I have always hated our golden oak cabinets and once we decided that we were giving ourselves granite countertops for Christmas, I knew it was time to ditch the golden oak. I read up on all the different processes and after consulting the friendly associates at Sherwin Williams, I decided to sand them almost down to the bare wood. I determined that our cabinets were most likely finished with lacquer based on the wear that was visible in areas exposed to water, like near the sink. Lacquer will meld with other layers of coatings and can cause your topcoat to be uneven, blotchy and just cause lots of problems. So, it was suggested to use Spar Urethane, which is less likely to react with lacquer, if any traces were left. I opted not to use any chemical strippers, because it can open the grain too much on oak and make your stain really soak in and be harder to control.
Now keep in mind, that all of my painting opinions are just opinions. They are based on lots of research, but, still just my experience/opinion.
After sanding off almost all of the finish with ultra-abrasive 80 grit sandpaper, we then wiped down all surfaces with acetone. What a mess! Even though it looked like we had sanded down to bare wood, the acetone still made the wood extremely sticky, which made me think this was the lacquer still in the wood. After the acetone clean-up, I let everything dry overnight. So, here’s the stain I decided to use (at left). There are several ways to apply this stain. I chose to brush it on, using a good quality natural bristle brush. If you want a more transparent stain, you would wipe off the excess. I like the deep red look and didn’t wipe off. This type of stain can even be used on metal – like for a door that you want to look like wood – and the way you brush it on creates the look of wood grain. I loved the way it reduced the grain of the oak and made it look a bit more like a darker stained cherry wood.
Here’s a door comparison. The golden oak is put to shame by the new glamorous Red Mahogany Gel Stain. And the gel stain was the easiest part. It was the Spar Urethane that was such a monster. The first gallon I bought was Semi Gloss and it came out super glossy and looked nothing like the “professional” fancy cabinets at the store. And of course, that was the level of perfection I was aiming to achieve. So, I went back and bought a gallon of Satin finish instead. And this time it came out satin . . . well, except for the shiny parts. ARGHHH!! You can see my inconsisent satin vs shiny finish in the small photo below. The horizontal part on the bottom is perfect satin and the vertical part is shiny. Same finish, same technique. Way different results.
So, I sanded down once again, and this time I thinned the urethane with paint thinner. And the results . . . ultra dull, so flat, so ugly. Darn! I sanded down AGAIN and re-applied the satin. Much better . . . except for the few shiny parts. Agony! I decided I must have not stirred the product properly. So, I bought a new quart. And the last coat was beautiful! Finally!
And to recap, let’s look at the kitchen before all the sanding and staining and super shiny finish coats, and the not so shiny ones too! Maybe next time I’ll stick with polyurethane.
I haven’t even discussed my frustration with the tiny particles landing in my glass like finish while drying. After much frustration, I learned that it’s a good idea to turn off the heat to cut down on circulating air during the first few hours of drying. It did make a big difference. If I had it to do all over again, I would re-use the tiny holes I found on the back side of all the doors, insert a small nail and hang the doors to dry. I did notice that the horizontal surfaces dried relatively particle free. So, if possible, hang the doors to dry. Unless, of course you are not affected by perfectionism and can deal with a few specs of dust that no one else but you will notice.
But, look at these results! Almost worthy of those granite countertops now!