Java Gel Stain or Antique Walnut?

Are you wavering between Java or Antique Walnut General Finishes gel stain and you found this article? While you may have noticed that this post was originally written a few years back,  it’s still completely relevant. The design of the label on the can and my hair color may have changed,  but the choice between the Java gel stain or Antique Walnut gel stain colors remains the same.

It’s a popular choice to restyle light cabinets and furniture into darker statement pieces. If you own pickled pink oak, honey colored maple and golden oak cabinets, those are some of the many of the colors that are now going to the dark side. One easy way to achieve a darker look is to use General Finishes Gel Stain.

How to apply General Finishes gel stain - Java Gel vs Antique Walnut
Java gel stain vs. Antique Walnut gel stain

When my clients are looking for a deeper brown with lots of dimension, I like to suggest either General Finishes Java Gel Stain or General Finishes Antique Walnut Gel Stain. Whether you are a confident DIY’er or you are hiring someone to do it for you, it’s helpful to compare and contrast the two colors before making a final decision.

Java Gel Stain

Java is definitely darker, almost a deep espresso color. It’s quite a rich color. When applied over wood with visible grain, the gel stain creates a lot of depth and interest. In fact, this particular color has been dubbed the “one coat wonder.” On some already darker stained projects, that is an absolute fact! However, I find that the warmth of the Java color really comes out after 2 to 3 coats on lighter colored projects.

In fact, Java gel stain is the exact same color as General Finishes, Dark Chocolate Brown milk paint.  I know the guy who created it.  Trust me, it’s true!  What does this mean for you?  If you read this post and are weary of using gel stain, you can paint with the Dark Chocolate milk paint to get the exact same color as solid Java gel stain. It’s really up to you, but a lot of first time DIY’ers find it a little bit easier to paint and with faster dry times between coats.  Just some food for thought.


Here are some examples of  the looks that you can create using Java gel stain.

Java Gel Stain on Dining Room Table
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 of Java gel have been applied, the wood will have a more solid appearance. However, one of the most attractive attributes of this product is the illusion of texture. You can play up the textures, depending on how you apply the gel stain. Either way, Java is a deep rich brown color. If you are really going for a solid brown look, you may want to consider General Finishes Dark Chocolate Brown Milk Paint instead.

Antique Walnut Gel Stain

Perhaps you’re starting to think Java gel stain is too dark. If you want that warm, dark wood but don’t want to go too dark, Antique Walnut gel stain maybe what you are looking for.

Antique Walnut Gel Stain Kitchen Before & After
Antique Walnut Gel Stain Kitchen using 2 Coats

In this kitchen, Antique Walnut gel stain was applied with a staining pad 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 thinking about transforming your light cabinets, furniture, built-ins or doors to dark, but are looking for a color that is more brown instead of espresso, I’d recommend trying out the Antique Walnut. It allows for more grain to show through than Java. Even with 3 coats of Antique Walnut, it still shows the grain of the wood and does not have a solid appearance like applying 3 coats of Java.  If it’s hard to tell from the picture, I get it. We are awesome at refinishing cabinets in the Phoenix, Arizona are, but not the best photographers.

Antique Walnut Gel Stain Restyle on Front Door
Antique Walnut Gel Stain Restyle on Front Door


Painting Your Cabinets Instead of Gel Stain

So, if you’re now leaning towards the Java color, but are concerned with using an unfamiliar product like gel stain, there’s still the chance to use paint to get the same color.  Here’s an example of a kitchen painted in Dark Chocolate milk paint.  The edges were distressed back with sandpaper to highlight the edges. While you can try to create this look with Java gel stain, it’s definitely not as easy to do with paint.

General Finished Dark Chocolate Milk Paint on Kitchen Cabinets

Changing from light to dark may seem like a fad or trend. In my opinion, it isn’t and really makes a lot of sense in many homes. Look how the custom stained glass feature goes from drab to fab in the Antique Walnut gel stain restyle on this door. Want more? Looking for step-by- step instruction? Check out our DIY Video Tutorials for the exact process and supplies we use here at Restyle Junkie.  You’ll get access to my exact method of applying gel stain, including a shopping list. Want a teaser?  My favorite terry cloth pads for application can be found at Harbor Freight. 

Or purchase General Finishes products here.  And yes, this is an affiliate link. I get a little something if you purchase stain, paint or other products through this site?

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Thank you,


3 Responses

  1. I like the gel stain idea but my cabinets have laminate sides. Will the gel stain adhere to laminate and look good like it does on the wood? I am thinking that the wood grain wont come through on laminate if it does paint on and then look weird. Do you have any experience with this?

  2. I want to have less wood grain I have read using spackle, sanding then painting works, but will the same steps work using this Java Gel Stain instead of paint. Thanks!

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