Finished cabinets with trim and pulls

Refinished Oak Cabinets

My oak kitchen cabinets are the original color of brown and looked really dated.  I know that white is a big color for cabinets these days, but I just couldn’t bring myself to paint the oak cabinets.  I like white cabinets, but I know from our lakehouse reno that they are more work to keep clean.  Every single spec of food and dirt shows up…

Here are the before photos:

Origial Cabinet colorOriginal Cabinet Color







Step 1 ~ Design and Planning

Light is also an issue in my kitchen, I needed a brighter/lighter look.  We plan on updating our countertops, backsplash and kitchen sink, but I wanted to make color/style decisions slowly as I finished each phase, instead of deciding all up front.  Originally, my kitchen had black appliances except for the refrigerator, which is stainless steel with a small amount of black trim.  When my dishwasher and oven died last year, I replaced it with stainless.  The only thing left black was the oven hood and micorwave.  For the cabinets, I would strip and sand all of the original color off down to the raw oak wood.  This would mean a fairly big mess inside my home, so I started this project by moving out of my kitchen.  I stored everything in my dining room during this phase, which is next to the kitchen.  It was pretty easy to still operate and make the family meals around the mess.

Step 2 ~ Project Prep

  • Remove everything from cabinets and drawers
  • Remove and label cabinet doors and drawers
  • Remove top cabinet trim
  • Use drop cloths or old sheets to cover any walkways or openings to the room for when you sand
  • Cover flooring if you plan to use any non-toxic stripping agent
  • Remove any outlet or switch covers
  • Remove range hood and microwave cover

Prepping for sanding


Step 3 ~ Strip and Sand

Focus on the base of your cabinets first because you will want to get through the inside messy stage ASAP (the doors/drawers can be done outside/garage).

  • Use a non-toxic paint stripper like Citristrip, it’s odorless and you do not have to worry about breathing fumes
  • Keep in mind that you have to apply, wait according to the instructions, use a putty knife to strip off and then clean the wood with water or mineral spirits
  • I found that some areas came off easier than others – depending on what the wood had been exposed to…more water or grease…

Stripping the wood


  • Once you have stripped the cabinet base and cleaned off the stripper, use a palm sander to get the rest of the old finish/stain off the wood
  • Start with a really coarse grade paper like 40 and finish with a 120 or lighter
  • Depending on the detail of your cabinets, you may need to consider other tools like a rotary tool to get in the cracks
  • In the picture below, you can start to see how beautiful the oak wood is under the old finish

Cabinet interiors "before"

raw oak cabinet

Step 4 ~ Stain and Sand

I experimented with several different grey stains, but most of them were too dark, until I tried Minwax Classic Grey #271.  If you are going for a ligher look, a stain/polyurathane one step product will not work, they are way too dark.


  • Make sure you have wiped down all sanded areas with a damp cloth and the area is completely dry
  • Gather up a bunch of rags that you don’t mind trashing after you are done
  • Use a paint brush to apply the stain, then immediately wipe off with a clean rag to achieve the very light grey you see below
  • After the stain has completely dried, use a fine grained sanding block to lightly sand for a super smooth finish
  • I noticed that the stain did vary in how the wood absorbed it, so I held off applying the polyurathane top coat until I got the doors / cabinets finished and put back on.  I wanted to make sure I could add stain or sand off some of the stain if areas were too dark.

stained and sanded



Step 5 ~ Appliances

Instead of spending money on a new microwave and range hood , I thought I would try spraying them with stainless steel spray paint.  This paint is amazing!  But be careful to spray evenly with no drips.  I found that if you hang the item, it’s much easier to achieve a smooth finish with no drips instead of laying on the ground and turning over once dried for the other side.  Make sure to tape off any knobs or labelling.

Tape knobs


Step 6 ~ Cabinet Interiors

After the mess of “inside the house” sanding is done, consider your cabinet interiors.   Notice the freshly painted range hood, you really can’t tell it was painted.

Organized cabinets

Step 7 ~ Trim and Finishing touches

My original trim was attached at an angle, which made the kitchen look smaller and more dated.  I am replacing it with wider trim that will be attached with small nails and straight up and down instead of an angle/crown molding look like before.

New uper cabinet trim

One small issue that I ran into was that the trim, after staining with the grey did not have the same look as the cabinets…the trim wasn’t oak, so I had to add some oak stain to achieve the same hue.

Trim not matching

Once I had matched the trim and sanded any area on the cabinets that had absorbed more of the grey stain, it was time to add the polyurathane finish, lightly sand or steel wool the surfaceonce dried and add another coat. Install the finished doors/drawers and pick out and install the hardware. I went with stainless steel pulls from Amazon. All doors/drawers are getting pulls, it’s just in process…

Finished cabinets with trim and pulls

Finished Cabinets
Finished Cabinets
Finished Cabinets

The end look is slightly darker than I planned but very rich and warm and I think the cabinets will look great with light countertops and white backsplash…our future project. Next steps include new lighting over cabinets and island, and new sink. When I need to replace the microwave and fridge, I will go with all stainless but for now, I think they are fine. In the end, this was a whole lot of work, but I really love how they turned out.


  • cindy pieplow

    I love your project…gave the cabinets such an updated look..only one thing I would change…the plates for the wall outlets. Maybe spray them a color that blends with the backsplash..

  • Sharon D Katzman

    Wow! What a transformation I would really, really like to do that in my kitchen. Personally, I do not think it is too dark. You did an awesome job! Thank you for photographing each stage of your project and sharing it with us.

  • Kathy

    Hi! I love wood and my first thought was that the original cabinets were very nice. Then I saw the cabinets you sanded and thought – beautiful! When I saw the first picture of you painting the gray stain my thought was, oh no! But THEN the final kitchen is gorgeous! I know you plan to do more, but I think it’s really beautiful as is and wish my kitchen looked like that! But, I’m sure your final, final kitchen redo will be amazing. Great work! ?

  • Hotscotgal

    This is inspirational! I think about lightning my natural oak cabinets and your post has given me another option to think about.

  • chaosqueen

    Thanks Cindy! I agree with you on the plates…they will get replaced when I do the new backsplash.

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