Refinished Kitchen Cabinets

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My kitchen is a HUGE work in progress and it will be some time before I get it completely finished. Honestly, there isn’t much about it that I liked “before” unless it’s that it has cabinets….and a floor…..and appliances that work! The MR chose and moved into our house on his own – I was caring for a family member. The cabinets were your typical, basic, honey oak. Countertops were/are basic beige laminate with an oak edge and there was a short row of white, square tiles as a “backsplash”! The walls were ugly colors and did I mention the floors? I think it was originally a cream color, vinyl. Hard to say…..lots of dirt ground into the pitted texture it has. Very plain and boring and it never looks clean no matter how hard I scrub it – and yes, I do scrub it regularly. The dishwasher was stainless (except it is always full of “stains” and smudges, lol) and the other appliances were all white.


As usual, I don’t have the money to put in all new cabinets, countertops, flooring and appliances. I had to come up with something creative that would make it beautiful and homey, but cost very little. To be fair the cabinets and countertops were in perfectly good condition so my frugal side felt bad about tearing them out even if that would be dreamy to get to do that.

I am not a white, painted cabinet person. I am not saying there is anything wrong with white, painted cabinets – it’s just not me. I wanted something to really warm it up and give it personality. Considering the main floor is open concept (which is not my preferred style – I know, I know!), that’s a challenge. I knew I was going to have to refinish the cabinets but the thought of the work that normally goes into that – well it would have taken me a year to get it all done with my schedule! After much consideration I decided to try General Finishes Gel Stain in Java. Supposedly I wouldn’t have to sand the cabinets down to the base wood and then stain …seemed too good to be true but I’m always game to try something new. What’s the worst that could happen? They couldn’t really get uglier. (Sorry to all those people who have and maybe love their honey oak cabinets)


I started by removing and numbering all the cabinet doors and drew a basic sketch of my kitchen to show where each door and drawer came from. I deep cleaned the hardware and doors/drawers with TSP  mixed in water, then did the same with the cabinet bases. Since I have no place to do projects like this other than my garage, the MR got to park in the driveway for weeks while I took over the garage! On average I ended up doing 2 coats of the General Finishes Gel Stain on all the cabinet surfaces. There were places that got a 3rd coat to get the look I wanted. I had all the doors laid out on drop cloths so I could make sure they were consistently the same depth of color. The darker you want the end result, the more coats of gel stain you apply. I let each coat dry for 24 hours.

Unfortunately I never took many pictures of the kitchen WHILE it was torn apart and getting it’s facelift. Actually you are lucky because you would have been disappointed at how messy my cabinets were inside!


Finally I was ready for varnish. That’s both a blessing and a curse. While I enjoy the rest of the process of refinishing things, I will admit I’m not a fan of varnish. I am never happy with the end finish. Always seem to see or feel things in the dried finish that I don’t like and did I mention I don’t really enjoy sanding between coats or sanding at all for that matter? Well, I don’t. Unless I can do it with a palm sander or belt sander and get the job done fast! That doesn’t work so well for this purpose though.

Okay, back to varnish. I probably should have done more coats but I only did two. I used Minwax Water-Based Polycrylic Clear Satin because that’s what I had on my paint shelf. I actually used a gloss sheen but I would have preferred a satin sheen like I linked above.  Again, I let them dry 24 hours between coats. That’s all I could get done in one day anyways. As it is, I had to apply the varnish after the kids were in bed at night so that they couldn’t get in my way and ruin it while it was wet! Needless to say late nights and varnish fumes make for some interesting times!

Finally I let it cure for a couple days before I allowed anybody back into the kitchen! Can I just say – I’m impressed by the end results? Anyone who has seen my kitchen since I did the cabinets is completely convinced I put in new cabinets. I still plan to put pulls and knobs on them to make it more custom looking, but until I find the ones I want – this will have to do!


And yes, I took out my microwave while I was at it.  I don’t use it anyways and plan to build a range hood instead!  But that’s for another day…

APPLICATION TIP:  After many test runs, I have found that the best way to apply the gel stain is with an athletic sock like these.  Buy yourself some new ones and use up the old ones for your staining projects!  I recommend putting a latex glove or even two on your hand and then pull the sock on over the glove.  Then use your hand to apply the stain.  I know it sounds weird but that’s how I apply all my gel stain and it works so well!  It also helps to give the variation that looks painted surfaces look more like wood grain.  You can see what I mean on my Solid Wood Doors On A Dime… tutorial.

UPDATE: Here is my kitchen currently.


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  1. Cindy says:

    PERFECT! I will say a prayer as soon as I type this, that God will lead the way and open the doors of blessing!!! I AM SO PROUD OF YOU and thrilled to call you friend! Love, Cindy-Mack ???XOXO

    1. Right back at you, girl! I’m so glad to have met you!

  2. […] So….ideas? Paint? Buy new doors? Nope! Time for my favorite General Finishes Gel Stain! I’m serious! You can even use this stuff on something that isn’t solid wood and you do NOT have to sand or strip it first. Just make sure it’s clean and dry…I used the color Java because I had it left over from my kitchen cabinets – you can find the tutorial here. […]

  3. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an extremely long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyway, just wanted to say fantastic blog!

    1. stilettosandshiplap says:

      Thanks so much! I’m glad you enjoy my blog.

  4. […] Refinished Kitchen Cabinets […]

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