Step-by-step instructions on how to use gel stain for an oak mantel makeover. Update your old honey oak trim with this easy process.

oak mantle update before and after


A few weeks ago posted about what to do with my honey oak trim – paint or re-stain it? I like the look of darker wood trim and I also like the look of white trim, what I don’t like is what I have. If we were going to stay in our house more than another year or two, I’d probably replace it all. In the end, I’m not sure if I’m going to tackle the whole house, so I figured staining it a little darker and warmer would be the best option. This weekend I decided to tackle updating my honey oak mantel.

I tried the technique out on a few pieces of extra trim from the kitchen to make me feel more comfortable with the color of the stain, the technique and the number of coats.


General Finishes Gel Stain Mahogany Brown

I had heard great things about General Finishes gel stains, and luckily it’s sold locally at the Woodsmith’s store in Des Moines, so I was able to go to the store and ask the people there some questions on what color I wanted to use for my oak mantel makeover.

Clean and prep: I started by dusting and cleaning the wood on the mantle. When I did my test on the trim, I did nothing more than wipe down the wood and it turned out fine. Since I had some deglosser left from another project, I decided to use it on the mantle before applying the stain. I used a scouring pad with deglosser on it to in circular and wiping motions. I then used damp cotton cloths to wipe off the deglosser. It took about 15 minutes. After that I used painter’s tape to tape off the wall, tile, and carpet around the mantle. I hate this part of any painting or staining project!

updating honey oak mantle prep

Applying the stain: To apply the stain, I put on a plastic glove and then put my hand inside a tube sock. Then I scooped a little bit of stain out with my covered hand and rubbed it evenly on one section of the mantle and then using a clean wiping cloth (cut up t-shirts), I wiped off the excess stain. The directions indicated you should work on small sections at a time, so I split mine into four parts – top, front and underneath, left side, right side. After applying the stain in a section, I let it sit for about 1-2 minutes and then started wiping off.

gel stain applicationgel stain application

gel stain before wipe-offgel stain wipe off

After doing each section once, I decided I wanted the finish just a little deeper, so I waited about 1.5 hours to let everything dry and then repeated everything for a second coat. The directions said to sand lightly between coats, but I didn’t and the finish still came out very smooth. I let everything dry overnight and decided I didn’t need to do any sort of top coat. The directions said it was optional. If this was a bathroom or kitchen cabinet, I would have used a finish coat, but since this is a low traffic and no moisture area, I felt it wasn’t necessary.

Prep including taping took approximately 45 minutes. Staining each coat took a half hour with 1.5 hours in between for drying. For such a small time investment of less than 2 hours of work, I’m really happy with the results!

Here’s a look at the restained mantel.

Updated Honey Oak Mantle

And here’s a sneak peak at a post to come later this week, I got rid of that ugly brass on my fireplace doors.

Updated Mantle and Fireplace doors

Next up – I am going to use the same technique on the trim in my kitchen. I’m not sure I’ll go farther with it than that. That seems manageable. As much as I’d like to get rid of all of the honey oak in my house the thought of spending the time to do my staircase, all the doors and every inch of trim for a house we aren’t going to live in much longer reminds me to value my time a little more. We’ll see…

Linked Up At: Today’s Creative Blog; Not Just A Housewife; Housewife How To’s; Daisy Cottage Designs; Someday Crafts; 52 Mantels; Live, Laugh, Rowe, Shabby Creek Cottage; Thirty Handmade Days; Diana Rambles; Too Much Time On My Hands; Whipperberry


  • Kim: Too Much Time
    Posted May 15, 2013 7:49 pm 0Likes

    love it! My house is chock full of honey oak and I am not a huge fan. I also like stained wood better than painted, but I am not sure I have it in me to do everything! Myabe I could start small like you did and see how far I get:)

      Posted May 16, 2013 4:59 pm 0Likes

      The start small approach is much less intimidating in terms of project size! The tones are complementary so I was pleasantly surprised that I could get by with having both next to each other.

  • Diana Rambles
    Posted May 16, 2013 3:55 pm 0Likes

    We have honey oak in our house and I would love for it to be darker!

  • Jill
    Posted July 27, 2014 4:08 pm 0Likes

    What exactly is a deglosser? Is it a stripper? Or do you sand the old poly? I really want to do my bathroom cabinets. Thanks for your help

  • Karen
    Posted July 15, 2015 3:46 am 0Likes

    We finished are basement with dark trim and I want to change the upstairs without having to pay for new trim has the gel stain held up?

    • Erin @
      Posted July 15, 2015 7:00 am 0Likes

      It has! I’ve only done the kitchen, and the mantel. I’d probable do a top cost if I did a bathroom, otherwise it all still looks like when I did it!

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