Re-staining Builder Grade Oak {Part One}

With all the home makeover shows on TV these days, it’s pretty much common knowledge that kitchens and bathrooms are most important when it comes to renovating your home. I’ve been itching for YEARS to get rid of the orangey oak cabinets in my kitchen, bathrooms, hall and laundry room. In my experience as a designer in new home construction, I am painfully aware of how expensive it is to replace cabinets. With my budget, this was simply not an option so I started Googling.


I came across a blog with a step-by-step tutorial on how to restain builder grade oak cabinets. Of course, I can’t immediately assume that it works simply because she did it. Then, I read through the comments from her readers swearing that it worked for them! That made me curious so I went back to Google to find more information on the specific stain she used. Sure enough, I found other blogs featuring Monica’s tutorial… I was in shock. Did this mean that my ugly orangey oak cabinets had a chance? Could they could be stained and actually look good?

Painting the cabinets was another option but I wanted to achieve a decadent espresso color. Paint is best for white cabinets. After conducting a ton of research, I decided to try this newly discovered (to me) staining method on my master bath cabinets. This was a safe place to test it out in case it didn’t work and ended up looking horrible.

This project cost about $100, give or take. Visit Monica’s blog ( for full details, but here are photos from my cabinet re-staining project. It took me 5 days to prep, paint the interiors and apply 3 coats of stain the cabinets/doors/drawers. Light, even coats and dry time are key to great results!

Before & After!

Before  Coat 3 on Boxes

Project table:

Supply Table

Before painting the interiors white:

Before Interiors Painted White

After painting the interiors white:

After Interiors Painted White

Coat 1 (very scary!): The KEY is to apply the stain lightly, do not try to force it on.

Coat 1 on Doors   Very Scary Coat 1  Coat 1 on Drawers

Coat 2: Looking better…

Coat 2 on Boxes   Coat 2 on Drawers

Coat 3: SO EXCITED!!!

Coat 3 on Doors   Coat 3 on Drawers   Coat 3 on Boxes

So far, I am THRILLED with the results! I still need to apply the Polyacrylic Satin topcoat and hardware. By closely following Monica’s tutorial, I ended up with beautiful espresso cabinets. My neighbors even stopped by to see what the heck was going on in the garage. They couldn’t believe how good it looked!

How did you do that?!

Looks awesome, huh! First, I gathered all the supplies and set up a work station in the garage. Woodcraft is a specialty woodworking store in Sacramento that carries the General Finishes Gel Stain in Java ($20) and General Finishes Polyacrylic Topcoat in Satin ($20). It can also be purchased online at The guy at Woodcraft helped me find the various supplies I needed for this project. I found some of the more common items at Home Depot/Lowe’s. I bought paper from a local paint store to cover our floors.


  • Sanding Block – I used an angled one which helps if you have details or edges on your cabinet doors/drawers
  • Lysol wipes or sponge with soap and water
  • Rubber gloves – this stain STAINS, protect your hands
  • Masking tape (for prep) AND painter’s tape (for taping where you’re staining), no reason to use the good tape on the floor
  • General Finishes Java Gel Stain – Like Monica said… “YOU CANNOT SUBSTITUTE THIS! …If you’re doing a small vanity, order a 1/2 pint.  If you’re doing a whole kitchen, order a quart… A little of this goes a LONG way.”
  • General Finishes Polyacrylic Topcoat in Satin (see photos below)
  • Ziploc baggy to keep track of all the hardware, screws, hinges
  • Screwdriver to take off hardware/hinges
  • Tack cloth
  • Men’s sock
  • Gauze/rag/cheesecloth
  • Foam brush
  • Paper or tarp to protect floors
  • Painters pyramids so you can paint both sides at once

General Finishes Gel Stain & Polyacrylic Satin Topcoat Poly

Next post, I’ll follow up on the cabinet re-staining project. I am very pleased with the espresso color and have started on the hall linen and secondary bath cabinet. Yipes! The kitchen will be done in the near future… after I take a week long nap. WARNING: this can be exhausting! However, it’s a great solution if you’re on a budget and want to say “Goodbye!” to builder grade oak cabinets.

Shannon Pavey

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6 thoughts on “Re-staining Builder Grade Oak {Part One}

  1. Gracie Ryan says:

    That looks fantastic! Love the espresso color…… Can’t wait to see your photos when you add the hardware.

  2. folsomtennis says:

    More photos please!

  3. Kelly celli says:

    Love it!!!!

  4. Maggie Ryan says:

    This is wonderful Shannon! Very impressive!

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