Re-staining Kitchen Cabinets - Instructions

restaining kitchen cabinets

Re-staining Standard Oak Kitchen Cabinets (The instructional version)

**Note: If you are going to restain your cabinets I recommend you buy a power sander.  With my power sander it still took several days to sand my cabinets and frames down to bare wood.  Sanding is the longest and least fun portion of the project, but if done right will make your cabinets look awesome!  Be prepared that this is not a weekend project and your kitchen will be in some sort of disarray until you are finished.  But the results will be well worth it. 

Attempt One:  Re-staining Cabinets on Hand-Sanded Doors - FAIL

I decided to take a small cabinet door from one of the upper cabinets and test my stain and poly with it before deciding to sand and re-stain all of my cabinets.  Starting with a small spot, I sanded and stained the cabinets - and it didn't look half bad.  So, then I did the remainder of the back of the door.  The door dried overnight, but some spots were still a little tacky in the morning.  I was afraid that this meant that the stain hadn't absorbed.  So I took a damp sponge and wiped the surface of the cabinet.  But there was no stain residue on the sponge.  So I decided to try and apply one coat of polyacrylic.  What do you know - the door fully dried.  I lightly sanded the surface, wiped off the debris and applied the second coat.  I really liked the results.

So, here is the brave part.  I started on the outside.  I had gotten to my third door and noticed that the first two still had spots that hadn't dried yet and the border where the panel meets the frame was a lighter color than the rest of the door.  So I applied a second coat.

However, the doors still remained tacky in some areas - I'm guessing the wood the doors are made of doesn't want to accept the stain.  So, I tried the sponge/polyacrylic technique I tried with the test door.  The outside of the door frames accepted the stain fine, but the inside looked like it was painted - and not well might I add.  This was not going to work.

See the dark painted look of the top small cabinet.

So, for my birthday I received a gift card to Lowes (what great timing!) and I treated myself to a power sander.  What a difference it made!

Attempt Two:  Re-staining Cabinets on Power-Sanded Doors - SUCCESS

One thing I have learned from DIY home improvement projects is that if something doesn't turn out the way you thought it would, just keep trying - you can fix it.  Learning to do home improvement projects is exactly that - a learning process.  As you do more projects you'll get better at them.  I promise.
 If you are thinking about sanding and re-staining wood cabinets, you are going to need a power sander.  I started with a couple of doors and sanded them down to the bare wood using 150 grit sand paper.

Then, you can take your stain and begin to apply with a clean rag.  I'm using Varathane Early American.  It's a nice dark brown that gets rid of the yellow wood I had before without being too dark.  I applied two coats to every door surface.  However, I had to apply four coats to the frames since they accepted the stain differently.

Then I followed up with Polycrylic Clear Satin.  This gave my cabinets protection and a clear finish that was more natural than a shiny finish.  You will want to apply this using a nice clean brush.  Allow the poly to dry before applying a second coat.  You may need to sand in between coats in create a smooth finish.  I used two coats.

After finishing about half of the doors, I felt confident enough to begin sanding the frames.  And my kitchen was in such disarray that I need to be able to start putting some things back in my cabinets.

Things definitely got very hairy in there!

Sanding the frames was definitely more difficult than sanding the doors because I could only do it when Little Man was sleeping - which meant late at night or during naps - since I didn't want him to breathe in the dust- and it took forever to get all of that sawdust cleaned up.  However, in terms of difficulty and speed, sanding the frames was much easier than the doors.  But one thing I did note was that it took four coats of stain to achieve the same color that only two coats did on the doors.  Unfortunately I only realized this after applying two coats and re-hanging the doors.  

When I first noticed the difference in color I felt like crying... I had ruined my cabinets!  But with a little hand sanding and two more coats of stain the frames finally matched the doors!

We also added more counter space with an island from IKEA.  CLICK HERE.  For the
amount of workspace it provides and how well it has held up, I consider it a bargain.

Here's just one more look.  The transformation to me is astounding and the project was extremely inexpensive... it's amazing how far a little elbow grease and determination can take you.
restaining kitchen cabinets before
This is what it looked like the day we had our walkthrough.
restaining kitchen cabinets
AFTER: Here's a shot with natural light.  This is more close to what the 
actual color looks like all of the time.

restaining kitchen cabinets after
restaining kitchen cabinets after
AFTER - I want to put in new countertops and am waiting to put
 in a white subway tile backsplash until we do so. 

Click Here to see a post about adding moulding to the kitchen cabinets.


  1. Looks great! This is pretty much exactly what I want to do! All over Pinterest everyone is saying to use General Finishes Java gel stain, but I think it would look more like a painted look and I don't want to go too dark since I am getting a dark brown recycled glass countertop. Plus I love the WOOD and I want to see the beauty of the wood without just covering it up with paint. I have tested 3 different stain colours and Early American is my choice too. It is so great to see your pictures to get an idea what mine will look like. Thanks so much!!!

  2. Thank you! I agree... as much as painted cabinets are nice, I think wood is so much prettier! I'd love to see how your kitchen turns out!!

  3. Is this a gel stain? I LOVE the color! I'm not too pumped on the 'java' craze right now, too dark for me! This looks so good, you go girl!

    1. Thanks for visiting!! This was actually just regular stain. In our new kitchen I used a combination of gel stain and regular stain (Antique Walnut and Carrington) so it's a little lighter and redder than java. That method gave a more consistent finish. Check out the results here:


Post a Comment

Popular Posts