Gel Stain Versus Liquid Stain

Here is a quick compare between gel stain and liquid stain.

Gel Stain

A gel or paste stain is a thick-bodied stain that tends to stay on the surface of wood rather than soaking into the wood like a liquid stain. The result is a more consistent color across both porous and non-porous areas alike, a decided advantage when staining woods like pine and cherry that are susceptible to blotching. And for staining end-grain. Because they don't flow, gel stains are ideal for applying to vertical surfaces and are generally less messy than liquid stains. On the other hand, their reduced penetration means gel stains are not the best choice for bringing out the depth and figure of porous woods such as oak and mahogany or highly figured woods such as curly maple.

Liquid Stain

Liquid stain consists of a coloring agent, either pigment or dye, dissolved in a solvent. The solvent can be alcohol, water, oil or other petroleum distillates, or even a top finish such as shellac or varnish. Unlike gel stain, liquid stain flows into the wood which allows it to enhance the wood's depth and grain. This makes liquid stain the better choice for highly figured woods such as birds-eye maple, tiger maple, and fiddleback mahogany. Liquid stains are generally cheaper than gel stains and available in a wider variety of colors. Their main drawbacks are that they are slightly messier and more blotch-prone than gel stains. Note that gel stain is essentially a liquid stain with a thickening agent added to it.