Gel Stained Cabinets… Goodbye Honey Oak!

The cabinets are done! That was quite a project… not quick but totally worth it! Gel stain is my new favorite product. It’s pretty amazing that it can go over the honey oak wood so easily and still let the grain show through… and the best part? Minimal sanding. I also can’t believe the difference new, modern hardware makes… ahh so lovely.

Here’s the before/after from our kitchen:

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Here is the step by step we took in the cabinet renovation!

1. Remove all cabinet doors, drawers and hardware. And set up a workspace that you can use untouched for awhile. We used the garage since it’s been pretty chilly here.


2. Clean everything with Lysol wipes.

3. Do a quick sand on each door, drawer and cabinet base. A sanding block worked great. No need to spend a ton of time here, really you just need to break up the existing clear coat a bit.

4. Wipe off all of the dust with a tack cloth or damp wash cloth.

5. Start laying down the first coat of stain! We used the General Finishes Java Gel Stain as shown below (and that’s the top coat we used at the end… I’ll get to that!). It was best to use men’s gym sock to apply the stain…make sure you put on a latex glove under the sock to keep the stain off your hands. Let the first coat fully dry at least 24 hours and until not tacky. This coat will look a little scary (streaky and light)… but just keep going! Read on for more tips on the staining process…


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Staining tips:

  • A little stain goes a long way! Start with a dab and cover all areas of the cabinet. You don’t want to go over the same spot a bunch of times because that is when streaks start to happen. It worked best when we just put a thin coat on quickly, making sure there were no clumps or runs, and then just let it be.
  • Use a small foam brush to get into the creases and cracks between the cabinet bases.
  • The first coat sets the stage of the rest, make sure it’s even.
  • Go with the natural wood grain when staining.
  • Dry time was from 24-48 hours per coat. That probably went a lot faster for us being in a dry climate… just make sure the stain is fully dry and not tacky.
  • Use painters tape to tape off the kitchen floors and paint… we did drip a little onto our hardwood and the magic eraser cleaned it right up!

6. Apply the second coat, allow to dry. Apply the third coat, allow to dry. We ended up applying a fourth coat to the cabinet bases only. They were coming up lighter than the doors and drawers so we decided we needed one more coat on there to make sure we had an even color in the end.

It will all start to come together! The hardest part is having the patience to let it fully dry. We were so excited to see the finished product!

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7. Top coat – after the last coat of stain is completely dry put the top coat on (also with a sock). This only had to dry 6 hours and we did two coats. It really makes a difference in the end… polishes it all right up.

8. Hinges – so instead of buying all new hinges which would’ve been pricy we decided to try spray painting them with my favorite nickel satin spray paint. It worked great. Just do thin layers and let them dry completely so the hinges don’t get clogged up.

9. Pulls – we ordered new, more modern pulls.

10. We had to wait on our pulls to get here so we went ahead and reattached the doors and drawers.


11. And finally we added the beautiful hardware! By the way this is the best drill ever. I had been trying to use Eric’s heavy drill and my awesome Father-in-law got me a lighter one that’s all my own :). I love it!

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We are so happy with the update! It’s made the granite look so much different too! The kitchen is a work in progress for us. We eventually want to get stainless steal appliances and replace the lighting but for now are really enjoying the results of this project!

Let me know if you have any questions about the process!


10 responses to “Gel Stained Cabinets… Goodbye Honey Oak!

  1. It looks like a totally different kitchen! I love those bowls, btw, where are they from?

  2. Thanks! They are from Crate and Barrel… I love them too!

  3. Bill Roth

    I can’t believe what you are becoming!!

    Bill Roth basics team founder 720.232.4872

    Sent from my iPhone


  4. Sean

    You two did an great job! I can’t wait for you to give my cabinets that updated look! 😉

  5. Heather

    Did you have to sand in between coats? Just applied my first coat on a dining room chest.

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