How to Stain Wood Beams- Without Sanding!

Hi guys! Madeline here from Ellis & Page! When we bought our current home we knew that it needed a lot of work. Now that we have been living here for a few months, we are really starting to understand what that means! We have already done a lot of painting, and I think I should just buy stock in paint- we need so much more! When I saw the living room, I knew it could be great.
Ellis & Page Beams

We lightened the grout on the floors, so the tile kind of disappears- it isn’t my favorite flooring, but living on the water, it is practical! I knew that I would paint the paneling (I know that’s not everyone’s thing!), but I wasn’t quite sure what I was going to do with the beams. They aren’t a solid piece of wood like the ones you see on Pinterest- they are made of the same paneling as the wall- kind of strange. You can see below (this is after staining) how the beam is made up of multiple pieces of paneling.


We finally decided to stain the wood beams for a few reasons. First, I wanted some contrast because I knew the wall would be white. Second, I was afraid if we did paint it white, it wouldn’t be the same white as the ceiling and then it would just look weird.

The next decision was how to stain them. I didn’t really fancy sanding them all the way down- there was some sort of polyurethane on them- especially since they are made up of paneling! So after a lot of research, I decided to use a gel stain. Gel stains are really different from your traditional stain- they don’t need to be wiped off and they basically cover like a paint. You can see the color of the bookshelves (which is the color the beams were previously) and the beams here to see the difference!


How to Stain Wood Beams Without Sanding

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So, we cleaned the beams, and then applied the gel stain- here is what we learned.

Products used: Minwax Polyshades gel stain in Honey, foam craft brush

1- Leave a wet edge


This is super important. At first my husband tried to stain the bottom and the sides and then move the ladder. The problem there was that then the bottom was basically dry when once he started again. This just made it look splotchy and uneven. If you look closely at the beam above you can kind of see where he started and stopped. This is the beam he started with, and it is only noticeable if you point it out!

2- Quicker is better

Kind of in the same vein- you need to move pretty quickly. We found that putting a good amount of stain on the brush helped it look even. More brushing just made more of a mess. The stain forms, well, a gel, really fast. And the gel gets gloopy and shows a lot of brush strokes.

3- You can do 2 coats.


Since you didn’t have to sand, you can do two coats to get the coverage you want. In fact, since you have to move quickly, you might need to.

4- You probably will lose the wood grain


I was ok with this fact. The beams are about 10-20 feet in the air, so you don’t see too much detail anyways. You can still see knots, so that does give it some contrast.

However, I used the same stain on our mantle in the bedroom, and kind of wished that I used something that penetrated into the wood more. I still love it, it just doesn’t have as much contrast as a penetrating stain would.


We definitely love the look of it! We also changed out the track lighting- which gave us quite the headache- but that is a story for another day! 

What do you think? Do you like the dark beams? If you want to see why we decided to buy this fixer upper, check out our DIY Firepit– you’ll know why!

Easy Way To Stain Wood Ceiling Beams @Remodelaholic

More uses for gel stain:

banister makeover

How to Redo an Oak Stair Banister in Java Using Gel Stain, Semi-Domesticated Mama featured on Remodelaholic

update vinyl shutters


stain a wood mantel

How to make a simple wood mantel @remodelaholic #DIY #mantel (12 of 34)

Website | + posts

Madeline blogs with her sister at Ellis & Page. She just bought a fixer upper right on the water in North Carolina. Slowly but surely, she is working on making it beautiful again!

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  1. I found this information to be very helpful. I just now heard of Gel Stain. I have a vaulted ceiling with wooden beams and vertical beams on the wall. When we moved in they were already painted WHITE. The wood is very rough and porous, so sanding/stripping was not an option. I have since painted them black, but I want to try this gel stain method. I am wondering what effect the dark painted beams will have on the gel stain’s appearance. Because my beams are already dark (black) do you think a Walnut colored stain would come out brownish? I have walnut colored laminate flooring. I don’t care if the two match color exactly, but I would like to have the beams look like walnut, (or closer than the black paint does).

  2. What did you end up doing with the wall behind the fire place that has the matching wood as the beams did? I have a wall that looks similar leading up our stairway and I do not like the light wood color so I am trying to decide what to do with it.

  3. Hi! This is very interesting. I am wondering would the group stain work if I go from a dark stain to a lighter more natural wood color stain?