Cabinet Makeover! How to Stain Kitchen Cabinets

Staining our cabinets was perhaps one of the most challenging yet rewarding projects I have ever taken on.  Not because it was necessarily difficult, but because it requires patience….and lots of it!

before after1

This is not a weekend project.  The stain alone takes 24 hours to fully set before you can add additional coats. Between the prep work, applying two coats of stain to both sides of every cabinet and drawer, sealing it all with a top coat, and finally attaching hardware, our kitchen resembled a war zone for nearly a week!

Although I now fully understand why professionals charge so much for cabinet refinishing, I could not be happier with the results!! The total cost of this project came to $120, with the majority of the money going towards new knobs.  Not bad for a complete cabinet makeover! If you want big results for a small investment, and don’t mind living without a kitchen for a few days, I highly recommend this project.

What You Will Need

The Process

I found this tutorial on youtube to be extremely helpful when learning how to refinish the cabinets.

Step One: Disassemble the Cabinets: The more time you put into the prep work, the less time you’ll spend correcting mistakes. Take off each cabinet and drawer and remove all of the hardware, knobs, ect. Label everything! I organized all the hinges into bags, so I knew which ones went to each cabinet, and then took pictures to remember exactly where all the cabinets and drawers needed to go when I put it all back together.

Our kitchen after I was done taking all the cabinets off.

Our kitchen after I was done taking all the cabinets off.

Step Two: Clean: The cleaner the cabinets, the easier they will be to sand, and the better they will take the stain.  Use a damp cloth and your preferred wood cleaner to get all grime and residue off, and let dry completely.  Next, tape around any areas that will not be stained with painter’s tape.

Step Three: Sand: This process took forever! I followed the directions of the can of java gel stain which recommended using 120 grit sand paper. The great thing about using a gel stain is that you don’t have to strip the surface completely ( I would have given up after one cabinet if that was the case!); instead, you just want to give everything a rough sanding to remove the finish.  I used an angled sanding block to get into all the grooves, and spent about a minute per side for each piece.  Once you’re done, wipe everything down with a damp rag and let dry completely.

Wear a mask and protective goggles when sanding if possible!

Wear a mask and protective goggles when sanding if possible!

Step Four:  Apply the first coat of stain.  The gel stain gives two options for application; you can either wipe it on or paint it on.  I chose to paint the stain on using a foam brush.  You want to give a liberal even coat, but avoid any globs from building up.  Don’t panic when you see brush strokes ( I panicked!).  It will all even out once you add the second coat. Leave the first coat to dry for a full 24 hours before staining the backside…this is where all that patience comes in….:/.

The cabinets after the first coat!

The cabinets after the first coat!

Step Five: Apply the second coat of stain:   Once  the first coat has completely dried, take a 300 grit sanding block or paper and ‘very lightly’ sand down each piece.  The goal is to even out any imperfections to achieve the smoothest finish. Apply the second coat in the same way you did the first, waiting a full 24 hours before doing the backside.

Step Six: Apply polyurethane top coat: Once the second coat of stain has completely dried, you are ready to apply the top coat.  I started by again sanding with a 300 grit sanding block to even everything out, then took a foam brush and applied two very light even coat to everything, sanding between both coats.  Follow the directions on the product for dry time and any specific instructions.

Almost completed!

Almost completed!

Step Seven: Reassemble!: This is where all that prep and labeling pays off! Reassemble your cabinets.  If you are adding new hardware, this is the time to do it.


I completed the kitchen makeover by painting the kitchen a gray blue color (no more pink walls!), added knobs to all the cabinets and drawers, and added a pot rack to give us more storage. 🙂completed pic

Voila you’re done! I am sooo happy with how this project turned out! Yes, it was a ton of work, but the results were worth it!


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