A friend of mine tried to update her honey-oak cabinets with a dark espresso gel stain. No bueno. I have never worked with gel stain before but from what I’ve researched it seems like a fickle medium. Anyway, I’m not sure if it was the way my friends applied the stain or if it was the type of finish that was on the oak cabinets before but the stain went on blotchy and, once dry, immediately began chipping off with the slightest touch. They were in a pickle so they called me up to get my opinion on the matter. I went over and took a look at the cabinets and got a handle on what had been done. We then came up with a plan of action to get their kitchen looking lively and updated again. Then they got to work stripping and sanding the cabinets back to bare wood. BIG JOB but worth it. If you are reading this post with your own cabinets in mind I should tell you that stripping and sanding back cabinets to bare wood ISN’T ALWAYS necessary if you’re planning on painting them and/or refinishing them. In the case of my friends, we had to strip the gel stain away because you never want to paint on top of a coat that was never correctly bonded to the original cabinets surface. So basically, and I’m not an expert so you might need a second opinion depending on the state of your cabinets, if you have chipping finish (stain, laquer, paint, etc.) stripping and sanding are usually necessary before refinishing. If your cabinets are in good condition (no chipping finish, bubbles, drips, etc.) a light sanding with medium grit sandpaper (just to give the existing finish some tooth for the new stain/primer to hold on to) should do the trick just fine. On my cabinets (we had standard builder grade oak cabinets when we first moved in that I wanted to “jazz up”) I simply went over them lightly with sandpaper and then antiqued and stained them with a stain 1 shade darker than the original finish. Heres the before and after (sorry the pics aren’t great).
If you are going to stain over pre-stained and laquered cabinets without stripping them, you should only apply a new stain that is one or maybe two shades darker than the existing stain. Also, keep in mind that if you have any “fake wood” (mine have fake wood on the sides of that cabinet shelving) this will not “take” the stain like wood so if you go more than a shade or two darker you will have to most likely replace those areas with new “fake wood” to match the new stain. I stained over my fake wood with the same new stain I used on my cabinets and it blended in fine since I didn’t go much darker than the original color.
For my friend’s cabinets, we discussed staining the oak a darker medium brown color. They liked the look of natural wood antiqued cabinets. Their home has a french-country flair to it so we wanted to do something inkeeping with that feeling. Heres the issue we had with staining the now bare oak cabinets: Wood grain. Tons of it. Oak (especially oak that has been stripped and sanded bare) has tons of gorgeous, open, porous wood grain that soaks up stain like crazy. It is BEAUTIFUL no doubt, but in this situation would have made the cabinets far too rustic and busy looking alongside their beautiful speckled granite countertops. Now, I have heard of ways you can lessen the graininess of oak cabinets so that they take stain more uniformly. You can “seal” the grain before you stain with different things. I’ve never done it and I can’t vouch for it as a DIY’er. So with this realization we decided to paint the cabinets instead and antique them. I know. The purists out there are going to hate me for that. But to each his own. In this case, this was the best option to 1. Update their cabinets and spruce up their kitchen, 2. Make the cabinets POP with the granite counters and black/stainless appliances, 3. Create a nice flow with the style of the house and the homeowners decor. So what we decided on, after much deliberation, was to go ahead and paint the main cabinets an antiqued cream and the island antiqued black to make it POP. And I’m telling ya, its gonna be gorgeous. You may even forgive me for painting over wood. 😉
So how’d we do it? I brought home a couple of doors as a demo for you guys.
Cost: Varies depending on the size of your kitchen
- Primer: Ask a pro or get a recommendation from the sales associate depending on the state of your cabinets. There are tons of great primers out there. I used Behr primer for these.
- Paint: Interior latex paint in semigloss. The semigloss finish helps the stain go on smoothly and creates an easy-t0-clean surface for future wipe-downs.
- Sandpaper: Medium grit and fine grit.
- Stain with a polyurethane coating built in. This will eliminate the need for an additional laquer coat and seal the areas that have been sanded back. *TIP* Buy a stain that is darker than your paint color. For example, for an antiqued cream finish I bought white paint, and a medium brown stain. The stain gets into the corners for the antiquing and creates a soft variated wash over the entire cabinet turning the cabinet cream. Realize when you are buying your paint and stain that for this technique that the stain will darken and dull the paint color. So, buy a paint that is lighter and brighter than your intended result and a stain that compliments it. If you are nervous, just buy some sample paint colors and a stain and test out the technique on some scrap wood until you find the color combination that you like.
- Good paintbrushes. You want the cabinets to have as little paint strokes as possible so find a couple of great paintbrushes with fines, soft bristles. If you have decorative moulding, get a 1″ angled brush to get in all the corners and a 2″ flat brush for the flat surfaces.
- A sponge. They have different size sponges in the paint section of your local hardware store. I got a big one and cut it up as I needed.
- Disposable gloves.
- Blue heavy duty paper towels. Find them in the paint section as well. You will use these to wipe off the stain when you do the antiquing.