Unfinished kitchen cabinet doors provide a versatile and budget-friendly option for homeowners and DIYers looking to renovate or remodel their kitchens. Unlike pre-finished cabinet doors that come with a set stain or paint color, unfinished cabinet doors can be customized with the stain, paint, or finish of your choice. This allows you to match your existing cabinetry, coordinate with your kitchen decor, or add a pop of color. With some basic tools and materials, you can transform unfinished doors into beautiful, personalized cabinetry for your home. This comprehensive guide will provide tips, considerations, and steps for working with unfinished cabinet doors in your kitchen remodel or upgrade.

Benefits of Choosing Unfinished Kitchen Cabinet Doors

Unfinished cabinet doors offer several advantages over pre-finished options:

Cost Savings

Unfinished doors are generally 15-30% cheaper than pre-finished doors. You avoid paying a premium for a pre-set stain or paint finish.


You can stain, paint, or finish the doors to match your existing cabinetry or create any custom look you desire. The options are limitless!

Ease of Repairs

If an unfinished door becomes damaged or worn over time, you can sand it down and refinish it easily. Prefinished doors are more difficult to patch or repair.

Coordination with Decor

Match your kitchen backsplash, countertops, flooring, or wall color by choosing a custom stain or paint for the doors.

DIY Appeal

Refinishing doors yourself can provide a sense of accomplishment and allow you to add personal flair.

For these reasons, homeowners on a tight budget or those who want to put their own creative stamp on their kitchen often opt for unfinished cabinet doors.

Considerations When Choosing Unfinished Doors

While unfinished doors provide versatility in finish options, keep the following factors in mind when choosing them:

Added Time Investment

You’ll need to properly prepare, finish, and seal the doors yourself. This adds time to your remodel.

Potential for Mistakes

DIY finishing has a learning curve. Without proper prep and technique, you risk errors in the final look.

Increased Mess & Fumes

Staining and painting creates dust, drips, and strong fumes. Proper ventilation and drop cloths are a must.

Variability in Quality

Not all unfinished doors are equal. Opt for thick, high-grade wood doors to accept finish evenly.

Limited Design Options

You may have fewer door style options compared to pre-finished. Simple Shaker styles are most common.

Weigh these factors carefully before committing to unfinished. With proper planning and preparation, these potential downsides can be mitigated.

Selecting the Best Unfinished Cabinet Doors

When choosing unfinished doors, look for:

  • Wood Species: Oak, maple, and poplar accept stain well. Pine is prone to dents but affordable. Cherry and walnut add richness.
  • Thickness: 1/2 inch minimum for durability. 5/8 inch or 3/4 inch are best for preventing warps.
  • Door Styles: Simple Shaker styles finish evenly. Avoid intricate grooves or inset panels.
  • Grade: Clear knot-free wood grades are worth the investment for an even finish.
  • Frame & Panel: Solid wood panel doors finish better than veneer surfaces.
  • Manufacturer’s Warranty: Seek at least a 1-year warranty against defects and warps.

Shop online retailers or local woodworkers to find high-quality unfinished doors worthy of your finishing efforts. Spend a bit more for durable, warp-resistant doors.

How to Finish Unfinished Cabinet Doors

Transforming unfinished doors into beautiful, custom cabinetry involves careful preparation, staining or painting, sealing, and rehanging:

Supplies Needed

  • Sandpaper (120, 220 grit)
  • Wood conditioner
  • Rags & tack cloth
  • Stain and/or paint
  • Foam brush applicators
  • Polyurethane (oil or water-based)
  • Drop cloths
  • Wood putty (for repairs)
  • Safety gear (gloves, mask, goggles)


  1. Remove doors and hardware if reusing hinges/handles
  2. Fill any holes/imperfections with wood putty
  3. Sand doors thoroughly with 120, then 220 grit sandpaper
  4. Wipe away dust with tack cloth
  5. Apply wood conditioner evenly and let sit per product directions
  6. Lightly sand again and wipe clean after conditioning


  1. Use drop cloths and work in a ventilated area
  2. Stir stain well and test on underside of door
  3. Apply stain along wood grain using foam brush
  4. Allow to sit for 5-15 minutes then wipe thoroughly
  5. Apply second coat if deeper color is desired
  6. Remove excess after 2-3 hours drying time


  1. Sand doors with 220 grit after prep steps above
  2. Wipe clean and apply 1-2 coats of primer evenly
  3. Lightly sand primer once fully dry
  4. Apply 2-3 thin coats of cabinet paint using foam brushes
  5. Allow proper drying time between coats

Sealing & Protecting

  1. Allow stain/paint to fully cure 24-48 hours after final coat
  2. Apply at least 3 coats of polyurethane with foam brush
  3. Lightly sand with 220 grit between coats
  4. Allow proper drying time between coats
  5. Install hardware and rehang doors after about 5 days

With care and patience, you can achieve stain-grade or painted cabinet doors indistinguishable from high-end prefinished doors at a fraction of the cost.

8 Popular Kitchen Cabinet Door Finishes

From natural wood grains to bold, saturated colors, the possibilities are endless for refinishing kitchen cabinet doors. Consider these popular finish options:

1. Golden Oak Stain

Warm golden oak stain on maple, oak, or birch doors adds a traditional, Craftsman-style look. Use a gel stain for deeper penetration into the wood grain.

2. Espresso Stain

For a modern, dramatic effect, apply an espresso or dark walnut stain to maple doors. Multiple coats enrich the chocolate tones.

3. Whitewash Stain

Achieve a timeworn, rustic vibe with a whitewash pickling stain on oak or pine doors. The aged white lets wood grain show through.

4. Cherry Stain

Cherry stains complement woods like maple and birch to give a rich burgundy hue. Use a conditioner for an even finish.

5. Chalk Paint

On top of proper primer, apply two coats of chalk paint for a smooth matte finish. Sand lightly between coats.

6. Navy Blue Paint

For a bold accent, paint doors navy blue using a thin foam roller. Pair with brass hardware for a nautical vibe.

7. Black Paint

Satin or high-gloss black paint lends doors major drama. Opt for oil-based alkyd paint for a durable, sleek finish.

8. Bright White Paint

Semi-gloss white painted doors keep the kitchen light and airy. Use a high-quality brush and take time with edges.

Beyond these popular options, don’t be afraid to get creative with unique wood grain stains, rich accent colors, or even wallpapered cabinet doors. Express your personal style!

Refinishing vs. Buying New Doors

Should you refinish your existing doors or purchase brand new cabinet doors when remodeling your kitchen? Consider the pros and cons of each option:

Refinishing Existing Doors


  • Cost-effective way to transform look
  • Retain quality of current cabinet boxes
  • Customize finish to match decor
  • Greener option than replacing


  • Time intensive process
  • Risk of finishing mistakes
  • Limitations in door style options
  • Difficult to drastically change door profile

Buying New Doors


  • Wider range of materials and styles
  • Can completely transform look
  • Professionally finished results
  • Quicker installation time


  • Much more expensive investment
  • Need to repaint or restain boxes to match
  • Existing cabinet boxes may look outdated

If your current doors and boxes are structurally sound, refinishing is typically the more eco-friendly and cost-effective option for upgrading your look. But if completely transforming the style, new doors allow wider possibilities.

Hiring a Professional vs. DIY Refinishing

You can also choose to hire a professional kitchen cabinet refinisher vs. tackling the project as a DIY job. Compare the pros and cons:

Professional Refinishing


  • Skilled results and expert techniques
  • Saves homeowner time and hassle
  • Ability to spray new finish for smooth coat
  • Handled off-site to minimize disruption


  • Added cost for labor fees
  • Wait time for pro availability
  • Less control over custom finish

DIY Refinishing


  • Greater cost savings
  • Personalized finish options
  • Learn a new skill and build expertise
  • Minimize strangers in your home


  • Learning curve with technique
  • Time intensive process
  • Potential for errors and rework
  • Worksite disruption and cleanup

DIY refinishing can yield big savings but requires diligence and patience. Professionals tackle the headaches for you but add expense. Weigh your budget, skills, and time allowance.

Maintaining Refinished Cabinet Doors

Once your doors are transformed, follow these tips to maintain their renewed beauty:

  • Use microfiber cloths to gently clean dirt and grease buildup
  • Avoid harsh cleaners or abrasive pads/sponges
  • Reseal with polyurethane every 2-3 years as needed
  • Spot treat any stains or scratches immediately
  • Store any leftover stain or paint for future touch ups
  • Replace damaged hardware for a quick visual refresh

With proper care, your refinished doors should maintain their good looks and avoid the need for a full refinishing for many years to come. Enjoy your updated kitchen!

Unfinished Kitchen Cabinet Doors: FAQs

Still have some lingering questions about working with unfinished cabinet doors? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

What’s the easiest way to get an even stain color?

Using a wood conditioner before staining helps the stain absorb evenly for a uniform color. Opt for gel stains as well for greater control.

How do I get a smooth painted finish?

Proper sanding, priming, thin coats, and adequate drying time between coats helps create a smooth, professional painted finish.

What sheen of polyurethane should I use to seal the doors?

For cabinet doors, opt for a satin, semi-gloss, or high gloss sheen. Glossier finishes are easiest to clean and hold up well.

Should I remove old doors to refinish or refinish in place?

Removing doors makes the process easier by allowing you to fully finish all sides. But in-place refinishing is possible for minimal disruption.

What do I do if the new finish doesn’t match my existing cabinets?

You’ll need to refinish or restain the existing cabinet boxes as well. Having leftover stain helps make the color match seamless.

Is it okay to mix wood species when buying new unfinished doors?

It’s best to match current cabinet wood species as closely as possible to accept stain consistently. Mixing can lead to uneven coloring.

How long does it take to fully refinish a kitchen’s worth of doors?

Expect the entire process to take 1-2 weeks working nights/weekends. Having two coats dry simultaneously speeds things up.

What safety precautions should I take?

Work in a well-ventilated area, wear gloves/goggles, and use respiratory masks when spraying or using harsh chemicals. Be mindful of fumes.


Refinishing your kitchen’s cabinet doors with stain, paint, or any custom finish opens up an affordable way to transform the look of your most-used space. Take time to properly select quality unfinished doors, prepare them thoroughly, and apply your coatings with care and patience. The result will be beautiful, personalized cabinetry you’ll enjoy for years to come in both form and function. With the right approach and techniques, you can tackle this project yourself and make your dream kitchen a reality.