Front Doors: Stain Without Pain


Since I’m a glutton for punishment and must secretly thrive on chaos, why not add another project to the mix?  For the longest time, I have wanted to stain our double front doors in a richer color.  I have ogled front doors like this stunner – what’s not to like?

And this:

Or this:

One more – bear with me on the front door crushes I’m having:

All gorgeous, right?

However, the thought of stripping my front doors was daunting, and not something I was looking forward to tackling.  You can see in this photo that the exterior side of the front doors are looking a bit faded.

Inside isn’t quite as faded, but still isn’t as dark as I would like.
So, you can see that they’re taped off and ready for action, but yet, they’re not sanded down to the bare wood.  You’re probably thinking, “What is she doing?  How can you possibly stain a front door without sanding off the old stain?”
Enter General Finishes Gel Stain.  The magic stain of my dreams.
After stumbling upon Monica’s amazing oak to espresso bathroom vanity makeover, I was obsessed.  Seriously, I don’t even remember how I found her blog and this project.  I think I was reading a Houzz article and one thing led to another.  I wasn’t even looking for it – I like to think it found me. 🙂 
I was in awe of her transformation.
Amazing, right?  And she did this without sanding off the original honey oak finish.  “Impossible!” I thought.  I had to read her FAQ more than once to believe it myself.  But, it’s true.
So, I hustled out around town in search of this miracle product.  It must be popular, because one shop told me that about 10 people had recently inquired about it, and another store even knew the color that I was looking for before I said a word.  I think the jig is up and word is travelling fast.
I snapped up some of the stain, and got to work yesterday.  Even with one coat, I’m loving the difference.  The door on the left has been stained – sorry about the photo quality, I was trying to work quickly to maintain an even stain application, and was taking this picture with a sock full of stain on one hand.  But, you get the idea.
So, I am going to get my beautifully dark front doors without the back breaking work of sanding off the old finish entirely.  I’m really excited to get to the outside of the front doors since they are looking the most faded.
Of course, this also has my wheels turning on staining other areas…  Like the banisters.
And the dining room built-ins (you can see the outside of them here).
Here’s an old photo of the opposite side of the built-ins, in the dining room.
Our kitchen breakfast bar is the same color, and it’s also on my list.  So many possibilities!
So, have I just been under a rock and am behind the curve in discovering this gel stain?  Have you used it?  Or did you go the hard route and sand down a piece to the bare wood before refinishing?
Linking up:


  • Reply
    Andrea @ Decorating Cents
    October 23, 2013 at 1:26 pm

    Love all your inspiration pics.

  • Reply
    Maury @ Life on Mars
    October 23, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    So cool! Now you have my wheels turning about where I can use it in my house!

  • Reply
    October 23, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    Love it! The door looks great already. I have never heard of the product either, but so glad you shared it! Can't wait to see the doors finished!

  • Reply
    October 23, 2013 at 2:20 pm

    Well, I'm curious now and will wait w/anticipation to read what you think of the product. A year ago, I took down our banister, and began the task of removing the old stain. I started the sanding of it and the stair rails, got overwhelmed and bored w/the thought of the silly spindles…and quit. I really need to finish it; and this might inspire me. I was thinking I would just have to paint the pieces b/c I just cannot motivate myself to sand those tiny crevices of the spindles. Thank you for this post!

  • Reply
    Cassie @ Primitive & Proper
    October 23, 2013 at 6:19 pm

    oh so pretty!!! the doors are looking much more like a grand entry!

  • Reply
    October 23, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    I have been debating this for our banister rails. How bad were the fumes? I was told to wait till the summer to vent the house out… but I'd love to do this sooner….

    • Reply
      October 23, 2013 at 9:48 pm

      The fumes weren't bad at all. Honestly, I noticed the odor when I first opened the can, but after that, nothing noticeable at all.

  • Reply
    Andrew's Reclaimed
    October 24, 2013 at 12:40 am

    never used it, but it looks a lot more straightforward than sanding away!

  • Reply
    October 24, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    I stained my whole kitchen with the General Finishes Java, 3 coats of stain and 3 coats of top coat. It went from 1980s oak to modern kitchen. It's held up beautifully and it looks so modern and fresh. ood luck and I'm sure you will love the finished product!

  • Reply
    Lisa @ Shine Your Light
    October 24, 2013 at 5:05 pm

    So glad you found a way to get the look you wanted, without all the hassle of stripping and restaining!
    I have used Polyshades, similar in that it's color and urethane all in one, and don't love how it can chip and knick like paint, but I have heard that the General Finishes products are more durable. You'll have to update us about how it holds up. The color looks fabulous!

  • Reply
    Monica @
    October 28, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    Thanks for featuring my tutorial! Staining my front door is actually next on my to-do list, so it's great to see how well my steps work on doors, too. This stuff is truly magical! 🙂 Have a great day, Jenny!

  • Reply
    Kris @ Driven by Décor
    October 29, 2013 at 1:37 am

    Loving the tip on the stain – I will do just about anything to get out of sanding! Looking forward to seeing your finished doors!

  • Reply
    October 30, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    It looks fabulous! Did you have to seal it for protection? I would love to do the same to our front door.

  • Reply
    Jim Lang
    November 7, 2013 at 1:13 pm

    Those are amazing front door inspirations! No doubt that your door will turn out stunning like those. Good thing you found a way to avoid the staining process; you no longer have any reason not to repaint your door. Hope to see your front door once it's done.

    Jim Lang @ RenewalOfMaine

  • Reply
    Maricela Milum
    November 8, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    Really? It’s always nice discovering an easy way to get things done without sacrificing the outcome. A miracle stain it is! And I’m sure it would become easily known. I hope the brand has a wide variety of colors. 😉 Maricela@Homecraft®, Inc

  • Reply
    William Gulliver
    November 20, 2013 at 5:27 pm

    The old color of your front door definitely lacks appeal. People living in today’s generation are really lucky because great resources are made available to us. Giving your door the look that you really wanted isn’t that difficult with that gel stain. I can imagine you being so jolly after discovering this product. Haha! A wooden front door will stand out even if it has a darker hue.
    William Gulliver @ Up and Above Contractors

  • Reply
    Samantha Gomes
    November 24, 2013 at 4:54 am

    That is so awesome that you made them yourself! I love the whole look of your window, so pretty!
    . shower doors portland

  • Reply
    December 8, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    Did you use this product on the outside as well as the inside? Also, did you apply any type of of finish over the stain (poly / varnish, etc?)


  • Reply
    May 11, 2015 at 9:07 am

    For the longest time, I have wanted to stain our double front doors in a …

  • Reply
    June 13, 2016 at 6:14 pm

    What color did you actually use on your exterior door? About to put my house on the market and need a quick fix that looks great!

    • Reply
      June 17, 2016 at 3:38 pm

      I used General Finishes Java Gel Stain for my doors with a high performance top coat if memory serves (best for outdoor use).

  • Reply
    June 7, 2018 at 10:06 am

    We used it 4 years ago on our bathroom vanity and pn our staircase rail. We used a mix Java and Georgian cherry to get it to match our hardwood floors. I did Sand just to take off the glossy poly on it. We were quoted 1000 bucks by our hardwood guys!😬

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