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June 08, 2022 5 min read

Your wood cabinets won't have their beautiful and fresh finish forever, but you can give them a fresh new look by staining. Staining is easier and less costly than replacing the entire cabinet. This article will guide you on how to do it, what materials you need, and what steps to take to make your cabinets look good as new.

Before You Begin

If you like the original color of your cabinets and want to keep it looking that way, you don't need to sand the stain off. You can also apply a darker shade of the existing varnish, but make sure you remove the existing coat before applying the stain on rough surfaces.

Once you apply the new stain on the rough surface, it will seamlessly blend with the rest of the cabinet. After all, applying the new varnish on the rough surface will make it stain better than on the slippery top coating.

If your cabinets are not varnished but painted, you have to remove the paint completely because it will show through the new stain. If you skip this step, your cabinet’s aesthetics may suffer.

Preparing the cabinets, repainting, and drying them can take up to four days. Once you start this project, make sure you set aside enough time to see it through to completion.

Tools You Will Need

Before beginning your staining job, gather all the necessary tools. Having them together within your reach will help you maximize the time you have to complete the project. You can buy or rent these types of equipment:

  •         Tack cloth
  •         Sanding block
  •         Cotton rags or microfiber towel
  •         Latex gloves
  •         Manual screwdriver
  •         Two-inch brush
  •         Plastic sheeting
  •         #220 grit paper
  •         Cordless drill

Materials You Need

  •         Mineral spirits
  •         TSP
  •         Polyurethane coating and stain


Staining wood cabinets is a straightforward process that you can DIY. Follow these steps to achieve that freshly stained look.

1.      Remove the Hardware

Begin by uninstalling the drawer pulls and handles from the cabinets' doors and drawers. Next, use a cordless drill or manual screwdriver to loosen the screws to prepare for the removal of the doors. If the screws on your cabinets are invisible, you might find them on the backside of the door.

You can store the hardware safely if you intend to reuse it, but place each piece of hardware and its screws in one bag so you know what goes together.

2.      Remove the Cabinet Doors

Once you remove the hardware, you can remove the doors. It will be easier to work on the cabinets without the doors, but you also need to stain the doors separately. Use the screwdriver to loosen the hinges on the cabinet doors.

You can then separate the doors from the boxes. Once the doors are out, store them safely aside and take out the hinges from the boxes. This leaves you with enough working area to repaint your cabinets.

3.      Remove Door Fronts and Drawers

Remove all the drawers from your cabinet area. Try first removing the fronts of the drawers from the drawer boxes, but be careful because removing them can ruin the drawers entirely. If you have difficulties removing the fronts, you can stain them together with the rest of the cabinets.

4.      Clean the Surfaces

Make sure you first clean the surfaces before you start your staining job. Get a clean bucket of warm water. Pour the TSP into the bucket to mix into the water. Use a damp cloth to wipe the cabinet doors, exposed sides of the cabinet boxes, and drawer fronts.

Most homeowners forget about the vertical stiles on the cabinet boxes between doors. Make sure you also wipe these clean.

5.      Deep Clean the Problem Areas

Some parts of the cabinets will be too dirty to be cleaned with water. Check for stubborn stains on the areas near ovens and stoves, where oil and food particles may collect. Don’t forget that the parts where the knobs and handles were fixed need deep cleaning as well.

Use mineral spirits to remove any stain around all those hard-to-reach areas. The spirit might not be friendly to your skin, so wear latex gloves first. Use the mineral spirit to dampen a clean microfiber towel or cotton cloth. Using the damp towel, wipe all the stains off the drawer fronts and cabinets. Make sure you rinse the towels during the process if they get too dirty.

6.      Sand the Surfaces

Once all the surfaces are clean, it is time to sand them. Start by sanding down the flat surfaces. Use your #220 grit paper to sand the cabinets. If there are some molded or textured areas, you will need loose sandpaper. Match the piece of sandpaper with the wood's profile. You can control the movement of the sandpaper by placing a finger to support it. Also, a wooden dowel makes sanding the cabinet's problematic areas easier.

7.      Remove Dust

Sanding wooden cabinets will spread a lot of dust, preventing you from correctly applying the stain. Use a brush extension on a vacuum to clean all the dust out. You will also need to wipe the cabinets with the spirit once more. Lastly, use a tack cloth to wipe them down in preparation for staining.

8.      Stain the Cabinets

Once you’ve sanded and cleaned the wood, mix the stain using a piece of wood. Ensure you move the piece of wood down the tin to mix everything thoroughly in the can. Next, immerse the tip of your paintbrush bristles into the product and apply it to the cabinet's drawer front and door.

You can apply the product to the textured areas next. Once done with those areas, dip the brush bristles into the stain again and apply on all the flat sections. When working on the wooden cabinets, apply the color by moving the brush in the same direction as the wood grain.

If you want perfect results, it is advisable to buy a high-quality brush. Although substandard brushes are more affordable and can still do the job, their bristles are lightly fixed. Since the stain is sticky, most of the bristles may fall off while you apply it on the wood, compromising the look of your finished product.

9.      Apply a Second Coat

The first coat will be too light, and the wood's original color might still be visible through the stain's single coat. For better results, a second application is necessary. But don't be in a hurry to dip your brush in the stain again. Wait until the first coat dries before going in with the second one. Drying typically takes about six hours.

10.  Replace the Drawer Fronts and Hinges

Congratulations. You are almost done with the complicated parts of your staining job. Once the second coat of the stain dries up, install the hinges, cabinet boxes, and cabinet doors. If you successfully removed the drawer fronts, don’t forget to reinstall them.

11.  Replace All Other Hardware

If you purchased new hardware for the drawers and doors, install them as your final step. As mentioned, you can still use the old pulls and knobs you stored in bags at the beginning of this process. Installing each hardware using the screws they originally came with will make this process easier since they will fit the holes perfectly.

Staining a wood cabinet is a straightforward process that homeowners can do themselves. Note, however, that you might require an expert's opinion when choosing the right colors. Also, if you don't have enough time to do DIY, you can still hire professional staining services.


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