Destiny Molatore |

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July 14, 2014
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Easy, inexpensive oak cabinet makeover | Moms

My husband often says that it is a good thing we didn’t buy a fixer-upper because I have nevertheless found many things to fix up around our house.

Our 90’s era home is in great condition, but hasn’t had many updates. Others may call it a little dated.

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I hesitate to use the word because I think if it was built in my lifetime it cannot really be that “dated.” Out of style? Yes. Dated? Well, OK, 1990.

Like millions of Americans, our home is filled with oak upon oak upon oak cabinets. Honey orange, grainy oak cabinets.

Although I don’t prefer the color and grain of my cabinets, they are in excellent condition, so I wanted to find a way to update them without replacing them.

Since my husband sees absolutely nothing wrong with our fully functional cabinets, I also needed to find something inexpensive that I could do myself.

I discovered gel stain when refinishing a bathroom vanity at our old house.

In that case, the cabinets were not in good condition and even had some veneer on the base.

I refinished them with gel stain and had beautiful results, so I decided to use the same technique at our new house.

Gel stain provides coverage like a paint, has a pudding-like gel texture, requires very little sanding and is much less expensive than many of the other cabinet refinishing products on the market.

I purchased one quart of gel stain for $19.99 and it was enough to stain two different bathroom vanities and a few small projects.

Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of the cabinets before.

However, I have the exact same cabinets in nearly every room of our house, so I have included a picture from the other bathroom as an example.

Here is how I did it…



Painter’s tape

Newspaper or drop cloth

Fine grit sandpaper

Old socks or rags

Disposable gloves

Mineral Spirits or other cleaner

General Finishes Java Gel Stain (I couldn’t find this locally but was able to purchase it online through Rockler Woodworking. From everything I read, it is best to stick with the General Finishes brand.)

2” sponge brush

Poly based clear top coat


Set up a work station for staining drawers and doors. Make sure to use a well-ventilated area because the gel stain has very strong fumes, much stronger than painting.

I put a towel in front of the bathroom door and kept the windows open to help keep the fumes from leaking into the rest of the house.

Start by removing the doors, drawers and hardware. I learned the hard way that it is a good idea to keep track of which side each cabinet door goes on if you intend to reinstall using the same hardware.

Lightly sand the cabinets to break through the finish (especially if it is glossy) so that the stain has something to adhere to. I only spent about 1 to 2 minutes sanding each door.

Clean the cabinets well to get rid of dust and grime or build up. Most tutorials recommend using Mineral Spirits, but since I didn’t have them on hand I ended up scrubbing them down with soap and water. This worked, but I would definitely use something stronger for kitchen cabinets.

Use painters tape to keep stain from getting on walls, floors and countertops around the cabinets.

Lay down a drop cloth or newspaper to protect against drips and spills.

To stain, put on the disposable gloves to protect your hands. I read a tutorial that recommended using socks for the stain and this worked wonderfully, especially for the cabinet base and areas that don’t have any grooves.

Put the sock on your hand over the plastic glove. Dip the sock in the stain and smear it on. Make sure not to leave any drips or streaks. It is ok if some of the wood shows through the stain because you will be doing more coats.

For cabinet doors and areas with detailing, use the sponge brush to keep the stain from building up in the corners and grooves.

Remember to brush the same direction as the grain of the wood.

Let each coat dry 24 hours before applying another coat.

In order to stain the front and the back of each cabinet door within a 24 hour period, I stained one side in the morning, flipped it over and stained the other side late in the evening, then repeated the process the next day.

I did two coats of gel stain and then used the same process to follow with two top coats of polyurethane.

Note that the gel stain is highly flammable. Read and follow the special instructions on disposal and handling of any materials used to stain.

When everything is try, reinstall the drawers and doors.

Because my hinges were exposed antique brass, I need to replace or paint them to match the newly stained cabinet. Since I was unable to purchase the necessary hinge in a different color, I chose Rustoleum oil rubbed bronze spray paint to refinish the hinges instead.

Finally, install new handles and nobs. They will make all the difference in making the project look complete.

Finally, grab a glass of wine and relax.

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The News-Review Updated Jul 28, 2014 09:08AM Published Jul 23, 2014 09:40AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.