How to Stain Wooden Cabinets

18th Jul 2014

Staining your wooden cabinet doors can help give them a more rich, enhanced appearance, and it's a great project for homeowners who want to do the work themselves. Other than the stain itself, a paintbrush, rags, and sanding paper, there aren't any specialty tools necessary for staining wood.

1. Choose a Stain

When choosing a stain, you'll probably encounter a lot of different types of products. There are water-based stains, oil-based stains, gel stains, stains that are combined with sealants, and many more. You will have read labels and product descriptions carefully and have a vision in mind before you make your purchase. Reading online reviews is a great way to hear first-hand accounts of how the stain worked for others, and how to best apply it to your wooden project.

To attain the best results, you will need to know the type of wood it is you are painting. Wood is often categorized into hardwoods and softwoods. Hardwoods come from angiosperm (trees with broad leaves) and softwoods come from gymnosperm (trees with needles and cones). Many hardwoods have a more prominent grain pattern, while the grain of softwood is fainter. Also keep in mind that while hardwoods are generally harder, and softwoods are softer, there are a few exceptions to the rule. Doing your research will really come in handy when trying to narrow down stain options.

2. Test the Stain

Testing the stain before you apply it to your cabinets is critical for ensuring that you will be satisfied with the results. If possible, use a scrap piece of wood that is the same species as what you intend to stain. Another option is finding a place on your cabinets that isn't noticeable to test your stain (such as the underside or back of the cabinet).

Many DIY-ers advise that you first try applying a finish to see if that achieves the look you want instead of a stain. This is because sometimes all a homeowner really wants is a glossy sheen, which is something a finish can provide. A stain, on the other hand, will darken the wood and emphasize certain natural features. So when you test the stain, first apply a single layer and let it dry. Then apply another layer and see if you like it more than the previous one. By repeating this process, you can see how many layers of stain you will need to apply to your cabinets before you are satisfied with how they look.

3. Stain Your Wood

First, make sure your surface is smooth. You may need to sand the cabinets in order to ensure the same smoothness across the entire expanse. This will make the stain absorb in a uniform way, which means better results. Use a clean cloth to wipe any shavings or dust off of the wood when finished.

Ensure that there is proper ventilation in your workspace. Some stains give off a much stronger odor than others, so if you begin to feel lightheaded or dizzy in your workspace at any point in time, it may be best to move the project outdoors or into an opened garage. Sometimes simply opening windows or doors will do the trick, but in other cases a respirator might be needed.

Apply the first layer of stain with a paint brush or foam brush, going in the direction of the grain. After a few strokes, use a clean rag to wipe the excess stain off of the surface of the cabinet. You'll notice that, although you are removing the topmost layer of stain, the wood has already absorbed a good amount of it. You will repeat this process across all of your wood. Once the stain dries, you can see whether you are happy with how it looks. If you want to add another layer of stain, repeat the brush-rag-brush-rag process again. Although these are general stain application instructions, depending on the type of stain you've purchased, you may need to follow slightly different directions. Read the instructions that came with your particular stain very carefully before working on your cabinets.