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White oak kitchens have always been one of my favorites. They are bright, modern, and the cabinets look gorgeous. When we purchased our first rental property I knew I wanted to create a similar look, but for much less. So we purchased these Project Source in-stock unfinished cabinets at Lowe’s and I made it my mission to stain them and give them a white oak kitchen look.
I could have easily painted the cabients but wanted to stain them instead. If you are interested in learning how to paint kitchen cabinets, I did it for a different unit and they turned out great too!
What you’ll need to stain unfinished cabinets
- 120grit Sanding sponge
- Minwax Wood Conditioner
- Foam Brush and Rag
- Varathane Golden Oak Stain
- Minwax Color Wash Transparent Stain (I used Minwax pickling stain but this is whats available now)
- Minwax water-based polycryclic in Satin
Remove drawers and cabinet doors
In order to be able to stain your cabinets correctly, remove the doors and drawers. Set up a space and line them up. Make sure you are in a well ventilated room and you wear a mask (I’m not always good with this).
I didn’t have a lot of cabinets so I was able to line them up in my living and dining room and had my windows open. You don’t have to stain the actual inside of the cabinets but its recommended to stain the inside of the cabinet doors.
Give all the cabinet doors and drawer fronts a light sanding. I used a 120g sanding sponge and went over all the surfaces lightly. I then cleaned all the dust off and was ready to apply my first product.
Apply wood conditioner
Apply wood conditioner using a rag. Wood conditioner draws out the grain and helps ensure a more even coat. It prevents the stain from looking blotchy. Allow the wood conditioner to sit for 15min.
Once the wood conditioner is dried, apply your stain. I used Varathane Stain in the color Golden Oak. I applied only one coat using a rag and wiped off the excess.
Apply whitewash pickling
The whitewash pickling I used from Minwax seems like it has a new look. I can’t find the can I used and what’s available right now is Minwax Color Wash Transparent Stain. I have used this product for a different project and loved it!
Initially, I applied the whitewash pickling with a rag but found it applies more even with a foam brush then excess wiped with a damp rag.
In the photo below you can see the cabinet door on the left has the stain and the one on the right has the whitewash pickling.
After applying the whitewash pickling and allowing it to dry, I applied another coat of the Varathane stain.
To protect the cabinets, apply three coats of Minwax Waterbased Polycrylic. Polycrylic does not stick to itself so sanding in between coats is required. Sand lightly in between coats using the 120grit sanding sponge.
In my opinion, water based polycrylic is better to use because oil based tends to yellow over time. I applied the polycryclic using a brush but you could use foam brushes, that work great too!
Once the polycryclic is all dried, you can place the doors and drawers back on. I purchased these black 5 inch pulls and 10 inch pulls on Amazon for a great deal.
For the end panels of the cabinets, I ended up adding the same toe kicks that are sold separately for the bottom of the cabinets and had them cut to size. I stacked them like shiplap to create a more custom look.
And there you have it, white oak kitchen cabinets look for less!
Jamie Huisenga says
What did you use for the countertop? I just stained unfinished cabinets (from menards) with a different stain combo but with the same results and already installed the same knobs as well. Definitely stealing the idea for the sides of the cabinets. I was wanting to do something fun but affordable!
Hi! Ahhh yes its such a good idea! Glad I could help! We used a quartz countertop.
Jenny P says
I am in love with this idea! I have been wanting to refinish my oak cabinets for a while but couldn’t bear to paint over wood and wasn’t sure how to make a stain work with the veneer end caps. The toe kicks are genius! Do you think the same process would work if I sanded down the previous finish and then started with your steps? I am guessing it was the original stain from when the house was built in the early 2000s. Do you think sanding would be better than stripping or vice versa? Also, can you please share the brand/color of the flooring you used? We are looking to cover our ceramic tile with luxury vinyl planks. Thanks so much for a beautiful inspiration 😍
Thank you so much! For the cabinets I would recommend both stripping and sanding. If they currently have a dark stain I would strip first then sand. If you just want to lighten them a bit you could probably get away with sanding. You could use a sander/deglosser to remove the varnish first then sand lightly. If striping, I would recommend Citristip. It can get messy and sticky but works well to remove paint and varnish.
The flooring is laminate purchased at Lowe’s it’s Allen and Roth Urbanite Oak.
Jenny P says
Thank you again so much for this gorgeous inspiration!
Kelley Foess says
Hello – Your cabinets are beautiful. I’m an avid painter but new to sanding. You used stain and the pickling. I see Varathane has a White Oak color. Did you consider using that or what’s the reason the two step stain and pickling was needed?
Hi! Thank you! I used the pickling because I wanted a little bit of white to come through the stain but its not necessary, its just preference. If you find a stain color you really love then go for it and skip the pickling.
I just went to lowes yesterday and the sale lady said these are terrible quality 🙁 I was so sad as I just love this look. How long have you had and are you thinking they can hold up long term?
Hi! We’ve had them in our rental unit for over a year and they are still in great condition! We made sure to seal them to protect them and also added soft close hinges so they don’t slam shut. For the price they are great and I would purchase them again.
Interesting the lady was so hesitant for us to purchase! Thank you for the feedback.
Megan, I received the same treatment at Menards. I asked about the unfinished cabinets and was said oh are you interested in the “Cheap-O-” ones? Then listened to the guy just climb the price ladder showing more and more expensive “quality” options. He was a salesman, even saying he was steering me away from other options that would land him larger commissions when he just didn’t want me to buy the more affordable options (and smaller commissions). I could buy two complete sets of Cheap-O- cabinets with what he wanted me to buy….
AMY KOUNG says
Thank you so much Joanna! I copied your method on my bathroom’s vanities. It turned out great.
So glad to hear Amy! Thank you for sharing. I’m so happy they turned out great!
Thank you for this post. Wondering how you kept the stain and white wash for gathering in the corners and cracks of the cabinet doors?
Staining my white oak cabinets with min wax simply white.
Thanks in advance!!
Hi Caroline, thank you so much! My best advice is to apply thin even coats. Use a lint free rag and don’t start in the corners.
Thank you so much for your detailed post! I’m using it as a guide to redo my entire kitchen! I had a couple questions if you don’t mind. Do the front frame of the cabinets need sanding and staining, etc. or do you just have to do the doors? And did you glue the toe kicks onto the ends of the cabinets? If so, what glue do you recommend for that. Thank you again for the post, so grateful to redo my cabinets without spending a fortune.
Hi Kelsey! Thank you so much and I’m so excited you’re using this as a guide! Yes the front frame of the cabinets need light sanding and staining as well. I did add extra toe kicks for the cabinet ends. We ended up nailing it using a brad nailer, just two tiny nail holes on the far right and far left of the toe kicks, filling those holes with wood filler and sanding lightly before staining. We also glued it using my favorite wood glue, Titebond (the premium or Ultimate) work great!
Kelsey Smith says
Thank you so much for the response and all the help! Very excited for the finish result.
Natalie Belewich says
Thank you for sharing! I followed this exactly, step by step, and used the same pulls – we absolutely love the way our cabinets came out in our “extra” basement kitchen.
Hi! Thank you so much for letting me know! I’m so happy you love it!
How did you make the shelves?
Hi! We purchased 2×10 inch lumbar at Lowe’s. Sanded it down to smooth and stained. Then purchased the shelf brackets at Home Depot