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Question DetailsAsked on 12/29/2013

how to stain and seal kitchen cabinets

hi I have red oak kitchen cabinets I sanded to bear wood I have the doors sanded on both sides and the drawers in the garage I only sanded the face of the cabinets ( still mounted on the wall ) I did not do anything to the inside of the cabinets ( lighter cooler ) I am going to use miniwax stain light brown can I stain with a sponge I think I will do two coats how long to dry between coats and do I need to sand fine after the first coat I have the polyurethane clear sealer can I spray I have the graco 1900 spray station I try stain one door on the inside the flat surface sanded with the sander was ok but the corners sanded buy hand have lighter spots what to do thanks mazz

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3 Answers


It could be that the sander is picking up the dust created and the hand sanded parts have a light coating of dust on them. You could use a tack cloth to see if that helps or as I said in a previous answer it is an art in staining wood. You could start your staining on the light parts and after finishing the rest hit them with a bit more stain to blend them in. I have used the sponge brushes but I always have cheese cloth or rags to even things out. When to recoat is also a judgement thing for stain if you need to go darker it does not have to be bone dry. For your finish it should be dry to the touch at least and if sanding between coats even drier. If you put on too many coats at once you stand the chance of alligatoring because the surface is dry and underneat it is still wet and the top will wrinkle as the lower coats dry.

One VERY important thing to keep in mind is to store all rags used in a covered can outside and not near the house! Many homes have caught fire due to improper handling of oily rags. they can spontaneously catch fire!


Answered 6 years ago by ContractorDon


You can find staining hints and videos at manufacturer websites. My thoughts on what you said - in addition to Don's comments, which I agree with all of, as usual:

1) Assuming you have not started yet (though it sounds like you tried the inside of a door already ?), get a scrap piece of red oak (a cutoff) from your lumber yard or home improvement store to experiment with first - just a piece of 1x4 or 1x6 a couple of feet long, and the smallest can of stain you can buy in your desired brand and color - usually pint cans can be found, some manufacturers sell 1/4 pint samplers for tests.

2) I am unclear why you would use a light brown stain on red oak - obviously you are not trying to make it look like red oak - perhaps you are trying for more of a dark oak or black walnut look ? Using a brown rather than reddish tone stain might end up looking funny - the "white" part of the wood will take the brown stain a lot better than the "red" streaks and ripples in the grain, so you might end up with mixed brown and reddish toning - you will have to experiment and see. I am guessing for that to work you are foing to have to go to a dark walnut or american walnut stain to get a consistent appearance - I don't think a light brown is going to look good - likely to come off like a streaky pecan, I think. If you are using a high-build or heavy body stain that undesired effect is a lot less likely.

3) I recommend 1-2 days drying for each coat before recoating, depending on drying area temperature and circulation - I recommend a fan blowing over the area AFTER you are done with putting on a coat, and of course only if area is clean so fan will not be stirring up dust that can settle on the finish. I have found manufactuers are WAY too optomistic about recoat times - for a proper job, double or tripel their recomme3nded drying time, and NEVER stain or polyurethane below 65 degrees. Has to be totally dry and non-tacky and your fingernail shouldnot "stick" in it if pressed in, and should not have strong outgassing going on (though will still smell for days if not weeks, expecially if oil based). Like Don said, while it is still wet you can restain within 10-30 minutes or so to get a deeper tone, but once it stops showing wetness on the surface do not mess with it any more and let it dry before going to a new coat.

4) I recommend letting the stain dry at least 3 days before putting on the first clean finish coat because if the base stain has not dried it will blister or bubble the clear finish, and make sure it is compatible - same solvent base (water, mineral spirits, lacquer thinner, or whatever) as the stain for a beginner, and preferably same manufacturer. The "base" is what it tells you to thin it with, or if it says do not thin, then what it says to clean up with.

5) water based stains are less messy to work with and are almost always non flammable and stink the house less, but oil (mineral spirit) based penetrate better, and especially for second coat, do a better job of penetrating through the first coat. Personally I hate the water based - if you have to use one, I would recommend the gel type (Varathane makes it, I don't know if Minwax does) as it spreads and fills more uniformly.

6) be sure to THOROUGHLY mask surrounding surfaces - when I am staining in-place, I use heavy plastic masking tape to tape down a 3 mil plastic sheeting protective coat for about 2-3 feet around the top and sides and at least 3 feet beyond the perimeter below the item to be coated. I then cover that at the contact edges with a second layer of masking tape cut in tight to the item being worked on because the stain WILL penetrate the masking tape, and a layer of newspaper or painters canvas over horizontal surfaces below it. Work section by section, and as soon as you are done in one perimeter area peel that top layer of masking tape and canvas or paper, and if it bled under that the second one too and wipe up any wicking immediately - first with paper towels with short dabbing strokes, then when basically clean with paper towels dipped in the appropriate solvent for the finish. Normally, assuming you did not get sloppy, only the top layer of masking tape and newspaper has to be replaced with each coat, leaving the underlying taped protective plastic till the job is done. Watch your feet too - you are bound to drip a bit, so put newspaper on the floor around the area, and kick off your shoes before you walk elsewhere in the house, and have phone within reach so you do not track stain or finish running to answer the phone (yes, I know this from experience - how to put glossy spots on linoleum inone easy lesson).

7) some people like sponges toapply the stain - personally, I use an old tube sock (I keep every one I wear a hole in or tear the top on), tie a large overhand knot in the foot, turn it inside out so it has a "ball" at the bottom from the knot inside, and then slipping my hand (with plastic surgeons glove on if you don't want your hand stained) down inside, grab the "ball" and use that to hold and spread the stain. A lot less tendency to hold too much stain and then drip or spray all over like sponges do if you squeeze them too hard, and if you only dip it in the can a touch you can apply with the "wet" part, then work the stain in and, after about 5-15 minutes penetrating time, then wipe it out with long strokes WITH THE GRAIN, removing any excess and making it consistent. Along walls and other areas not getting stain I use a disposable paint brush to "edge in" along the edge - more precise than a sponge or rag - then use a CLEAN piece of rag to wipe the stain out, making sure the edge against the wall or appliance is always clean.

8) I recommend a HEAVY, flat pan or dish with a half cup or so of stain in it to work from - I can't count the number of times I have run into situations where a homeowner (or contractor) was working from a quart or gallon can and knocked it over, causing mega damage to cabinets and flooring. If you don't have a heavy one put of washed rock in it.

9) be sure all cans are WELL stirred before use, and intermix after stirring to be sure all have the exact same color composition. If the cans sit for more than a couple of days after initial mixing (have store use their shaker when you buy them new), either use a drill-mounted stirrer, being sure to get ALL the material off the bottom mixed in, or hammer lid on well and take back to the store and get them to reshake for you - most will do it for free for a homeowner. It is CRITICAL to have the stain fully mixed, and to intermix the stain from all the cans you will be using - once at start, and I would recommend again when about half empty, to avoid noticeable contrasts in tone. If there is any question of quantity, get an extra quart to ensure color consistency, because each can may be from a different batch and therefore a slightly different color tone.

10) obviously, start with inside faces where they do not show to be sure you have your technique down pat before starting on exposed edges and faces.

11) you definitely have to fine sand between coats - red oak does not have much of a grain lifting problem, so I would use a 200-240 grit sandpaper, by hand - just light couple of passes with the grain over entire area, with long strokes. Do not use a flint or garnet paper (tan or orange) paper because granules come off easily and can embed in the stain and remain as noticeable dots - rather, use silicon carbide (black) paper with a dark stain (converse with a light stain or clear finish only). The clear finishes ditto - usually you use wet sanding on them with wet and dry silicone carbide paper to reduce scratching - just dab the sandpaper on a wet sponge periodically as you work, don't actually wet the finished cabinet surface. After each sanding clean the surface with a tack cloth.

12) When you say polyurethane clear sealer I hope you mean clear finish - a sealer is used to close the grain up to make staining penetration more uniform (usually used on softwoods more than hardwoods) and is not designed to be a surface coat, whereas the finish protective coats over the stain would be a polyurethane finish.

13) You need as real light touch, with very fine sandpaper, for the edges. For flat edges use a very fine rigid sanding sponge or fine sandpaper with sanding block to avoid wrapping around the corner and removing the stain on the corners. For rounded surfaces use very light strokes and very light finger pressure. Generally, one would not use a power sander except for the initial stripping down to bare wood - everything after that would be by hand, with about 200-240 grit for touch sanding a hardwood stain, and probably 400 or 600 grit for rounded edges and over the clear coats.

14) if you get a bit of lightening on the edges from the sanding, remove the dust (tack cloth or damp rag, letting thoroughly dry if damp rag was used), then after throughly dry very slightly dampen a rag with a SMALL amount of stain (just damp, not wet) and rewipe the light areas to get them more like the rest - use a few rubbing in passes to work the stain in, followed 5-10 minutes later by a single light wiping out pass on each affected area. Let thoroughly dry the 1+ day before going to next step.

15) remember, if using an oil based or laquer based product, it is flammable so keep the area well ventilated not only while applying, but while drying also. Also, if spraying, the vapors will dissipate far further, so stay well away from sources of ignition - like furnace or hot water heater if in garage.

16) as to the Graco 1900 Spray Station - I am pretty sure you will find that it puts out too much material to work well with the stain, plus the cleanup will be a bear to get all the stain color out of it. As for the clear finish, it might work for the parts you can lay out on newspaper in the garage for spraying - I suspect unless you have used it a LOT it will get out of control on the fixed cabinet boxes. That unit is a High Volume, Low Pressure sprayer, designed for walls, fences, doors, etc - probably a bit too much product will come out to work for your purpose. Usually, for cabinet refinishing, one would use a low volume, high pressure sprayer - almost an airbrush for that size job. I believe (realize I am biased here, I do not think much of low pressure airless sprayers) you will find that for the small amount of finish you are putting on each surface, just a good quality set of brushes will work best - probably a tapered 2" for edging in and corners, and maybe a 3 or maybe 4" for the field areas. Be sure to get right kind of brush for the base of your product, and get a decent brand, not the cheapest - you do not want lots of streaking and loose bristles in your finished product. They are going to cost you about $3-5 for smaller and $5-7 for marger size, but end result will be worth it. Also be sure to get a small bottle of solvent if oil or laquer based, to clean the brushes and to park them in between work sessions - and remember the solvents are highly flammable, and keep out of reach of pets (including jumping up cats) - highly poisonous if drunk.

Good luck and hope you enjoy your new cabinets.

Answered 6 years ago by LCD


I think the problem is your sanding grit. When you say edges I assume you mean the end grain part of the panel. Sand the whole thing with no more than 150 grit. Then sand the end grain parts with 220. Finer grit closes the pores more so it takes less stain. The end grains will be darker than the rest if you don't treat them differently. As suggested, get yourself a piece of red oak and try the 220 grit on the ends and 150 on the surface. See how it goes.

Answered 4 years ago by Jbeezy

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