Choosing the Right Dark Gel Stain. Java Gel Stain vs Walnut.


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Restyling light cabinets and furniture into darker statement pieces is a popular choice now. Pickled pink oak, honey colored maple and golden oak are some of the many of the colors that I’m asked to Restyle. When my clients decide they want a deeper brown with lots of dimension, I like to suggest either Java Gel Stain or Antique Walnut Gel Stain, both colors by General Finishes.  You can click here to get products delivered with free shipping to your house! Whether you are a confident DIY’er or you are hiring someone to do it for you, it’s helpful to compare and contrast before deciding.

Java Gel is definitely darker, almost an expresso color.  It’s very rich and when applied over wood with visible grain, it creates a lot of depth and interest. It’s been dubbed the “one coat wonder” and on some already darker stained projects that is an absolute fact!  However, I find that the warmth of the Java colors really comes out after 2-3 coats on lighter colored projects. Let’s take a look at some examples of what Java Gel can do for you.

Half table with gel stain

First coat of Java Gel stain on table.

Before and After

Java Gel Restyle on a dining room table. 2 coats of Java Gel and 3 Coats of General Finishes High Performance Top Coat in Flat.

Once several coats have been applied it will have a much more solid appearance. However, one of the the best attributes of gel stain is the illusion of texture, depending on how you apply.  Either way, Java is a deep rich brown color.  In fact, if you are really going for a solid brown look, you may want to consider Dark Chocolate Brown Milk Paint instead.


Ready to Paint Like a Pro? I show you the exact process I use to update cabinets with Java Gel Stain and Antique Walnut Gel Stain in my video tutorials:

Before and After

Java Gel Stain on built in hallways cabinets. Cabinets were darker to begin with so the appearance of the Java Gel Stain is solid.

After Picture

Java Gel stain over builder grade honey oak bathroom vanity cabinet.  You can see a lot more “depth” in this piece when you look up close. Otherwise, it looks relatively solid.

If you’re starting to think maybe Java is too dark, click here to see another oak kitchen with only two layers or Antique Walnut Gel Stain.  It was applied with a staining pad and a synthetic brush and finished with Satin Gel Top Coat. In this photo it looks dark, but it’s still not as dark at Java.

If you’re entertaining the thought of transforming your light cabinets, furniture, built ins or doors dark,  but are looking for gel stain that is more brown instead of expresso dark, I’d recommend trying out the Antique Walnut Gel Stain.  It allows for a more distressed or antiqued wood look and more grain to show through. Even with 3 coats of Walnut Gel Stain, it does not have the solid appearance like 3 coats of Java Gel Stain.

Before Restyle Picture

Light maple bathroom vanity before picture

After picture

General Finishes Walnut Gel Stain Restyle is gorgeous color of brown.

Before and after walnut gel stain

Before and after restyle of light pickled oak bathroom vanity. Cabinets were transformed with General Finishes Antique Walnut Gel Stain and Sealed with High Performance Topcoat.

Changing from light to dark is not just a fad or trend.  It honestly makes a lot of sense! Look how the custom stained glass feature goes from drab to fab in the Antique Walnut Gel Stain Restyle below.

Thank you!


PS: If you’re still wondering what the difference is between regular stain and gel stain, watch this video as I explain the difference!

Still have questions?  I answer a question via video every Friday on the Restyle Junkie Facebook page, send me yours and it might just be the one answered on Friday. You can click here to get products delivered with free shipping to your house!


About Restyle Junkie

Creative entrepreneur and Chicago native native enjoying the warmth of Phoenix, AZ for the past 17 years. I am passionate about transforming things that are ordinary and dated into fabulous focal points. Restyle Junkie ( is a licsenced contractor in Phoenix, Arizona business that professionally refinishes cabinets. We also specialize in taking brand new wood, adding texture, paint and stain to give it a custom rustic distressed look. All the charm of real reclaimed, but without the dirt and bugs for your projects! On line we offer cabinet painting tutorials, and information for both DIY'ers and professions with live webiners.( and am The Restyle Junkie showroom is located at 625 W. Please be sure to join our community on Facebook ( and visit the website to get General Finishes products delivered right to your door. You can message me on any of my social media outlets and your question might just be the next one we answer. When I'm not making something pretty, I'm hanging out with my blended family and my spoiled dogs, soaking up as much sunshine as possible.
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24 Responses to Choosing the Right Dark Gel Stain. Java Gel Stain vs Walnut.

  1. Katie says:

    Yes! Love that someone else is cheering on a choice besides Java. I like the look of Java but it’s a bit dark. Horray for someone else on the walnut side of things.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Anne says:

    Thanks for this informative post! We are refinishing our floors in Minwax Dark Walnut, so I’m planning to refinish our honey oak stair railings with gel stain. I can’t figure out whether I should do one coat of Java or multiple coats of Antique Walnut. One coat is easier, but I don’t want it to be too dark. You seem to have way more experience than most with various gel stain colors, so I appreciate any advice you can give.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’d say the issue with one coat of Java Gel is that it’ll be streaky…you’ll need more than one coat to get the dark look you see everywhere online. Also, it’ll match your dark walnut floors more closely. Antique Walnut is gorgeous, but it’ll never be as dark as the floors!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Toni says:

    I have seen different ways to apply. Do you paint it on like paint or wipe it on and off like stain. Which do you perfer?


  4. Lori says:

    Your renovations are beautiful! One question: I have maple cabinets that have a light finish. If I use the gel stain to darken them to a medium cherry finish, do I need to fully strip them first? Or just lightly sand?


    • Lori, that’s the beauty of gel stain. If you prep you clean your cabinets properly than you can put the gel stain over your existing finish. No need to strip, just scuff sand. You may be interested in watch this short video I just made on some of the attributes of gel stain.

      Thank you,



    • Suzanne Cumbie says:

      I’m wondering how Lori’s maple cabinets turned out if she used the gel stain. I also have maple cabinets with a light finish. I’ve heard maple doesn’t take dark stain very well because of it’s unusual graining characteristics. Rachel, maybe you have a comment?


      • Suzanne, your cabinets look great with gel stain as it is perfect for something that has already been finished. Gel stain sits on top of a finished surface and does not actually penetrate the grain. That’s the beauty of gel stain. What you’ve heard may be true regarding an oil based stain over raw maple, but gel stain over finished maple will work out fine.


  5. Suzanne Cumbie says:

    I just noticed your before/after picture on maple cabinets. They turned out beautiful with the antique walnut gel stain!!


  6. Connie Demerchant says:

    This looks so easy and Beautiful results. I have the orange oak cabinets that have had a coat of varnish on a few years ago would i have to sand that off completely?


  7. Carrie says:

    I used the Georgian Cherry Java Gellar stain on my kitchen cabinets that were previously painted white and stripped/sanded down to the wood. It isn’t as dark, and they look great. I am not home, so I can’t provide a picture at this time.


    • De says:

      Thanks Carrie. I looked at the cherry gels but am worried it will look too red. I am hoping to get more of a neutral brown and tone yellow and red down. Im afraid the underlying golden oak will make even the most neutral gel stains come out looking yellow or orangish unless I go really dark which o don’t want to do. I may experiment on some furniture with different gel stains to see how they look color wise


  8. De says:

    I have beige and white walls with golden oak trim and cabinetry. I really want to tone down the yellow/gold on everything go slightly darker. I am changing from shiny gold drawer pulls and light fixtures to more of a brushed nickel. I don’t want to paint the trim white. Stair railing is also golden oak with white spindles. What gel would work best to tone down the gold and not make the wood look too reddish without going more than a couple of shades darker? I’m thinking a walnut. The java scares me because it looks so dark.


    • De, I think the Antique Walnut will give you the look you’re going for. It’s a true brown. I don’t see any red in it and it’s much lighter than the Java which is a very beautiful, but dark espresso color.


  9. Melissa says:

    I previously used the brown mahogany on my kitchen cabinets which turned out gorgeous, but it did require a lot of coats to get past the streakier red finish. I’m about to update my bathroom cabinets with the antique walnut, but instead of the honey oak like the kitchen, they are a “peeling” white laminate. Once I peel all the laminate facing off, do I need to prime the bare doors before applying the gel stain?


    • Gel stain is meant to go over raw wood or already finished surfaces. Hard to say what will actually be uncovered beneath your peeling laminate. I think General Finishes milk paint may be a better solution in this case than gel stain. There Dark Chocolate Brown is very similar in color to Java and is quite pretty


  10. Kathy says:

    I live in Missouri. And have grade cabinet and would like to darken they. Where do I get this gel. And would it work on them


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