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How to Refinish Kitchen Cabinets Makeover & Tutorial!

This last Holiday season, I was going crazy in my kitchen! My cabinets were an oak color, with a yellowish hue, and my kitchen colors are a mustard yellow and royal blue. Needless to say, I felt orange every time I was in there, and during the holidays, that was even more than usual! After having tackled all my bathrooms, bannister, and even laundry room built in woods, I finally took the plunge and decided to stain my kitchen cabinets to match my dark wood themed house! First things first, I need to show you my BEFORE picture! So here it is:

How to Refinish Kitchen Cabinets

See what I mean about that yellow? YUCK! First things first, I mean, I have to catch your attention somehow; here is my FINAL look!

Kitchen Cabinets Makeover!

Cabinet Stain Refinish

How to Refinish Kitchen Cabinets

I know, I still need some massive decor in here, but talk about a 100% improvement none the less! And I’m going to tell you how! 🙂 Here is what you’ll need to refinish your cabinets:

  • Drill to take apart your cabinet doors.
  • Electric Sander (you can do it yourself, but having done it both ways between my bathrooms and here, electric definitely speeds up the process)
  • Fine grain sand paper. (any from #120-#220 will work just fine)
  • Gel Stain (I used General Finishes in Java- oooh man this stuff is amazing! You can find it at and in local wood working shops for about $19.99 or cheaper with a coupon.)
  • Polyurethane Protection (we use MINIWAX Wipe-On Poly. It was about $13.99 for us.)

Step One:
You need to take ALL the doors/drawer fronts off. Go ahead and store you screws and such, it’s going to be just a bit of time before you put them back on. 😉 For my kitchen, since it is so large, I did my top cabinets in one section, and my bottom in another. Then divided those sections in half. That way I didn’t have them all at once, and it was a bit more organized when it came time to put them back on.

Step Two:
You want to take your electric sander, with sand paper, and lightly sand all of your cabinets, both on the wall, and the doors. I did the built in section first (all the way) then headed out to the garage to do all the doors. When you sand these, note that you do NOT have to sand all the way through the cure like you do when you use a regular wood stain. With the gel stain, you just want to break through the top finish coat. Having tried regular stains and feeling like it never ended, I found gel stain to be a miracle factor in my house!

Step Three:
Now that you have your cabinets all sanded, you want to take a wet rag and thoroughly wipe down everything. You may want to do it twice and be sure to really get the nooks and crannies. Even with a light sand job, the amount of dust and grit is amazing!

Step Four:
Tape it up!! That’s right, just like in painting, you want to tape up around your built ins so you don’t end up with stained walls! I also taped the inside of the cabinets where the lip meets the inside. I obviously didn’t want to stain the inside, nor did I bother with the undersides since they are an “un”-finished wood as is. Also, so I don’t forget, you will want to move your appliances as needed. We took our microwave out and taped, and pulled out the stove and fridge when we got to them.

How to Refinish Kitchen Cabinets

Step Five:
Now we get to stain!!! I wore latex gloves when I was working with the gel stain. As I learned in previous projects with gel stain, it is oil based and an absolute pain to clean off your skin. So I just played it better safe than sorry this time around. 😉 They will tell you in wood shops that you want to do a wipe on, wipe off method. I started out using sponge brushes and then smoothing it over with an old t-shirt. When I did this project, it was such a large space, I’ll be honest and say I just used the t-shirt the whole time and rubbed in on in the thickness I wanted. It worked great, and got the job done!

Just dip into your can of stain, and wipe in on with the direction of the wood grains. For corners and edges, I would just gloop it in there to make sure it was all covered with no little missed spots, and smooth it back over. Even just talking about this project (done New Years week) makes me “itch” for another staining project! 😉 Looking back I feel terrible, my poor husband never wanted me to stain anything in our house, but he most of all didn’t want me to do the kitchen. But if you take a look, there he is helping me get it done! What a man.

Once you have it smoothed out as thick or as think as you want it (it’s all personal opinion and taste- I liked mine with thinner spots here and there since any “espresso” finished furniture, like I own, has brushes of the wood look to it) just let it dry! I would tend to leave it overnight, no matter the time of day I did the project. That way I was sure it was good and set the next day.

When you do the doors, do one side at a time, let it dry over night, then flip them over and do the opposite side. I also advise that you start with the back side first, just in case you have any small drips, so they won’t show in the end.

Step 6:
Once you have it all stained up and dry, take another rag and generously wipe on that polyurethane coating! I also wore gloves for this, for the same oil base reasoning. This will give you that nice “shine” look as well as protect the work you just did! With my huge kitchen and all 33 doors plus 15 drawers, it took me a week to get it all done. Mind you, I do have 3 little ladies I had to tend to, as well as keep out of there! Let this dry over night (for doors and drawers, one side at a time) as well to be sure that you’re not messing with it in any way.

Then you can reassemble your kitchen! I can’t even tell you how amazing it feels to put those doors back on!

How to Refinish Your Kitchen Cabinets - Tutorial at A Mom's Take

How to Refinish Kitchen Cabinets Makeover & Tutorial! pinit fg en rect red 28

After I did the staining, I went out and bought knobs and handles for the doors and drawers. Since staining my cabinets really darkened up my room, I wanted brushed silver to help pull in my stainless steel appliances. To help with this, we borrowed plastic placement templates from my SIL, Janel, so we didn’t have to measure out each individual knob’s placement. Talk about a life saver!! I couldn’t be more happy with the look! I’m sure my husband will grow to like it too (in time, obviously 4 months hasn’t quite been long enough for him). To me this project wasn’t hard, just took time. And man, oh man, was the time worth it! I get so many compliments on it, and I don’t feel “yellow” anymore. Yes, even with my bright yellow paint. My next goal is to get granite tops in here, it’ll really finish it off, in my opinion. 😀

I hope you were able to follow my instructions okay, and I’m so sorry I didn’t have photos of every individual step, I wasn’t really planning on posting about it. But since I love it so much, I know someone out there will want to do it too!

Disclosure: No products or compensation received for this post.
Topics: how to refinish kitchen cabinets, kitchen cabinet makeover, kitchen cabinets refinish


Sunday 22nd of June 2014

Approximately how much gel stain did you use?


Tuesday 28th of May 2013

As a child, our kitchen didn't "feel" orange, it was orange! Including the stool and the gingham curtains. Having lived with that for 17 years, my blue and yellow kitchen feels great!


Tuesday 28th of May 2013

you did a awesome job,,doesnt look like the same kitchen


Monday 27th of May 2013

You are so smart. Thank you for the detailed tutorial--I would love to work on our kitchen cabinets!

Denise Taylor-Dennis

Monday 27th of May 2013

What a beautiful finish your kitchen looks amazing. We had ours refinished by a contractor.

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