How to Refinish Oak Kitchen Cabinets in a Different Color


Oak kitchen cabinets are built to last for a lifetime. Oak is sturdy and resilient and will withstand years of wear and tear. This can be a great advantage for your kitchen, until you want to change your décor. You can refinish your old cabinets to remove old lacquer and apply new stain or paint, changing the color to match your new design style.

Things You'll Need

  • Screwdriver
  • White cloths
  • Mineral spirits or trisodium phosphate
  • 220-grit sandpaper
  • 180-grit sandpaper
  • Tack cloth
  • Deglosser
  • Stain or paint
  • Stirring stick
  • Paintbrush
  • Finish
  • Unscrew all hinges and knobs from the cabinets and set them aside in a safe place. Remove all shelving, if possible, to make all areas of the cabinet more accessible. Place the cabinet doors on a covered work surface.

  • Dampen a soft, white cloth with mineral spirits or trisodium phosphate cleaner. Wipe down all cabinet surfaces to remove built-up dirt, dust, cooking grease and other contaminants collected on the surface. The new color stain will not adhere to a dirty surface.

  • Sand all cabinet surfaces with 220-grit sandpaper. The sandpaper will remove any residual contaminants and will even out the surface to make it flatter. Always sand in the direction of the grain and apply pressure so that the entire surface is sanded evenly.

  • Repeat sanding with 180-grit sandpaper to smooth everything out. Wipe down all surfaces with a tack cloth to remove residual sanding dust.

  • Clean the surfaces once more with a deglosser to remove any remaining contaminants and prepare the surface for staining or painting. Apply the deglosser with clean white cloths. Allow the cleaner to work per product instructions and then wipe away any excess with clean white cloths.

  • Open your stain or paint product of your new color. Stir the product thoroughly with a stirring stick to blend the color.

  • Apply your new color to the cabinet surfaces. If your product is a staining product, wipe the stain onto the surface with clean white cloths, moving in the direction of the oak’s grain. Wipe away excess stain with another clean white cloth to achieve an even finish. For thicker products, such as paint or a stain-finish combination, apply the color with a paintbrush and even it out with clean white cloths.

  • Allow the product to dry according to the manufacturer's instructions and inspect your work. Apply a second coat of color if necessary to achieve your desired look. It is always better to apply two thin coats than one thick one, as multiple coats give you better control over the color and even application.

  • Apply a finishing layer of clear varnish to protect your colored cabinets in the future. Like the color, apply one layer with a paintbrush, allow it to dry and apply a second coat. If using a stain that contains varnish or a polyurethane finish, you will not need to apply a finishing product. Allow the finishing layer to dry before reattaching the doors, hinges and knobs.

Tips & Warnings

  • You will be more successful changing the oak cabinets to a darker color. Darker stain will easily cover preexisting stain or paint, while lighter colors may not be able to effectively cover darker colors.
  • The cleaners, stains and paints used in this project can create strong and potentially toxic fumes. If possible, move the cabinets themselves to a well-ventilated work area. If not, ventilate your kitchen by opening windows or using fans.

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  • Photo Credit the kitchen. image by guiney from
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