How to Change the Color of Oak Wood Cabinets to a Darker Finish

If you are tired of the way your oak wood cabinets look and prefer to change them to a darker color for a remodeling project or just to spruce things up, you will need to strip and refinish them. Refinishing cabinets does not require professional experience. If you've ever painted a wall, the principles are very much the same. A quick trip to your local hardware or home improvement store will get you everything you need to change the look of your cabinets.

Refinish oak cabinets for a fresh, new look.

Step 1

Use a screwdriver to remove the cabinet doors and then remove all the hardware; set the hardware aside in a safe place. If there is anything being stored in the cabinets, remove it and set it aside.

Step 2

Clean the cabinets thoroughly. Mix a solution of 1/4 cup trisodium phosphate to 1 gallon of hot water and use this to wipe down the cabinets and doors. Alternatively, a commercial degreasing cleanser will work just as well. Allow the cabinets and doors to dry completely.

Step 3

Wrap and tape off any surfaces that you want to protect from possible stain spills. Lay drop cloths under the cabinets to protect your floors.

Step 4

Set the cabinet doors on a clean, flat workspace or sawhorses if you have them. If working indoors, open all windows to allow for proper air ventilation. Paint varnish stripper on the cabinets. Work in small sections. Follow the instructions on the packaging; they may vary by manufacturer.

Step 5

Scrape the varnish and stain from the cabinets and doors with a plastic putty knife and a clean cloth. Keep applying stripper until no more stain remains on the cabinets. Allow the cabinets and doors to dry.

Step 6

Dampen a rag with mineral spirits or similar thinner and wipe down the cabinets to remove any residual stain or other chemicals. The mineral spirits will dissolve quickly. Allow the cabinets to dry.

Step 7

Paint the cabinets with a darker stain than they had before. You can use a brush or a soft cloth for this process. In either case, apply the stain with the grain of the wood.

Step 8

Apply a protective topcoat, such as polyurethane or varnish, to the cabinets. This will seal the stain and protect the wood. Application and drying instructions vary, so read the manufacturer's label for information specific to the product. Allow the protective topcoat to dry completely before reattaching the hardware and reinstalling the doors.


  • Always wear gloves and goggles when working with stains, varnishes, paint and stain thinners and mineral spirits.

About the Author

Jarrett Melendez is a journalist, playwright and novelist who has been writing for more than seven years. His first published work was a play titled, "Oh, Grow Up!" which he wrote and performed with a group of his classmates in 2002.