How to Strip and Stain Wood Cabinets

The heart of the home shouldn't be outdated. Give your kitchen a makeover with freshly stained cabinets.

Wood Cabinets

Nothing dates your kitchen more than cabinet finishes. (We're looking at you, avocado green and honey oak.) When it's time for a kitchen makeover, give your cabinets a timeless look with wood stain. In comparison to painting cabinets, staining is the classic choice that looks great with almost any style. Learn how to strip, stain, and finish wood cabinets yourself by following our steps below. You'll be cooking dinner in a five-star-worthy kitchen in no time!

Kitchen Cabinet Wood Choices

What You Need

  • Drop cloth
  • Sawhorses
  • Screwdriver
  • Rubber gloves 
  • Respirator mask
  • Paintbrush
  • Chemical stripper
  • Paint scraper
  • Palm sander with 100-grit sandpaper
  • 2 foam brushes
  • Stain
  • Pre-stain wood conditioner
  • Soft rag
  • Semigloss clear polyurethane
  • 220-grit sanding block

Step 1: Apply Stripper

diy cabinet stripping paint

Before starting, remove all hinges and hardware, and lay a cabinet door on sawhorses with a drop cloth underneath. Be sure to label each piece of hardware to remember where they should return.

Using rubber gloves and respirator mask, dip a paintbrush into the chemical stripper and apply to cabinet door. Be sure to read and follow all safety precautions on the packaging while working with a chemical stripper.

Editor's Tip: Work quickly and in a well-ventilated area with a respirator mask to avoid harmful vapors.

Kitchen Cabinet Details That Wow

Step 2: Scrape Paint

stripping paint diy cabinet

Wait 15 minutes, then use a paint scraper to remove the paint finish, going with the grain of the wood. Work from the center of the door outward in both directions, allowing the old paint to drop off the ends of the door.

Paint scrapers work best to reach those hard-to-get spots like corners and bevels. 

Allow surface to dry for at least an hour after stripping.

Step 3: Sand Surface

sanding bathroom diy cabinet

Sand the surface lightly in the direction of the grain using a 100-grit palm sander, ensuring all paint has been removed and the surface is smooth. Palm sanders work best, but you can also use a sanding block, if desired.

Wipe off any sanding dust from the surface with a clean rag.

Step 4: Apply Pre-Stain

prepping wood diy cabinet

To ensure acceptance of stain color, apply a pre-stain wood conditioner with a paintbrush. Think of this step like priming a wall for paint. Let dry according to manufacturer's instructions.

Step 5: Apply Stain

cabinet diy finish

Apply stain with a foam paintbrush.

Allow the stain to penetrate 5-15 minutes to desired color. The longer the stain sits, the darker and richer the color will become. Wipe off any excess stain with a soft rag in the direction of the grain. If you want a darker color, you can apply a second coat in 4-6 hours.

Step 6: Finish and Reattach

painting cabinet diy

Apply a thin coat of clear polyurethane with a foam brush.

Let dry 2 hours, and then sand using a 220-grit sanding block to ensure an even finish and proper adhesion of a second coat. Apply a second coat, and let dry at least 3 hours before reattaching hardware.

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