How To Refinish Oak Cabinets

how to refinish oak cabinets

Refinishing oak cabinets is an excellent way to breathe new life into your kitchen without breaking the bank. As you embark on this transformative project, it’s essential to consider various factors that will impact the final result and ensure a cohesive design throughout your space. This guide will provide a comprehensive overview of the entire process, from selecting an appropriate stain to revamping hardware.

We’ll begin by discussing how to choose the right stain for your oak cabinets, taking into account current design trends and color schemes as well as coordinating with countertops, flooring, and wall colors. Next, we’ll explore updating hardware for a fresh look – evaluating different types of cabinet pulls and knobs while ensuring they complement your appliances.

Moving forward, our focus shifts to customizing cabinetry design with crown molding installations or valances for increased visual appeal. We also cover painting over existing cabinet boxes using high-quality paint products like General Finishes Milk Paint after properly preparing wood surfaces.

Finally, learn about enhancing kitchen backsplashes by exploring popular materials and patterns that coordinate beautifully with refinished oak cabinets. And if you’re looking for a complete transformation, we delve into replacing or refacing cabinets – weighing pros and cons while guiding you in selecting door styles, finishes, and materials tailored specifically to your tastes.

Choosing the Right Stain for Oak Cabinets

To refinish your oak cabinets effectively, it’s essential to choose a stain depth that complements other elements in your space and appeals to potential target markets. Consider keeping the existing golden oak stain or opting for a lighter, more natural look depending on surrounding finishes in your home.

Assessing Current Design Trends and Color Schemes

Before selecting a stain color for your outdated oak cabinets, research current design trends and popular color schemes. This will help you determine whether you should maintain the classic golden oak finish or opt for something more modern like gray or white washed wood. Keep in mind that darker stains can make small spaces feel cramped while lighter colors tend to create an open atmosphere.

Matching Stains with Countertops, Flooring, and Wall Colors

In addition to considering design trends, ensure that the new cabinet stain coordinates well with existing finishes such as countertops, flooring materials (like hardwoods), and paint colors on walls throughout your kitchen area. For example:

  • If you have dark granite countertops or black appliances: Choose a medium-toned wood grain finish like walnut or mahogany.
  • If you have light-colored quartz counters: Opt for a pale maple or birch wood grain finish.
  • If there are warm tones present within tile floors: A honey-hued cherrywood may be ideal.

Better Homes & Gardens offers tips on matching cabinet stains with other elements in your kitchen for a cohesive look. Remember that while it’s important to create harmony within the space, don’t be afraid to make bold choices and add some contrast.

Choosing the right stain for oak cabinets is an important decision that can make or break a design scheme. Updating hardware provides another opportunity to give your kitchen a modern and stylish look.

Updating Hardware for a Fresh Look

Changing the hardware on your oak cabinets can make a significant difference in their overall appearance. Select transitional-style hardware that works well with shaker door profiles and cathedral-style doors to create an updated aesthetic without breaking the bank. In this section, we will discuss how to evaluate different types of cabinet pulls and knobs, as well as coordinating hardware materials with appliances.

Evaluating Different Types of Cabinet Pulls and Knobs

There are various styles of cabinet pulls and knobs available on the market today. When selecting new hardware for your outdated oak cabinets, consider options such as bar pulls, cup pulls, or even sleek finger pull handles. Keep in mind that simple designs often work best when trying to modernize existing cabinetry.

  • Bar Pulls: These long metal handles offer a clean look while providing easy access to upper cabinets.
  • Cup Pulls: A popular choice for drawers due to their comfortable grip and vintage appeal.
  • Finger Pull Handles: Minimalist design that adds subtle elegance without drawing too much attention away from other kitchen elements.

Coordinating Hardware Materials with Appliances

To achieve a cohesive look throughout your entire kitchen, it’s essential to coordinate the material finish of your cabinet hardware with existing appliances. Stainless steel is one common option; however, you may also explore finishes like brushed nickel or oil-rubbed bronze depending on your personal preferences and current appliance colors. Better Homes & Gardens offers a helpful guide on matching hardware with appliances for further assistance.

In summary, updating the hardware on your oak cabinets is an affordable and effective way to refresh their appearance. By evaluating different types of pulls and knobs, as well as coordinating materials with existing appliances, you can create a modern look that complements your kitchen’s overall design.

Updating hardware for a fresh look is an easy and cost-effective way to upgrade the appearance of your oak cabinets. For more advanced changes, customizing your cabinetry design can give you a truly unique look.

Key Takeaway: 


Updating the hardware on outdated oak cabinets can give them a fresh look without spending too much money. Choosing transitional-style hardware that complements shaker door profiles and coordinating materials with existing appliances is essential to achieving a cohesive design throughout the kitchen.

Customizing Your Cabinetry Design

If you’re looking to give your outdated oak cabinets a custom look without investing too much time or money into renovations, consider filling bulkheads with MDF (medium-density fiberboard) along with decorative molding. This technique adds visual height while concealing under-cabinet lighting and creates an elegant appearance that will make your entire kitchen feel more luxurious.

Installing Crown Molding as an Elegant Touch

Crown molding is a popular choice for homeowners who want to elevate the style of their upper cabinets. Not only does it add architectural interest, but it also helps draw the eye upward and create a sense of spaciousness in your kitchen. To install crown molding on your oak cabinets, first measure and cut the pieces to fit snugly around the perimeter of each cabinet box. Then, use wood glue and nails to secure them in place before painting or staining them to match your existing finish.

Using Valances to Increase Visual Appeal

  • Selecting valance styles: Choose from various valance designs such as straight, arched, or scalloped edges depending on your personal taste and overall design aesthetic.
  • Incorporating materials: Match the material used for valances with other elements in your space like countertops or backsplash tiles for cohesion throughout the room.
  • Fitting dimensions: Measure carefully when cutting out valance pieces so they align seamlessly between adjacent cabinet doors or drawer fronts.

In addition to these techniques, you can further customize cabinetry by adding glass inserts into select cabinet doors—allowing you to showcase your favorite dishware and decorative items. For a more modern touch, consider installing open shelving in place of traditional upper cabinets. This will not only create visual interest but also provide easy access to frequently used kitchen essentials.

Customizing your cabinetry design can add an elegant touch to any home and is a great way to make a statement. Painting over existing cabinet boxes requires careful preparation in order to achieve the desired look.

Key Takeaway: 


Revamp your outdated oak cabinets with simple and cost-effective techniques such as filling bulkheads with MDF, installing crown molding to add architectural interest and using valances to increase visual appeal. You can also customize cabinetry by adding glass inserts or open shelving for a modern touch.

Painting Over Existing Cabinet Boxes

If painting over existing cabinet boxes is more appealing than staining them anew, select one cohesive color such as white for all surfaces involved—doors included. Ensure proper ventilation precautions are taken during application processes when using chemical strippers or professional spray-painting services. This approach can help you transform your outdated oak cabinets into a modern and stylish space.

Preparing Wood Surfaces by Sanding Down Imperfections

Before applying paint to your oak cabinets, it’s essential to prepare the wood surface properly. Start by removing any hardware from the cabinet doors and drawer fronts. Subsequently, utilize a medium-coarseness sandpaper to even out any harsh spots or blemishes on the wood grain. Be sure to wipe down the entire kitchen cabinetry with a damp cloth afterward to remove dust particles that could affect paint adhesion.

Selecting High-Quality Paint Products like General Finishes Milk Paint

  • Durability: Choose a high-quality paint product designed specifically for kitchen cabinets, such as General Finishes Milk Paint. These paints offer excellent durability and resistance against wear-and-tear in busy kitchens.
  • Semi-gloss finish: A semi-gloss finish is recommended for its easy-to-clean properties and ability to reflect light, making your space appear brighter.
  • Tintable options: If you prefer a custom color instead of traditional white, many high-quality paints come in tintable options so you can achieve the perfect shade for your space.

With the right preparation and paint selection, you can give your oak cabinets a fresh new look that complements the rest of your home’s design. Whether you choose to go with a classic white or experiment with different colors, painting over existing cabinet boxes is an effective way to update your kitchen without breaking the bank.

Painting over existing cabinet boxes is a great way to update the look of your kitchen without breaking the bank. Enhancing your kitchen backsplash can take this transformation even further by adding more texture and color to complete the overall design.

Key Takeaway: 


To refinish oak cabinets, you can either paint over the existing cabinet boxes or stain them anew. If painting is your preferred option, select a high-quality paint product like General Finishes Milk Paint that offers durability and resistance against wear-and-tear in busy kitchens. Before applying the paint, prepare the wood surface properly by sanding down any imperfections and wiping it clean with a damp cloth to remove dust particles that could affect adhesion.

Enhancing Your Kitchen Backsplash

In addition to updating the appearance of your outdated oak cabinets, consider installing a new backsplash for a cohesive look. Light warm neutrals can help make your oak cabinets pop while adding functionality through easy-to-clean surfaces.

Exploring Popular Backsplash Materials and Patterns

There are various backsplash materials and patterns available that can complement your refinished oak cabinets. Some popular options include:

  • Ceramic or porcelain tiles offer an array of colors, shapes, and sizes to match any desired design.
  • Glass tiles: With their reflective properties, glass tiles add depth and shine to your kitchen space.
  • Natural stone: Materials like marble or travertine offer an elegant touch with unique veining patterns.
  • Metallic accents: Copper or stainless steel inserts create visual interest when combined with other tile materials.

Coordinating Backsplash Colors with Cabinet Stains

To achieve a harmonious design, it’s essential to coordinate the color of your backsplash with the stain on your oak cabinets. Here are some tips for selecting complementary hues:

  1. If you’ve kept the existing golden oak stain: Opt for warm-toned neutrals such as beige or cream-colored tiles that will enhance the wood grain without overpowering it.
  2. For lighter-stained cabinets: Consider soft gray or white subway tiles which provide a subtle contrast and create an airy, open feel.
  3. In case of darker stains: Choose deep-toned tiles like slate or charcoal to balance the richness of your cabinets.

Remember that it’s essential to view tile samples in your kitchen space before making a final decision. To truly appreciate the impact of colors and materials, take into account their reaction to natural light in your kitchen by viewing tile samples there.

By taking the time to explore popular backsplash materials and patterns, you can easily enhance your kitchen backsplash. Replacing or refacing cabinets for a complete transformation is another great way to customize the look of your home.

Replacing or Refacing Cabinets for a Complete Transformation

Replacing or refacing cabinets can provide a comprehensive transformation of your kitchen or bathroom, allowing for customization and long-lasting results. This option allows for greater customization of design elements while providing long-lasting results.

Weighing the Pros and Cons of Replacement versus Refacing

Before deciding on whether to replace or reface your outdated oak cabinets, it’s essential to weigh the pros and cons of each option. Replacement involves removing the entire kitchen cabinet structure, including doors and drawer fronts, which can be costly but provides an opportunity for a complete redesign. On the other hand, refacing is less expensive as it only involves updating the visible surfaces like cabinet doors while keeping existing structures intact.

  • Replacement: Ideal if you want a completely new layout; higher cost; longer installation time.
  • Refacing: More affordable; quicker process; limited design options since existing structures are retained.

Selecting Door Styles, Finishes, and Materials for a Personalized Touch

To create a custom look that complements your home’s style when replacing or refacing oak cabinets, consider various door styles such as shaker-style profiles or cathedral-style doors. You may also choose from different wood grains like maple or cherry instead of sticking with golden oak. When selecting finishes for either replacement or refaced cabinetry projects, prioritize durability by opting for high-quality paint products like General Finishes Milk Paint or stains that can withstand daily wear and tear. Additionally, consider incorporating unique hardware designs to further personalize your cabinets.

What is the Best Way to Refinish Oak Cabinets?

The best way to refinish oak cabinets involves cleaning, sanding, staining or painting, and sealing. First, clean the surfaces with a degreaser. Next, sand down any imperfections and remove dust. Apply your chosen stain or high-quality paint, such as General Finishes Milk Paint. Finally, seal with a clear protective coat for long-lasting results.

Are Oak Cabinets Coming Back in Style in 2023?

Oak cabinets are experiencing a resurgence in popularity due to their timeless appeal and durability. While trends may change over time, incorporating modern design elements like updated hardware and complementary color schemes can keep oak cabinetry looking fresh and stylish well into 2023.

Should I Refinish My Oak Cabinets?

If your oak cabinets are structurally sound but appear outdated or worn out, refinishing them can be an affordable option for revitalizing your kitchen’s appearance without replacing the entire cabinet system. Refinishing also allows you to customize stains or paint colors according to current design trends.

How Do You Modernize Old Oak Cabinets?

To modernize old oak cabinets:

  • Select contemporary stains or paints that complement other kitchen elements
  • Update hardware with sleek designs made from coordinating materials
  • Add crown molding or valances for visual interest
  • Incorporate new backsplash materials that harmonize with cabinet finishes

What is the Best Finish for Oak Cabinets?

The best finish for oak cabinets is a clear protective coat, such as polyurethane or lacquer. These finishes provide durability and protection against scratches and moisture.

How Do You Bring Old Oak Cabinets Back to Life?

To bring old oak cabinets back to life:

  • Clean the surfaces with a degreaser
  • Sand down any imperfections and remove dust
  • Apply a fresh coat of stain or paint
  • Update hardware with modern designs
  • Add decorative elements like crown molding or valances


In conclusion, refinishing oak cabinets can be a cost-effective way to update your kitchen or bathroom. By choosing the right stain, updating hardware, customizing your design with crown molding and valances, painting over existing cabinet boxes, enhancing your backsplash, or replacing/refacing cabinets altogether – you can achieve a fresh look without breaking the bank.

Jane Whitford
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