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Unfinished Kitchen Cabinets - How-To DIY and Save Money

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If you’d like ultimate flexibility with your kitchen cabinets, purchasing unfinished cabinets is the best way to achieve this. You’ll be able to save a lot of money – plus finishing cabinets is a very straightforward process that can be a lot of fun.

Kitchen Design Process

The first thing you want to do is have an overall kitchen design style in mind. Popular looks of this space include industrial, rustic, eclectic, traditional, contemporary and more. You’ll want to consider the kind of appliances you prefer, as well as whether you want your refrigerator to be built-in, integrated or freestanding. When you cook do you like a range, cook top or double oven? Check out resources online to help you with this process, such as HouzzGoogle ImagesBetter Home & Gardens, or interior design magazines.

Choosing the Right Cabinets

A kitchen consists of many cabinets –wall, base, corner and sink cabinets as well as pantry and trash can cabinets to name a few. You have the option to choose different species of unfinished wood for your cabinetry. Oak and alder are two popular types. Distinct properties exist within wood and you’ll want to consider its original color and hardness, as this will determine how the stain will be absorbed. Be sure to match your woods! Along with the wood, you’ll also have to pick the style of kitchen cabinet doors. Do you want flat panel, raised panel, or something fancier? Once all this has been nailed down it is time to let the real fun begin.

Finishing Your Unfinished Kitchen Cabinets & Doors

Once you have the cabinets prepped (see below), you’ll want to apply some type of finish to your new cabinets. Two to consider would be staining or painting. A stain is labor intensive, yet the color of available stains is much more diverse than that of pre-foiled or veneered cabinets. Painting is less labor intensive and has color diversity, but since it is thick and opaque, it covers up the natural look and feel of the unfinished wood you chose. If you choose to paint, please note dark, glossy finishes will bring out all surface imperfections; the chalkier the paint, the less likely the natural wood surface will show unevenly, but the harder it will be to wipe clean.

Tips on finishing cabinets: 

  • Before applying any kind of finish, you must sand the wood lightly with fine sandpaper – 200 grit works but 400 grit is better. If done correctly, this will remove fingerprint oils, typical rough fabrication surfaces, splinters, etc.
  • Remember to always sand with the grain, not against it and do so gently. 
  • Avoid power sanders, as the rotational patterns will cause scratching to occur. 
  • Sanding between coats is vital to counteract the raised grain, adhering dust particles and tiny bubbles that will form as you apply the finish. 
  • Thin coats are ideal since heavier coats will bubble more, take longer to dry and are prone to drip. 
  • A cloth is the best medium to apply stain and varnish since it allows you to achieve the thinnest coat.
  • A brush is needed for paint – soft brush for latex, stiffer for oil. Alternatively, you could spray thin coats with a paint spray gun.

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