Tips for Staining Maple Cabinet Doors

An even maple cabinet stain is a sight to admire, making a statement in any kitchen. Despite the challenges, staining maple cabinet doors is a rewarding process once you see the end result. With the right amount of patience and careful steps, you can be left with beautiful cabinets that transform your space.

Staining Tight-Grained Woods

Staining tight-grained woods like Hard Maple can present a real problem, even for experienced finishers. For amateurs, the problem gets even worse. Before you begin the staining process, you should understand that staining evenly—without leaving blotches--is difficult. It is not impossible, but it will take a lot of patience and careful attention to detail

For those willing and able to take on the challenge to get a darker finish on their maple cabinet doors, following the below tips and tricks will go a long way toward a successful staining project.

Preparing for Staining Maple Cabinet Doors

Before you begin staining, you should note that we strongly recommend against using any kind of wood stain on maple, alder, pine, and cherry unless you are familiar with various seal-coat techniques. Although our focus here is on maple, it is important to note that alder, pine, and cherry all exhibit similar properties when it comes to the staining process. While the wood grain may appear to be uniform, it will almost never be the case.

With maple, the new cabinet door will appear perfectly uniform at first glance. It may have even color, perfect grain match, and exceptional sanding. These properties will produce a superior cabinet door appearance when lacquered, but the staining process will have a different result. During the process, the natural qualities of the wood will result in a lighter stain in the dense areas and a darker stain in the less dense areas. The darker the stain, the darker and more pronounced the blotches will be.

This is not the fault of the wood, it's the NATURE of the wood. Variations in density throughout the wood is a natural occurrence for tight-grained woods like maple, alder, pine, and cherry. Other woods, like oak are much more uniform in density and, as a result, take stain very evenly without blotching. For more information on how to address blotchy staining on maple, check out the resources that we have linked below.

How Do You Reduce Blotching from Dark Stains?

If you are going to use a wood stain, you will need to pre-treat the wood with something to limit the penetration of the stain. The first step should be to sand the doors to a grit well beyond what the cabinet industry uses. Sanding the frames and panels to 220 grit and the endgrain to 300+ grit, helps to limit the stain penetration, reduce blotching and overcome additional staining problems.

Treating the doors with a sealer also plays a key role in limiting stain penetration. Two of the best sealers are Minwax Pre-Stain wood conditioner and dewaxed Zinsser Sanding Sealer, cut 50% with Denatured Alcohol.

You should also treat the endgrain with a coat of Gluesize made by mixing white or yellow glue with water at a rate of 10 parts water to one part glue. Allow the Gluesize to dry for several hours, then sand with 400 grit paper. This will seal the end grain which, being very open, will absorb stain at a higher rate and darken noticeably without treatment. The right products will go a long way toward providing you with even maple cabinet door stain colors.

Use a Wood Dye for an Even Stain

Staining maple is more of an art than a science, and even experts struggle with obtaining an even finish. The best solution for the do-it-yourself finisher is to avoid using stains on the problem woods and use a wood dye instead.

Because maple has such a tight grain, pigment type stains don't soak into the wood, except where there is a spot with more open grain. Try using dyes like TransTint or Transfast. Brands marketed as aniline dyes also provide great options for your maple doors. You should always test out each product before jumping into the finishing process. Make a habit of applying finishes on scrap left over from your project as a test before tackling your project.

If you are planning on using a dark finish on your new maple cabinet doors, then you can request some scrap wood samples in the additional instructions box on our order page. We will be sure to include samples in the wood you ordered for your stain experienced; free of charge.

Helpful Resources and Links

As you take on the staining process, it is helpful to have some guidance along the way. Some links to useful sites for tips on staining problem woods are listed below.

If you have additional questions about how to stain maple cabinet doors or are trying to find a new set of maple stained cabinet doors, please contact us at sales@cabinetdoors.com or call 800-342-1010 and we will be happy to help.


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