Re: Gel stain over builder grade cabinets
If stain cannot reach the wood grain, it will not impart color. If you hope to have any success you will have to sand the finish off, down to bare wood.
Photo-finish is exactly as it sounds, an image applied over a man made core, usually particle board. You cannot stain this type of surface, and trying to stain particle board will be sketchy at best.
Your best bet is to reface anything with a photo-finish (overlay with thin wood skin ), then stain, then apply a clear sealer such as polyurethane. For real wood surfaces, strip and/or sand the existing finish down to bare wood, stain and apply sealer.
Gel stains are some of the worst stains to use. They do not penetrate well, not even bare wood. Stick with liquid stain or aniline dyes. As far as polyurethanes go, I really like McCloskies. STAY AWAY FROM MINWAX POLYURETHANE!!!! It is extremely hard to use and the finish results are less than acceptable. Their liquid stains are great, but nothing else is. Also stay away from stain/poly one-step coatings. They are little more than pigmented polyurethane and if the the finish is chipped or dinged you've got bare wood showing through and it will be tough to repair and make invisible again. Stain first, poly second for the best results.
I suffer from CDO ... Its like OCD, but in alphabetical order, LIKE IT SHOULD BE!!!