Staining with no Stripping (with video tutorial)

I still get this question a lot. “Do I need to strip and sand down furniture before I paint it?” I’m always happy to share the good news. “NO, you don’t”! Honestly, if that was the case, I would never have this job I love so much. Stripping and sanding down a piece to raw wood is a job for super-heroes, and I am not one.

The real tricky question is, “do I need to strip and sand down a piece if I want to re-stain it”? Until recently my answer would be, YES. And the reason is simple. Different from paint, stains are mostly transparent so you won’t be able to fully cover the previous finish or any damages, scratches or imperfections if you don’t prepare the wood properly to receive the new stain.

A couple of years ago I discovered gel stain, which is basically a thicker, strongly pigmented type of stain. Gel stain has been around for many years, but only recently I found out that there were people applying it on top of previously stained pieces without fully removing the previous finish. That intrigued me. It took me a while to have the courage to try it myself. When I finally did and learned what worked and didn’t work when doing it, I decided to share the process with you.

I refinished this buffet a couple of months ago in a navy blue and purple mix and a stained top. Since the piece was in such good condition, I decided I would not sand the top down to restain it.

Before you read my step-by-step instructions below, watch this short video tutorial, in which I show you how I did the whole process and also talk about the mistakes you should avoid if you decide to try it on your next project.

These are the supplies I used. This list includes a few affiliate links, which means if you buy an item through one of these links, I receive a small commision. There is no additional cost for you.

Teal Corner Cabinet-1
Before – This buffet was in very good condition

I started by sanding the top lightly, first with a 220 grit then wit a 320 grit, to make the surface smooth. It is important to sand in the same direction of the grain, or the sandpaper scratches will show through the stain.

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 12.13.23 PM (1)

I removed the sawdust with a mix of water and vinegar.

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 12.15.42 PM (1)

Next, I applied a coat of gel stain using a foam brush.

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 12.18.02 PM (1)

I immediately removed the excess of stain with a rag and waited about two hours before applying another coat of stain. I applied three coats of gel stain in total.

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 12.19.29 PM (1)

After the third coat of stain, I waited until the next day to seal the top. I also used a foam brush to apply the top coat.

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 12.23.05 PM (1)

I applied three coats of General Finishes Top Coat, sanding between coats with a very fine sandpaper (320).

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 12.24.26 PM (1)Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 12.25.12 PM (1)

If you are comfortable using a paint sprayer, you could also use it to apply this kind of top coat.

Here is how it turned out!

Blue-purple buffet-1-8

Blue-purple buffet-1

Teal Corner Cabinet-1

I love the navy-stain combo of this buffet. It had a wonderful response from my Instagram followers and it didn’t last long on my Etsy Shop.

How is your experience with stain? Do you have any tips for me? I’d love to hear about it.

Thanks for reading!


I’m sharing this post on these awesome link parties!

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It all started in the spring of 2013. I realized how tired I was to see my house entirely decorated with IKEA stuff. Nothing against IKEA, but after 12 years, I just needed some change. I wanted stylish, original furniture, but noticed that everything I liked from retail stores was way out of my budget. Thanks to Google, Youtube, and a couple of amazing blogs, I was able to discover and explore the world of furniture refinishing, and it was the beginning of my addiction. I now spend my days rescuing old, dull, unwanted pieces of furniture to give them a fresh look so they can be displayed, used and loved again for many more years to come. Thanks for stopping by.

14 thoughts on “Staining with no Stripping (with video tutorial)

  1. I’ve been patiently awaiting this tutorial after seeing the video. I learn better by reading than watching. Your tutorial is everything I was expecting and exactly what I needed to get me to try gel stains. I love the look of a stained piece but hate having to be the one to do it! You may have just changed everything. The purple and blue mix made the most beautiful color for your buffet and it looks divine with the stained top. Thank you for teaching me so many techniques. When I use your simple tutorials, my projects always come out exactly as I dreamed.


    1. I’m so happy this tutorial helped you Christie! I think you will love gel stain. It may take a few tries, but once you get the hang of it. It is the best option out there in my opinion.
      I’m planning to prepare a tutorial on how I painted this buffet as well.
      Thanks for stopping by and leaving your nice comment once again!


      1. I would like to see you do the tutorial on the bottom of the buffet. The whole piece is gorgeous. I have my mothers first dining room suit. She is deceased now. I would love to update and modernize it somewhat but not take anything away from the French provincial piece. I thought about silver, nickel or platinum color.


  2. Do you think this would work in an old staircase……after I clean dirt and build up off? The varnish has darken over years. It’s 150 year old house. I guess I should just try an area.
    Or do you know someone who has refone their old staircase?


    1. Hi Jeannie, yes, I think it would work on stairs and make them look much better. However, I would seal it with at least three coats of oil-based polyurethane, since it’s a high traffic area and you need a better protection. Keep in mind that stain and oil-based sealers take many hours to dry, in humid places, even 2 or 3 days. That’s the time you wouldn’t be able to use the stairs. Good luck!


      1. The trick to refinishing stairs is to alternate! Do every other step, so you can still use the unfinished ones whil waiting for them to dry


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