Installing Kitchen Cabinets: Step 3 - Finishing

Note: Step 3 pertains to unfinished cabinets. For prefinished cabinets, you may skip to step 4.


Carefully read and follow the instructions provided with any finishing product. Choose a work area that is brightly lit and as dust-free as possible. Select the appropriate application tools - rags, brushes, etc. Remember, the better the brush,
the better the results. Apply exactly the same number of coats of finish to each surface. This will reduce the chance of warpage due to changing moisture conditions.

Be sure of your choice of finish before you begin. Choose an inconspicuous part of the cabinet to test your selection (such as the back side of the face frame or drawer front. If the paint or stain does not achieve the results you want, stop, and choose one that does.

Sand the edges and surfaces with fine (220 grit) sandpaper. Sand with the grain, either by hand or with a straight line reciprocating sander for stain or natural finishes. Orbital sanders are all right for painted surfaces where the grain won't be seen. Pick up sanding dust with a tack cloth to assure a dust-free surface. A dirty or dusty surface will have a negative effect on how any finish adheres. Keep your work area dust-free, especially when
applying final coats.


Prime particleboard orfiberboard with a sanding sealer or primer coat of a type recommended by the paint manufacturer. After priming or sealing, sand lightly (320 grit) to remove brush marks and dust. Use a tack cloth to pick up the dust. Apply as many coats of paint as it takes to achieve the desired results. Sand lightly between coats and gain
use the tack cloth to pick up the dust.


There are several types of stains on the market - oils, pastes, gels, alcohol, latex (water-based), etc., and several methods of application. Some will require a top coat of varnish, lacquer or plastic-based finish, while others will not. Ask us for assistance to achieve the best results. Once you make your selection, follow the manufacturer's instructions exactly, and you achieve the best results.

Before most stains are applied, the use of a wash-type sealer is recommended to avoid a blotchy-looking stain. This is especially important on birch or alder. Check the label on your stain for specific instructions before
using any sealer. Most stain manufacturers also produce a sealer. However, you can make your own by mixing five parts of the manufacturer-recommended thinner to one part varnish.

Brush the sealer on uniformly, applying one coat over the entire surface. The sealer will be invisible (no color or gloss) when dry. Then very lightly sand off any raised grain or dust particles with a fine (320 grit) sandpaper.

Now follow the manufacturer's instructions for applying their stain. Note that most will recommend allowing the stain to stand on the surface until sufficient penetration gives you the desired tone, at which point you wipe off any excess stain. When dry, do not sand.


Many varnish- and lacquer-type finishes are available in full-gloss, semi-gloss (satin) and dull finishes. Even a "clear" finish (without a stain) will provide some color and bring out the grain pattern with a "wetted" look.

Apply at least two coats of finish, allowing each coat to thoroughly dry and lightly sanding between coats with extra fine (600 grit) sandpaper or four-ought (0000) steel wool.

Use a tack cloth to pick up any resulting dust.

Apply the finish in a full, wet coat - the the edges first, and then to other surfaces, brushing lightly in the direction of the grain, to minimize brush marks. On semi-gloss (satin) finishes, rub out with four-ought (0000) steel wool after the finish is thoroughly dry.

Note: Take care when top-coating a stained piece - excessive application may remove some of the stain.


Prepare surfaces properly. If oil is too thick, thin it by heating the container with hot tap water.

Apply oil with a brush or lint-free, tightly woven cotton cloth (old sheet or dress shirt) generously until surface no longer absorbs oil. Buff the surface with a tightly woven cotton cloth until you cannot cannot pick up any oil by touching with your finger. Allow to dry 8 to 12 hours.

Repeat the entire process until you achieve the desired finish. Generally, three coats are sufficient.


NEXT: Step Four: Installing

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