Wood Stains

custom kitchen cabinet staining

.Are you looking to update the look of your kitchen without a full remodel? Staining your existing cabinets is an affordable way to refresh their style. In this guide, I’ll walk you through choosing to apply stain, prepping the wood surfaces, different application methods, troubleshooting tips, and maintaining your cabinets’ fresh new look for years to come.

Let’s start with color selection. Pull out some scrap pieces of wood in similar tones to your cabinets. Then head to the hardware store and pick up a few small stain samples in shades you’re considering. Test the swatches out on your scraps near your sink or island where you’ll use them daily. See how the colors look in different lighting, too. Take your time finding the one that makes you smile.

Proper preparation is key before staining kitchen cabinets. Sanding dust on the cabinet surfaces roughs them up for better stain absorption. Use 150-grit sandpaper to sand in the direction of the wood grain until uniformly dull. Get into all the nooks and edges. Dust off thoroughly between coats to prevent texture. Brushing is basic for wood cabinets but may miss details. Wiping gives better control. Spraying goes fast but requires experience. I’ll compare methods and tips from my own experience staining maple cabinets espresso. Choosing the right fit for your skill level ensures great results.

Choosing the Right Stain Color for Wood Cabinets

wood staining before & after

Selecting the perfect stain color takes some thought. Hardware stores offer many options, so take time to properly evaluate your top picks. Start by considering the existing décor elements in your existing kitchen cabinets. What colors are your walls? If they’re light blue or gray, darker stains like espresso or walnut may clash visually. Warmer browns and reds typically pair nicely with most wall colors.

Take a close look at your countertops, too. Granite comes in shades like gray, white, and black. Pick a stain that will match or complement those solid surfaces for a pulled-together look. Lighter stains work well with light countertops to keep things bright and airy. Think about your style preferences as well. Do you want a traditional look with stains resembling cherry or mahogany? Or do you prefer a more contemporary feel from gray or white stains? Stains can even match wood flooring for flow throughout the room.

Request color sample boards from the store in your top two or three shade contenders. Place them near your cabinets in natural light [include photo] – this mimics how the color will truly appear. Compare at different times of day, as light affects our perception. With methodical consideration of existing elements and your taste, you can narrow the field traditional stain to one or two stains that will suit your existing kitchen cabinets for years to come. This prep work ensures you’ll love your new kitchen cabinets and finished look.

Cabinet Preparation without Excess Stain

Proper surface preparation leads to professionally made cabinet surfaces and successful staining results. Start by thoroughly sanding the block and cleaning cabinets with a mild cleaner or soap and water to remove any grease or residue that could prevent stain absorption. For older cabinets and cabinet doors, that were previously stained, you may need to strip the existing finish and stain new cabinets first using a chemical stripper. Carefully follow all product instructions and protective measures.

Once fully dry, lightly sand the whole top surface lightly with 120-grit sandpaper to roughen the wood slightly. Change sheets to light sanding more frequently, as they can clog. This allows optimal stain penetration, next, after sanding, dust off with a finer 150-grit paper to smoothen surfaces. Use a light touch as too much pressure isn’t needed. Thoroughly vacuum and wipe clean surfaces with a clean cloth or a damp rag to remove all dust particles [include photo], as even tiny specs can disrupt an even coat.

If cabinets have holes or unevenness, fill them first using wood putty or filler before additional sanding and staining. Let it fully dry. Finally, prime any raw wood, like new door interiors or repaired sections of unfinished cabinets that weren’t previously finished. Priming seals the wood prior to stain application. When prep is complete, do a test stain patch to see predicted results before you stain all wood cabinets together. Adjust techniques as needed before staining cabinets. Proper prep ensures the stain goes around evenly for the look you desire [include photo]. Attention to these steps prevents issues and guarantees professional results.

Stain Application Methods on Wood Grain:

There are three main techniques for applying stain to cabinets: wiping, brushing, and spraying. Each has pros and cons to consider for your project. Wiping is best for beginners. Simply use a damp cloth or rag to work stain over clean, prepped surfaces in straight strokes. Wiping allows adjusting coverage as needed but can miss crevices. Go with the grain of wood.

Brushing is traditional and effective when done correctly. Choose a high-quality natural or synthetic bristle brush meant for stain. Load brush lightly, then apply using smooth, even strokes in one direction only. Re-saturating the brush keeps stain flowing out well. Bristles can leave visible brush marks if overworked.

Spraying is the fastest but requires some experience. A spray gun, compressor rubber gloves, and spray area protection are essential. Adjust nozzle and pressure for even misting. Multiple light coats are better than one heavy coat to avoid drips. Clean gunparts after each use.

Wiping is simplest, brushing easiest to control, and spraying quickest once set up. Consider your time, skills, and desired effect when choosing an application style. Allow enough drying time between coats, usually 1-2 hours, before further sanding and topcoating. With the right materials and techniques, any of these methods can produce superb results. Follow the preparation steps to let the natural beauty of your stained wood shine through.

Stain Finishing on Cabinet Doors and Others

Once the stain is fully dry, it’s time to add protective topcoats that prolong your cabinets’ beauty for years. Consider lacquer, polyurethane, or spar urethane.

Lacquer dries quickly and comes in gloss or satin sheens. It adds little yellowing but requires skillful application. Polyurethane protects cabinets surfaces, cabinets doors, and drawers well against dirt, moisture, and impact damage. Choose water-based for the lowest odor or oil-based for deep luster. Several thin coats dry faster than one thick coat.

Spar urethane combines durability with UV protection against fading. It maintains a rich, natural wood look. Whichever you use, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions and directions. Lightly sand smooth between coats for the best sealed surface. Typically 2-4 topcoat applications are sufficient, allowing full drying in between the first coat and, usually, 6-8 hours. Lightly sanding between each second coat to wipe away any imperfections before re-coating.

An important final step – allow topcoat to cure fully, usually 3 days, before use. The hardest surface forms with time. Proper finishing sets off the depth and tone of the finished cabinets you sanded and stained for. Your kitchen cabinets are transformed into a polished, long-lasting accent that enhances both function and décor for years to come.

Special Considerations

A fresh coat can transform the look of your kitchen without a major remodel. Whether your cabinets are decades old or newly installed, refinishing them is an affordable way to refresh the style. Staining allows you to subtly change the hue without replacing the entire cabinetry. Once the application begins, work in controlled sections. Carefully cut in around edges and sand off any drips before they dry fully. Different application methods suit various situations. Consider using a combination of methods.

Hardware: Remove all knobs, all drawer fronts, pulls, and hinges before staining. This prevents blockage and damage. Reinstall after fully curing.

Molding/Carvings: Sand these intricate details carefully by hand. Wipe or spray stain into crevices for thorough coverage. Avoid drips and lap marks.

Drawers/Doors: For large flat surface doors and drawers, consider staining off the cabinet for better access. Wipe open seams after reattaching to cabinet hardware to maintain uniform appearance.

Edges: Whether brushed or wiped, stain both front/back of drawer fronts and cabinet door faces plus all inner and outer edges. Exposed bare wood leaves remove cabinet doors, drawer fronts, and frames an unfinished look.

Light Graining: Some woods like oak have varied color tones. Stain cabinets with coats in medium/dark areas if desired for consistent effects.

Lap Marks: With any old stain or application method, stain adjoining surfaces continuously across seam lines to conceal where colors meet. Go clean with drop cloths and back over as needed.

With patience and care, all parts of the existing stain cabinets can accept new stain, uniformly. Handle specialized areas of stain cabinets individually as needed for professional quality results overall. Regular inspections catch any missed areas promptly.

Cabinet Maintenance

To keep your freshly stained cabinets looking their best over the years, regular maintenance is important. Light dusting is recommended on a weekly basis using a soft, microfiber cloth. This helps maintain a fingerprint- free shine without scratching the surface. It’s also a good idea to promptly wipe up any spills or moisture before they have time to soak into the wood. A mild, non-abrasive cleaner can be used for tougher messes, followed by an immediate dry.

Periodically, you may wish to apply a furniture polish or wood cleaner to revitalize the old stain or duller areas and replenish or protect layers. Be sure to test products in an inconspicuous spot first to ensure they don’t darken or strip the wood stain off over time. Direct sunlight can cause fading of stained wood cabinets when exposed long-term, so partial shade is preferable.

Inspections of your stain wood cabinets themselves should happen annually to check for signs of normal wear and any areas needing refreshed topcoat and existing finish, especially around the drawer fronts. A professional refinishing company can advise whether spot repairs are feasible versus complete strip and restaining. Harsh chemicals, scouring pads, or steel wool should always be avoided as they can damage the wood and finish prematurely. With regular light maintenance, your stained wood cabinets themselves will retain their beauty for 7-10 years before needing any significant refreshes.

Common Problems & Solutions

brown wooden seat beside white wooden table

Even with careful preparation and application, some issues can occur when staining kitchen cabinets . Here are a few potential problems and ways to address them:


If the stain appears splotchy or uneven after initial coats, this typically means the wood grain wasn’t fully sealed. Lightly sand the entire surface with 220-grit sandpaper, then wipe away all dust thoroughly before applying additional thin coats. Go back over any areas that still look lighter than others. Adding 2-3 extra light coats rather than trying to cover with just 1 or 2 thicker coats usually resolves patchiness issues.


When brushing or wiping stain, only work in sections up to around 2 square feet at a time. Load the brush with a small amount of stain, then immediately wipe off excess on a rag before moving to the next area. For spray applications, practice on a scrap piece first to adjust the nozzle setting and distance from the surface for an even mist coat. Moving the spray gun too slowly or standing too close will cause drips. Return drips before they dry with a clean brush dipped in mineral spirits.


Sagging or puddling usually happens in recessed grain or when excess stain is allowed to pool in low areas of the wood rather than being tipped off right away. When painting cabinets, always tip or wipe off excess from the surface immediately so it doesn’t have time to collect or settle unevenly before fully drying. Work in small sections and continually inspect for leveling issues that require quick fixes.


If wood stain seems to be absorbing unevenly, such as soaking into some wood areas much more than others, it indicates the wood density varies. This causes some patches to look darker. To prevent bleeding, first sand all wood surfaces to the same smoothness using progressively finer grit paper. You can also mix a small amount of pre-stain wood conditioner into the wood stain and apply a light coat before staining. The wood conditioner helps equalize absorption rates.


Resinous or dense knots in wood may refuse to accept stain evenly or cause halos. To secure stain finish with full coverage on knots, lightly sand them before priming with stain blocking primer. Then, apply a second coat of stain specially formulated for knots. Finish with your topcoat choice once the first coat has fully dried. Recheck knots and touch up as needed after full curing.


Where an adjoining stain and two thin coats meet, a visible lap or overlap mark can form if the application of at least two coats of gel stains and two coats of thin coats isn’t continuous. To avoid this, stain in sections no larger than 2 square feet and don’t stop applicating until reaching a corner or edge without lifting the brush, rag, or spray gun from the surface. Go back over lap areas with additional thin coats if marks remain visible once fully dry.

Brush/Roller Marks

Using too much stain on brushes or rollers during application leaves visible brushing patterns. Prevent brush marks by not overworking the stain onto all the dust or surface. Maintain a fully loaded but not dripping brush, frequently dipping into the fresh stain and smoothen with long, even strokes. Adjust techniques for stippling brushes versus long-haired ones.


Changing rags frequently, as well as wiping with the grain, are key to preventing streaking marks. Blot up excess stain with every few strokes by pulling the rag or wipe across and with the wood grain. Rags can also streak if overloaded, so change sections often. Lightly resanding and reapplying one additional coat will usually disguise streaks caught in time.

Most issues can be corrected through light resanding and sometimes additional coats or thin coats as long as the underlying prep work was done well initially. With some patience and practice, any problems that arise are usually not difficult to remedy.


white wooden kitchen cabinet with mirror

Staining wood cabinets can beautifully transform a kitchen or bath space. While the process requires some work, preparation, and careful application ensures long-lasting, professional results. From properly sanding, cleaning, and test patches to choosing the right stain and application method, fundamentals of staining cabinets ensure even coverage. Considerations like special materials and maintenance planning preserve that freshly stained look for many years of enjoyment.

Though some issues may arise, easy fixes are usually available with patience and practice. With basic staining skills mastered, your creativity can refresh other furniture pieces, too. Overall, the impact of upgraded cabinets through staining makes it a gratifying DIY project well worth the effort. The beautiful transformation will highlight all your future time spent with family and friends in that special finished space for a long time to come.

Contact us to get started.

We’d love to hear from you and build out your next dream project. Drop us a line and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can!

Resurrect Wood Refinishing

5509 Commerce Drive Suite D
Edgewood, FL 32839

Email: contact@resurrectwoodrefinishing.com
Phone: 407-744-3568