How to Finish Unfinished Cabinets

Do you have beautiful kitchen cabinets that never seem to get finished? Are your bathroom cabinets stuck in permanent limbo between an ugly state of unfinished and a beautifully designed masterpiece? If so, then it’s time you learned how to finally give these fixtures the finishing touches they deserve.

How to Finish Unfinished Cabinets

In this blog post, we’ll walk you through the steps needed to achieve professional-looking results on your own DIY cabinet-making projects.

With our simple tips and tricks on how to finish unfinished cabinets, as well as some clever design ideas, you can quickly turn those dull unfinished cabinets into stunning furniture pieces that tie together any space with style!

Why Unfinished Cabinets?

Unfinished cabinets, also known as raw or bare wood cabinets, are a popular choice for many DIY enthusiasts. They offer a blank canvas for your creativity and can be customized to fit any style or design aesthetic. Unfinished cabinets also tend to be more affordable than pre-finished options, making them a budget-friendly choice for home improvement projects.

Furthermore, finishing unfinished cabinets yourself allows you to have full control over the materials and processes used, ensuring that your cabinets are made with high-quality products and techniques. This can result in longer-lasting and more durable cabinets, saving you money in the long run.

Needed Materials

  • Unfinished cabinets
  • Sandpaper (medium and fine grit)
  • Wood stain or paint
  • Polyurethane sealer
  • Paintbrushes and/or foam rollers
  • Paint tray
  • Clean rags

11 Step-by-step Guidelines on How to Finish Unfinished Cabinets

Step 1: Preparation

Essential to Properly Prepare Your Cabinets

Before diving into the finishing process, it’s essential to properly prepare your cabinets. This includes removing any hardware such as handles and hinges, cleaning the surface of any dirt or debris, and making sure the cabinets are dry. It’s also important to have a well-ventilated workspace to prevent excessive fumes.

Step 2: Sanding

Using medium-grit sandpaper, lightly sand the entire surface of your cabinets. This will remove any rough spots and create a smooth base for the stain or paint to adhere to. Be sure to wipe off any dust with a clean rag before moving on to the next step. Otherwise, the dust particles will end up in your finish and ruin the final look. It’s also best to work in the direction of the grain for a more even finish.

Step 3: Applying Stain or Paint

For a natural wood look, opt for a wood stain. This will enhance the natural color and grain of the wood while protecting it from damage. If you prefer a pop of color, choose a high-quality paint that is suitable for cabinets. It’s essential to use a paintbrush or foam roller to apply the stain or paint evenly. Work in thin and even coats, allowing each coat to dry completely before applying the next.

Step 4: Adding Depth with Multiple Coats

For a more professional-looking finish, it’s recommended to apply at least two coats of stain or paint. This will give your cabinets depth and hide any imperfections. Just make sure to allow each coat to dry completely before adding the next one. But be careful not to overdo it, as too many coats can result in a buildup of product and create an uneven finish. It’s always better to start with less and add more coats if needed. It’s also important to note that the color may appear lighter at first but will deepen as it dries.

Step 5: Sanding Again

 Use Steel Wool for a Smoother Finish

To achieve a smooth finish, lightly sand your cabinets again after the final coat has dried. This will also help remove any brush strokes or uneven spots. This time, use a fine-grit sandpaper and work in the direction of the grain. It’s crucial to be gentle and not sand too much, as this can remove the stain or paint. You can also use steel wool for a smoother finish. It’s always a good idea to test in an inconspicuous area first before sanding the entire surface.

Step 6: Applying Polyurethane Sealer

To protect your cabinets from water damage and give them a glossy finish, apply a polyurethane sealer. This will also make cleaning and maintaining your cabinets much more manageable. Use a clean brush or foam roller to apply the sealer in thin, even coats. Allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next one. It’s also recommended to lightly sand between coats for a smoother finish.

Step 7: Reattaching Hardware

Once the sealer is dry, you can reattach any hardware that was removed earlier. This will give your cabinets a polished look and make them functional again. It’s best to wait at least 24 hours before using your cabinets to allow the sealer to cure completely. This will ensure that it’s fully protected and won’t be damaged by everyday use. It’s also important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for curing time.

Step 8: Adding Finishing Touches

To give your cabinets a unique touch, consider adding some finishing touches such as decorative knobs or handles. You can also add trim or molding to create a custom look and tie in with the design of your space. These small details can make a big difference in the overall appearance of your cabinets. It’s best to plan and measure before making any cuts or attaching anything permanently.

Step 9: Cleaning Up

Admiring Your Freshly Finished Cabinets

Before admiring your freshly finished cabinets, it’s important to clean up any leftover materials. Make sure to properly dispose of used sandpaper, rags, and empty paint cans. It’s also a good idea to wipe down your workspace and tools so that they’re ready for your next project. But most importantly, make sure to properly dispose of any leftover chemicals or materials according to your local laws and regulations.

Step 10: Maintenance

To keep your cabinets looking their best, it’s crucial to maintain them properly. This includes regularly wiping them down with a clean, damp cloth and using gentle cleaners suitable for wood surfaces.

Avoid abrasive or harsh chemicals that can damage the finish and always test new products in an inconspicuous area first. It’s also recommended to periodically reapply a polyurethane sealer to protect the finish. This will also help refresh the shine of your cabinets.

Step 11: Enjoying Your Finished Cabinets

Congratulations, you have successfully finished your cabinets! Now it’s time to sit back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of your labor. With proper maintenance and care, your cabinets will last for years to come. And if you ever decide to redo them again in the future, now you know how to finish unfinished cabinets like a pro. Remember to always use high-quality products and techniques for the best results.

Following these steps will not only result in a beautifully finished cabinet but also ensure that it is protected and durable for everyday use. So whether you’re looking to update your kitchen cabinets or give new life to an old piece of furniture, knowing how to properly finish unfinished cabinets will come in handy. Happy finishing!


  • Always Work in a Well-ventilated Area and Wear Protective Gear Such as Gloves and a Mask When Working With Chemicals.
  • Take Your Time and Be Patient, Rushing Can Result in an Uneven or Messy Finish.
  • If Using Stain, Make Sure to Stir or Shake the Can Before Applying to Ensure an Even Color.
  • For a Distressed Look, Lightly Sand the Edges or Corners of the Cabinet After Its Final Coat Has Dried.
  • Use Painter’s Tape to Protect Any Areas You Don’t Want to Get Stained or Painted, Such as Hinges or Hardware.
  • And Most Importantly, Have Fun and Be Creative! Finishing Unfinished Cabinets is a Great Way to Personalize Your Space and Showcase Your Diy Skills.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: Can I Use a Roller Instead of a Paintbrush?

You Can Use a Foam Roller for a Smoother Finish

A1: Yes, you can use a foam roller for a smoother finish. Just make sure to work in thin and even coats to avoid drips or bubbles. It’s also recommended to lightly sand between coats for a better finish.

Q2: How Long Does It Take for the Stain or Paint to Dry?

A2: The drying time will depend on the type of product used and environmental conditions. It’s best to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for specific drying times. As a general rule, allow at least 24 hours before applying another coat or handling the cabinets.

Q3: Can I Stain Over Paint or Vice Versa?

A3: Yes, you can stain over paint or vice versa. However, the surface must be properly prepped and sanded before applying the new product. It’s also recommended to test in an inconspicuous area first to ensure a desirable result.

Q4: Do I Need to Use a Sealer?

A4: While a sealer is not always necessary, it’s highly recommended for added protection and durability. It also adds a glossy finish and makes cleaning and maintenance easier.


With unfinished cabinets, there is an opportunity to create something unique and special with limited skills and resources. With careful planning and good-quality materials, you can turn ordinary cabinets into stunning works of art that will make your home look new without breaking the bank.

Remember to practice safety when using power tools, use the right type of wood for the job and always apply several layers of clear coat or paint onto your kitchen cabinets for added protection. Don’t forget to share pictures of your finished work with friends and family – it will be an accomplishment you’ll be proud of!

So why wait? Get creative today, bring new life to your kitchen and breathe new life into a remodel project that’s long overdue. You have everything you need to finish unfinished cabinets – now go get started! Thanks for reading this article on how to finish unfinished cabinets.

Photo of author

Adrian Green

Adrian is a woodworking hobbyist and has loved Woodworking since he was 10 years old. Back then in childhood, his father used to have a furniture shop. He used to help his dad and learned a lot from him about how to fix woodworking furniture, basic carpentry knowledge and also about how to work hard and take care of business. He enjoys woodworking as a hobby. He loves the feeling of creating something with his own hands, and the satisfaction that comes from seeing his finished products used by others.

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