How to Stain Wood Cabinets

Wood Kitchen Cabinets

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Project Overview
  • Total Time: 2 - 4 days
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $100 to $200

If your cabinets are looking dingy or outdated, it's time to give them a quick refresh. While full replacement and refacing are great ways to give your kitchen cabinets a second life, an easier and lower-cost method is to stain the cabinets.

Staining brings the original beauty back to the wood. Using a combination polyurethane top coating and stain saves time and eliminates the need to completely sand off the existing coating. Staining cabinets is even easier than painting cabinets or repainting cabinets, and most kitchens can be completed in just a couple of days.

Before You Begin

For previously stained cabinets that will be stained in the same color range or darker, it is not necessary to sand off all of the stain and surface coating. The stain product will seamlessly blend with your current stain. Just make sure to sufficiently sand down the top coating to produce a rough finish. This will help the stain product stick to the surface better.

For painted cabinets, all of the paint must be removed down to bare wood. Use liquid paint stripper, along with a scraper, steel brush, and sandpaper, to remove the paint. All paint must be removed. Any remaining paint will shed the stain product and will show through.

Safety Considerations

Work in a well-ventilated area and use breathing protection. Move the removed cabinet doors and drawers to a protected outdoor area, if possible. Indoors, open windows and use fans to expel air. Do not blow air into the room, as this can cause dust to settle on the finished surfaces.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Cordless drill
  • Manual screwdriver
  • 2-inch brush
  • Cotton rags or microfiber towels
  • Tack cloth
  • Latex gloves
  • Sanding block
  • #220 grit sandpaper
  • Plastic sheeting

Materials

  • Polyurethane stain and coating
  • TSP
  • Mineral spirits

Instructions

  1. Remove Hardware

    With the cordless drill or manual screwdriver, remove handles and drawer pulls from the doors and drawer fronts. With most fixtures, the screws are accessed on the back side of the doors or drawer fronts.

    Tip

    If you plan on reusing hardware, place them in plastic bags. Use one bag per piece of hardware along with its screws. Identify the location on the front of the bag with an indelible marker.

  2. Remove Cabinet Doors

    Unscrew the hinges from the cabinet doors to remove them from the cabinet boxes. Set the doors aside, then remove the hinges from the cabinet boxes.

  3. Remove Door Fronts and Drawers

    Remove all drawers. If possible, remove the drawer fronts from the drawer boxes. If this is difficult or if it will damage the drawers, leave the fronts on and stain them in place.

  4. Clean Surfaces

    Mix the TSP with warm water in a clean bucket. Soak a clean rag then squeeze it out until it is damp. Wipe down all cabinet doors, drawer fronts, exposed sides of cabinet boxes, and the vertical stiles on cabinet boxes that run between doors.

  5. Deep-Clean Problem Areas

    Some of the cabinet and drawer surfaces may be especially dirty or greasy, particularly those near stoves and ovens. Areas near handles and knobs are usually very dirty, as well. Deep clean these areas with mineral spirits.

    Wearing latex gloves, dampen a clean cotton cloth or microfiber towel with mineral spirits. Wipe down the cabinets and drawer fronts, frequently turning over the towel or switching it out for a fresh towel.

    Tip

    Be sure to purchase mineral spirits, not mineral oil.

  6. Sand Surfaces

    Place the 220 grit sandpaper on a sanding block and lightly sand down all flat surfaces. For textured or molded areas, use a loose piece of sandpaper and conform it to the profile of the wood, either by placing your finger in the sandpaper or with a wooden dowel.

  7. Remove Dust

    Use the brush attachment on the shop vacuum to vacuum up the majority of the dust. Follow by wiping down the cabinets with mineral spirits. Finish by wiping down the cabinets with tack cloth.

    Tip

    If desired, you can apply a stain enhancer at this point to allow the grain of the wood to receive the stain evenly.

  8. Apply Stain

    Thoroughly mix the stain product with a wooden stirring stick. Be sure to pull up the solids from the bottom of the can and mix them in. Dip the tip of the paintbrush bristles in the stain product. Apply stain first to the cabinet door and drawer front bevels and textured areas. Immediately follow by applying stain to the flat sections. Always move the brush in the direction of the wood grain.

    Tip

    Only use high-quality brushes. Lower quality brushes can leave bristles behind on the work surface. Because the stain product is tacky, it is difficult to remove the stray bristles.

  9. Apply Second Coat

    Allow the surfaces to dry for at least six hours, then apply a second coat.

  10. Replace Hinges and Drawer Fronts

    After the cabinet pieces have dried for at least six hours, replace the hinges on the cabinet boxes and cabinet doors. Attach the drawer fronts to the drawers again.

  11. Replace Remaining Hardware

    With the doors and drawers back in place, replace the knobs and pulls or install new ones.