Java Gel Stain kitchen table makeover DIY

A long time ago, I had only one child and our kitchen table was a $5 garage sale find of laminate tabled and golden-vinyl chaired fabulousness. When we were ready to purchase a new kitchen table that would be a little less 70s, we went to an oak lover’s paradise to purchase a new honey oak set, which would allow us to seat more than our little family at the table. Little did I know my family would eventually nearly outgrow this 9-foot wonder of a table. (At the time it seemed impossible.)

Fast forward to 2013, I have six kids and a dog, my table is in sad, sad, shape, I’ve been itching to refinish it, and my toddler enters the picture with the pen that broke the camel’s back. Or rather the pen that broke open all over my table that was the final straw.

First thing we did was move this bad boy out into the garage (the table, not the toddler). Then came the tedious yet gratifying sanding process. Now, I know you don’t have to sand it completely down before using a product like gel stain, as it will easily breathe new life into surfaces that have not been stripped, but I was looking for a completely smooth finish on top. I used an orbital disc sander, and a flat head screwdriver to scrape all along the beveled edge of the tabletop, where 13 years of kids had seeped in to created a powerfully binding, unique varnish all of it’s own.

I applied the gel stain with small, disposable foam brushes, and applied three coats, waiting for each coat to dry several hours in between coats, to make sure all the honey oak was covered.

My dad had refinished a table top to a dining room set they bought when I was 12 years old, and it was still going strong, so he is the one I went to for advice on refinishing this table top. I wanted it to be able to endure the abuse we would give. He instructed me to use no more than 3 coats of polyurethane, sanding very lightly with a very fine grit sand paper in between each coat, after it had dried, to remove any bubbles or dust particles from the finish, and to help the subsequent coat to bind to the previous coat of poly. Here it is, new glossy surface ready for abuse, I mean use.

We brought it into the kitchen and at that point I had found out that I was pregnant, and the morning sickness started right around 5 weeks and lasted until 23 weeks, so the chairs were put on hold until a later date, when all the stars aligned, the temperature outside was bearable, and my ankles weren’t the size of my thighs. I love how this turned out!


When I finally did finish, I took pictures with my iPhone, but you can see the wood grain in the table top, and it has been quite durable except for a few mishaps. (I put a painting on it and the metal picture hanger on the back of the frame scratched a lovely 4-inch scratch in the finish last year)

For the chairs I really only sanded the seat, there is so much detail on the other surfaces. I used TSP substitute to prep the chairs, using a TSP-soaked rag covering a screwdriver to remove any build up in the grooves of the chairs. In the future I will probably buy the most boring, unadorned chairs I can find, because they will be so much easier to clean. 😉

Tools needed:

TSP or TSP substitute to clean all surfaces not being sanded.

Orbital disc sander

Lint-free towels to remove dust after sanding, or if your piece has been sitting in between coats and has accumulated dust.

Any other tools you might need to prepare your surface for staining (I used a flat head screwdriver to get the gunk out of the beveled edge)

General Finishes Java Gel Stain, which I chose after much Pinterest research. I bought myself a quart and have used it for several projects, including this kitchen table, a coffee table, and two bathroom vanities. When I write the blog posts for those projects I will link them here. I really love this product and it is so easy to use! I do recommend wearing gloves to protect your skin from staining.

For the polyurethane, I used this and this. I chose a wipe-on poly for the chairs and any surface that was not horizontal, because of how much easier it is to apply without drips. I will say that the wipe-on poly is not nearly as durable as the regular polyurethane. It chips and scratches easily, and all of my chairs need to be redone. I would take the time to apply a traditional polyurethane. This is also the case with the coffee table I refinished. I knew it would be really heavily abused with so many kids, but it has several chips and scratches in the finish. If you’re going to take the time to do this, I suggest skipping the wipe-on poly and going the traditional route.

*Tips for getting the smoothest polyurethane finish:

-Use a foam brush (2-2.5″ was the best size I found that offered the most coverage and control)
-Use individual strokes, in a single line across the entire surface of the table. If the table is too wide, or you run out of poly on the foam brush, choose a spot where each brush stroke will end and pick that stroke up on the other side of the table.
-Move the brush very slowly along, so that the poly will have a chance to evenly deposit onto the surface, this will decrease the chance of streaks.
-Sand very lightly between coats with an extra fine grit sandpaper (200 or above). You will really only barely scuff the surface except for areas with bubbles or dust, where you can gently sand any imperfections to level the surface and prepare for the next coat. I mainly just went over the table with my sandpaper in even strokes like I did with my brush, as seen here:

This is not a paid endorsement, all opinions are my own. There are affiliate links included in this post



5 thoughts on “Java Gel Stain kitchen table makeover DIY

  1. Omg good job! That looks like a brand new table! I’m jealous how you did that. That’s pretty impressive. Looks so nice!

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