Whether you’re renovating a kitchen or installing a new one, if your cupboards and cabinets are made of solid wood, one option to seriously consider is staining kitchen cupboards. There are many colors to choose from (not only wood colors) and you will retain the attractiveness of the grain which would be covered if you decided to paint.
Usually it’s best to work on a raw wood surface. So if the cupboards were previously painted or varnished (or sealed in some other sort of way) you will need to strip this off first. If the wood has already been stained, you can sometimes darken the stain, but it isn’t usually the best approach. It is not an easy task to remove an existing stain, although you could try bleaching it.
You might also decide to bleach the wood first if you simply want to end up with a lighter color. If you do this, a good effective method is to use oxalic acid, which you can buy from a pharmacy. Just be careful, because it is toxic. Wear gloves and don’t breathe in the fumes. It comes in the form of a white powder and what you do is to mix a little of it with warm water to form a runny paste. Paint the units with it, leave for a while, and then flush with water. Allow to dry thoroughly before you even think about staining. Alternatively use a two-part bleach, or even an ordinary type of household bleach. But again, get rid of the bleach and allow it to dry before you continue with staining.
When you stain new units, do so before you fit or install them. If they have already been assembled, try to remove as much of the hardware (handles and hinges) as you can. Keep it all in a safe place and make sure you mark each item so you know where it came from. If you can remove doors and other flat elements, do so. That way you can work flat, which you might find a lot easier than working with cupboards hung so that the surface is vertical. You can also seal the surfaces before you build in cabinets and hang cupboard doors.
If you do stain cupboards and cabinets that are already installed, make sure you use a drop cloth or lots of old newspaper on the floor so that when stain runs off the surface (as it probably will) it doesn’t ruin your kitchen floor. If it does, wipe the floor immediately with a cloth.
If you are going to be staining old units, make sure that the surface of each part is absolutely clean and smooth. If they have to be sanded, get that work done first. Then clean up all the dust before you start staining. Remember that the rougher the sandpaper, the more material it will remove. But you will need a fine grit paper to make the surface really smooth. So start with rough paper and then move to a finer grade.
Choose the right stain for your kitchen
There are several things you need to take into account when you choose what you are going to use for staining kitchen cupboards. The first will probably be color and the next, type of product. If you want a particular type of stain, then this will obviously come first.
Like paints and sealers, stains may be water-based or solvent based. That, of course, means that you will either use water or some type of solvent (usually either thinners or mineral turpentine) to clean your brushes. Just remember that some products have proprietary solvents and if they do, it is vital that you use them. Don’t ever be tempted to try and use something else. This (water or solvent) is also what you will use if, for any reason, you need to dilute the stain.
You might dilute a stain or dye if you aren’t sure just how dark you want the finish to be, and you therefore want to gradually build the color up. Remember that the darker the finish, the smaller the room will tend to look. So if you have a little kitchen, rather go for light colors, even if you do have children and animals that are going to add dirt to surfaces. If this is the case, dark might just look dirty.
Manufacturers do sometimes prepare boards that they supply to retail outlets that show the result of the stain on timber. If not, you may want to do some of your own trials rather than experiment on your kitchen units. Rather waste a bit of stain than ruin your kitchen cupboards by making the wrong choice.
Staining your cupboards
The first step – and this is very important – is to read the instructions on your packaging thoroughly. Different stain products have a lot in common, but they are NOT all the same. Only the manufacturer can give you precise, accurate instructions that you can rely on.
Some stains come in plastic bottles, while others are supplied in cans. You can shake bottles, but cans normally need to be stirred, and they need to be stirred properly. If you don’t stir well, then you will find that what’s going to add the color will stay on the base of the can. So you’ll start off with a color that is too light and, as you dig deeper into the container, it will gradually get darker as you picking up the pigment at the bottom.
You can brush on stain or you can use a sponge or a cloth. Either way, it’s probably a good idea to wear gloves, because you are, after all, working with a stain, and you don’t want your hands to change color!
Generally it’s best to work with or in the direction of the grain. If you are staining moldings or raised sections on panels, be sure to work the color into every last bit. If necessary, you can wipe any residue off before it sinks into the timber and dries. Once you get a feel for this, you might like to try leaving a bit of extra color in the crevices, because this can look very effective, adding natural highlights and shadows. Also remember that you can add two or more coats of the stain, depending on the final effect you want.
Once you have completed the staining process, leave the wood to dry thoroughly.
Sealing the stain
The last phase of staining kitchen cupboards is to seal them and then, when the sealer has dried, to replace hardware.
Varnish is the traditional option, but nowadays there are many other products to choose from. If you have used a brown stain, a traditional varnish will make the color yellow even more. That might be fine with you, but if you don’t want to alter the color of the stain, then you will need to choose a product that won’t yellow with time.
It isn’t essential to seal the finish, but if you find the cupboards get very dirty you might find that scrubbing begins to remove the stain. The trouble is it won’t do this in an even way. So think hard before making a final decision. Most sealers will produce a good, smooth surface that you will be able to scrub – and it can be shiny or matt, depending on your preference.