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DIY Tips for Staining Your Unfinished Replacement Cabinet Doors

May 8th 2019

When you buy unfinished cabinet doors, you have the option of hiring a professional to custom stain your doors, or you can go down the DIY path and stain them yourself. Some homeowners like the simplicity and convenience of hiring a professional, but it can become quite costly. Many others prefer to stain their cabinet doors themselves. If you fall into the second category, use this step-by-step guide to complete your project:

1. Choose the Right Wood

If your goal is to stain the cabinet doors yourself, pick a type of wood that will make the project easier to complete. All species of wood are different. Some, like oak or ash take stain very well because they have an open grain pattern and large pores that soak up the liquid. Others, like birch, alder, or maple, are harder to stain because they have a tighter grain pattern and the pores are much smaller which causes these woods to absorb stain unevenly and can produce a blotchy finish. In that case you’ll want to use a wood conditioner prior to staining.

2. Pick a Stain Color

You have hundreds of options to choose from. You can also change the look of stain with multiple coats or different applications. Decide whether you want a light or dark color, something neutral or something bold.

3. Gather Your Materials

In addition to stain, you will need to have a number of other items on hand before getting started. For cleaning and protection, you will need gloves (rubber or latex preferred), a mild detergent, and a drop cloth to work on top of. You will also need a paintbrush, white cotton rags, fine grit sandpaper, and a polyurethane sealant.

4. Sanding

If you’re refinishing old cabinet doors, you need to prepare the wood extensively before staining. When you purchase unstained doors, however, no preparation is necessary. The doors come already sanded with 180-grit sandpaper, which is considered the industry standard. Extra sanding may be needed when the color of stain you’re using is dark.

5. Do a Test

Apply your stain to a piece of scrap lumber from the same wood species as your cabinet door. Make sure that the sample piece is sanded to the same sanding grit as the doors. For example; the unfinished doors are finished sanded with 180 grit sand paper. Make sure that your scrap piece of wood is also sanded with 180 grit sand paper. You want to test that it looks and performs the way you expect before you start to stain cabinet doors. When you order from we are happy to provide you with free scrap lumber so that you can practice applying your stain as much as you’d like.

6. Start on the Back

You will need to stain the front and backs of your doors separately. Start with the back. If you make mistakes while learning the techniques, they are less noticeable. By the time you stain the backs of all cabinet doors, you should understand the process well enough to do the fronts perfectly.

7. Apply the Stain

Shake your can of stain well, and stir with a painting stick to redistribute anything that has settled. Use your paintbrush or a clean rag to apply a coat of stain across the entire surface of the cabinet door. Make sure to get stain into all crevices and creases on the door. Let the stain sit on the door for as long as the manufacturer’s instructions recommend. After the allotted time, use a clean rag to wipe any excess stain off the door. Since the stain has already soaked into the wood pores at this point, you are only removing excess stain.

8. Applying a Second Coat

Wait the manufacture’s recommended time before applying an additional coat. If you’re happy with the look of the stain, you can skip this step. However, if you would prefer a darker shade, apply a second coat of stain using the same technique outlined in the previous step.

9. Apply the Lacquer

In order to seal the stain and make the surface of your cabinet doors waterproof, you need to apply a coat of lacquer. Many options are available, but the most popular is any kind of fast-drying polyurethane. Start by using a soft, clean cloth to remove any dust from the surface you’re putting lacquer on. Open the polyurethane can and stir the substance gently, trying not to create bubbles (never shake the can for this reason). Get a clean, preferably high-quality paintbrush for applying the lacquer. Brush on a thin, even coat.

10. Apply Another Coat

Let the first coat of lacquer dry for a long as the manufacturer recommends. Then skim sand the door surface with 220-grit sandpaper. Your goal is to smooth out any bubbles that have formed without removing the first coat, so don’t apply too much pressure as you are sanding. Follow the previous step to apply a second coat, then lightly sand again.

At this point, your doors should be richly stained and smoothly finished. If everything is completely cured, you’re ready to hang your doors.

You also have the option to skip all these steps and buy doors that come already pre-finished, completely ready to hang. currently offers a natural finish that accents the original beauty of the wood and a painted finish in 5 Sherwin Williams colors – High Reflective White, Antique White, Light French Gray, Folkstone (dark gray), and Salty Dog (dark blue). Pre-finished doors are quicker and easier to work with, but the cost is higher. Weigh the pros and cons of both options and keep your focus on what really matters in this project – giving new life to a space with quality cabinet doors.

Have more questions? We’d love to hear from you! For all your cabinet door needs, contact the experts at

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