Staining Kitchen Cabinets: Techniques for Staining Oak Cabinets

By Kelly Richardson Columnist

If your kitchen cabinets need some serious saving but new replacements are financially out of the question, it's time to bring on the stain. Here's a quick primer on staining oak kitchen cabinets that can help you transform your kitchen into something worth bragging about.

Sanding the Wood

If you're staining unfinished or well-seasoned cabinets, you may have a layer of grain or blemishes that need to be smoothed over. Use 120-grit sandpaper to remove these imperfections. EXPERT TIP: Follow up the 120-grit paper with 220-grit paper to remove fine grit and scratches that may still exist.

Applying Wood Conditioner

You can find wood conditioner at any hardware store. Wood conditioner benefits the project on a couple of different fronts. First, it acts as a sealant that repels water throughout the lifespan of your cabinets. Second, it helps the stain coats go on evenly for a cleaner look. EXPERT TIP: Use a high-grade conditioner for best results; cheaper products are available, but you get what you pay for at this stage of the project.

Applying the Stain

Use circular motions when staining oak cabinets. This ensures that the stain penetrates and covers effectively. Use a soft cloth or sponge brush. Regular paint brushes are not recommended simply because stain is thinner than paint and can streak off of the brush. EXPERT TIP: Apply several coats to work the stain down into the grain of the wood.

Applying the Finish

Apply a couple of coats of stain finisher. Stain simply colors the wood, stain finisher protects the stain from fading over time. Again, buying a quality sealant improves the lifespan of the cabinets. EXPERT TIP: If you use an oil-based stain, finish with an oil-based polyurethane for best results.

About The Author

Kelly C. Richardson, MEd is a freelance writer and manic do-it-yourselfer. He specializes in home improvement projects ranging from savvy landscaping to house repair and beyond. Find out more about him at

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