How to Refinish Oak Kitchen Cabinets

Oak is a popular choice for kitchen cabinetry because the color is very neutral and complements a variety of other finishes.

Neutral oak cabinets go well with many accent pieces.Neutral oak cabinets go well with many accent pieces.
Oak, however, is also quite light and can easily become stained by the substances to which a kitchen is repeatedly exposed. Even if you clean your cabinets regularly, stains can become too ingrained over time to be removed with simple household wood polishes. When this occurs, refinishing your oak cabinets with a matching gel stain may be the best option.

Remove the screws holding on the cabinet doors and drawer fronts with a screwdriver; also remove any hardware and set it aside. Lay these items on top of a large, thick tarp. Line around the edges of the cabinets themselves with painter’s tape to protect the walls and cover the counters with more tarps or newspaper secured with masking tape.

Clean all of the wood with trisodium phosphate cleanser. This cleanser will remove any sealer as well as grease, dirt and other muck found on cabinets. Remove excess cleanser with wet cloths and dry all of the wood well with towels.

Sand the cabinet bodies, drawer fronts and doors evenly with 150-grit sandpaper. Remove any remaining sealer and sand all areas; all of the wooden surfaces should appear cloudy. Clean up the area with a shop vacuum.

Dip a clean, white rag into chemical de-glosser. Apply the de-glosser all over the sanded wood in a generous, even layer. Let the de-greaser sit undisturbed for one hour and wipe away any excess with another clean, white rag.

Apply oak-colored gel stain to the cabinets, drawer fronts and doors with a 2-inch white china bristle brush. Paint the stain on in short, straight lines that move only in one direction. Do not make the layer of stain too thick.

Dip just the edges of the brush bristles into the stain and use circular motions to blend away any defined seams in the stain on the wood. Lightly pat the surfaces of the wood with more clean, white cloths to pick up superfluous stain so that it does not create puddle marks. Let the stain dry 24 hours.

Apply a second layer of stain if you desire. Allow all of the stained wood to dry another full day once you are satisfied with the appearance. Cover the stained cabinets, drawer faces, and cabinet doors with two coats of polyurethane, wait 48 hours, and reinstall all of the wood pieces and hardware.

Things You Will Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Tarps
  • Painter's tape
  • Newspaper
  • Masking tape
  • Trisodium phosphate cleanser
  • White cloths
  • 150-grit sandpaper
  • Chemical de-glosser
  • Oak gel stain
  • White china bristle brush, 2-inch
  • Polyurethane

About the Author

Jourdan Townsend has been writing since childhood. Her articles appear in a collection of student works at the University of Oklahoma as well as in the school's "Honors College Journal." Townsend also composes poetry, some of which can be found in an edition of the "Anthology of Poetry by Young Americans." Townsend holds a Bachelor of Arts in communication.