a little TLC. Some of the wood was cracked, there were lots of indentations and imperfections on the desktop, and it was just very dirty old and worn. It had such a cute shape though that I knew it could look really great with a few updates.

Two-toned furniture has been a favorite of mine for quite some time now. I just love the look of a dark top and a different color bottom. Since I am currently (probably forever) in my gray phase, of course I chose a gray color for the bottom. I also really didn’t want to have to strip this piece down to restain it. 

After using General Finishes Java gel stain for a few other projects around the house, I knew it would be perfect for the top of this piece. Not only do I love the color, but I love the ease of use with this product. If you’ve never used a gel stain before, it’s kind of amazing! It’s a stain that you can use on wood without having to strip it first. It basically goes on like a paint in a way but gives more of that dark espresso stain finish.

Tip 1: Preparation

Ok, this is the best part. Preparation is almost zero!! Like nothing. Ok, not nothing. The piece needs to be cleaned. And if the piece is super shiny/glossy, it wouldn’t hurt to either wipe on a liquid deglosser or give it a quick once over with a sanding block. But you do not HAVE to do these steps. Both chalk paint and gel stain will work on top of previous finishes. 

This desk was a little beat up and in need of some repairs…so I did sand the top, not to remove the previous finish, but to try to even out some wear and tear a bit. The rustic vibe is kinda my jam, so I didn’t go too crazy here.

Tip 2: Application

Both products are equally easy to apply, but the application process does differ. I would always recommend using painters tape between sections to keep the lines clean. If you aren’t going the two-toned route, you may be able to skip that step all together!Chalk Paint Application

Chalk paint is applied with a brush just like any other paint. It goes on easily, is somewhat thick, and has pretty good coverage. Typically two coats of chalk paint will do the trick. Even better, each coat will dry in about 20-30 minutes. So, if you are like me and tend to paint on the slower side, you can probably start your second coat almost immediately after finishing your first! Gel Stain Application

Gel stain can be applied in a few different ways so I’m just going to talk about my preferred method and what has worked for me. I like to apply gel stain with a cloth (or an old sock, to be more precise). It is easier to control this way. Wear gloves (this stuff will stick to your skin like nothing you’ve ever seen) and then slip the sock over the top of your hand like a cute little sock puppet.

Begin by covering the whole piece in a thin layer of gel stain. Work in small sections, always work in the same direction (don’t start applying left to right and then switch to an up and down motion), and let it dry thoroughly between coats (this could be anywhere between 2-24 hours, depending on weather and other factors that I’m not familiar with). Also, don’t freak out after the first coat is applied. It will look splotchy and streaky. This will even out. All will be fine. 2-3 coats is what I normally do, depending on coverage and the depth of color I am trying to achieve.

Tip 3: Finishing

Again, sealing each of these products is pretty easy but a little different for each. Chalk Paint Finishing

Wax is a common finish for chalk paint and is applied in a thin layer using either a brush or a cloth. I applied my wax with a cloth here. After it is applied and dried, you have to buff it out to the sheen that you are wanting. Maybe I’m not great at this process or maybe I just don’t love it, but I didn’t find the wax exceptionally easy to use and honestly prefer a polyurethane top coat over chalk paint these days. It’s a preference thing, I’m sure. Since the chalk paint was on the bottom of the piece and is typically used to create a more imperfect or chippy finish, I didn’t feel too concerned about the amount of protection I applied. So I just did one coat of wax and called it a day.Gel Stain Finishing

For the gel stain, you seal it just like you would any other stain. I prefer water based polyurethane and apply it with a good paintbrush. Cover the whole area in a thin coat, sand lightly between applications, and apply 1-3 coats depending on how much day to day wear you feel the piece will get.

Lastly, I changed out the handles on the desk for an oil rubbed bronze cup pull. This really gave it the modernized look that I was going for.

Desk Refinished Using Gel Stain and Chalk Paint

This whole project was about $40 in total! I scored the desk for $20, already had the gel stain on hand because I’ve used it for other projects and a little goes a long way, so all I needed to buy was the chalk paint and hardware. In case you are wondering, I used  Rustoleum chalk paint in charcoal and General Finishes Java Gel Stain. There are many gel stains out there but this is the only one I would recommend! (Don’t just take my word for it, search Pinterest and you will find lots of people singing the praises of this gel stain.) 

Resources for this project:
Any price and availability information displayed on [relevant Amazon Site(s), as applicable] at the time of purchase will apply to the purchase of this product.
Hometalk may collect a small share of sales from the links on this page.More info
Want more details about this and other DIY projects? Check out my blog post!
Frequently asked questions
Have a question about this project?
  1 question
Join the conversation
2 of 4 comments