How to Make Paint Look Like Stain on Oak Cabinets

Oak comes in a number of natural colors, but most oak varieties are relatively muted.

A thin layer of tinted clearcoat mimics stain on oak cabinets.A thin layer of tinted clearcoat mimics stain on oak cabinets.
These subtle wood colors are often enhanced with wood stains, adding deep, rich tones to blank oak canvases. Wood stains seep into the wood to provide lasting color. Unfortunately, if your oak cabinets have already been treated, it's hard to know how wood stain will react with the oak. Fortunately, you don't need to risk ruining the cabinets by adding stain to them. The right type of paint actually looks like stain on an oak surface. A tinted polyurethane coat colorizes oak without fully saturating it, mimicking the effect of wood stain.

Wash the wood surface with a trisodium phosphate cleanser and a damp rag. According to Hector Seda's book, "Home Repair That Pays Off," trisodium phosphate cleansers cut through cabinetry dirt and grime for better paint adhesion. Wait for the oak cabinets to dry.

Remove the cabinet hardware. Usually, all you need is a basic Phillips or flat-head screwdriver.

Apply painter's tape to any nearby items and wall surfaces. Painter's tape will protect against accidental brush strokes.

Brush tinted polyurethane onto the cabinets using a foam paintbrush. Polyurethane is a clear coat of paint used to seal wood and provide a glossy finish, but many varieties of tinted polyurethane also provide translucent color. This tinted color mimics stain without actually penetrating the wood. Foam brushes work best, because bristled paintbrushes leave visible brushstrokes in clear polyurethane paints. Paint in parallel lines with 50-percent overlap for even coverage. The job will be time consuming, but resist the urge to speed things up with a foam roller, as foam brushes provide the best faux stain painted finished.

Apply a second coat after two hours if the first coat does not create a dark enough aesthetic. The more layers of paint your add, the darker the faux stain will be.

Remove the painter's tape and reattach the hardware after 24 hours.

Things You Will Need

  • Trisodium phosphate cleanser
  • Damp rag
  • Screwdriver
  • Painter's tape
  • Tinted polyurethane
  • Foam paintbrush

About the Author

Richard Kalinowski began writing professionally in 2006. He also works as a website programmer and graphic designer for several clients. Kalinowski holds a Master of Fine Arts from Goddard College and a Bachelor of Science in education from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.