A Detailed Guide on Unfinished Kitchen Cabinets

Unfinished kitchen cabinets offer a versatile and budget-friendly option for your kitchen remodel or new construction project. With a bit of elbow grease and creativity, unfinished cabinets can be customized to match your unique style and space. This comprehensive guide will walk you through everything you need to know, from types of unfinished cabinets and finishes to pricing and installation. Arm yourself with information to make the best choice for your needs and style.

What are Unfinished Kitchen Cabinets?

Unfinished or raw kitchen cabinets come with no final outer coating or finish. The wood surface is sanded and prepared but lacks stain, paint, glaze, or other finishing touches. Unfinished cabinets provide a blank canvas to apply your own custom color or finish.

The term “unfinished” indicates an absence of a final finish, not poor construction quality. Unfinished cabinets are made from the same high-quality materials and sturdy construction as pre-finished cabinets. Most are constructed from moisture-resistant plywood with solid wood frames and doors. Durability and structure are unaffected by the lack of final paint or stain.

Benefits of Choosing Unfinished Cabinets

Affordability – Unfinished cabinets cost 20-30% less than pre-finished cabinets. You save money by applying finishes yourself instead of paying a markup for a factory finish.

Customization – With unfinished cabinets, you choose the exact stain, paint, glaze, distressing or other finish. Personalize to match your decor and style. Finished cabinets limit you to color and style options predetermined by the manufacturer.

Eco-Friendly – Unfinished wood cabinets typically utilize sustainable forestry practices. Avoiding a chemical pre-finish prevents VOC off-gassing in your home. An eco-friendly site-finished process allows you to control the materials used.

DIY Project – Applying your own finishes can be an enjoyable DIY project. Take pride in the finished product of your design ideas and handiwork.

Types of Unfinished Kitchen Cabinets

Stock or Base Cabinets – The most affordable option. Stock unfinished cabinets come in standard sizes and configurations. Available styles include shaker, recessed panel, and slab door designs. Stock cabinets offer the least flexibility but cost savings can be substantial.

Semi-Custom Cabinets – Offer more sizing options than stock cabinets while remaining budget-friendly. With semi-custom lines, height, depth, and door style can typically be modified. Semi-custom unfinished cabinets provide a middle ground between customization and cost savings.

Custom Cabinets – Completely customizable sizing and storage options. Modify dimensions, add cabinets and drawers, change door style – anything you can imagine. The ultimate in personalization and functionality. The downside is substantially higher cost.

Popular Unfinished Cabinet Door Styles

Shaker – A versatile, clean-lined rectangular door frame. Combines well with a variety of home aesthetics from traditional to contemporary. Can also highlight dramatic finishes.

Slab – A simple, minimalist door consisting of a single flat panel. Eliminates visible frame sections for a streamlined, contemporary look. Stain or paint is uninterrupted, creating bold color blocks.

Recessed Panel – Traditional style with center panel set back inside the horizontal and vertical door frame edges. The inward-facing panel design pairs well with ornate trim and embellished decor.

Flat Panel – Resembles recessed panel doors but lacks framing sections. The integrated horizontal and vertical grooves add definition while maintaining a streamlined appearance.

Distressed – Intentionally worn or weathered finish to mimic signs of aging and wear. Often includes physical distressing like rasping or worm holes for added character. A vintage, timeworn aesthetic.

Ideal Finishes for Unfinished Kitchen Cabinets

Stains – Available in a spectrum of opacities from light tone washes to rich saturated stains. Consider oil-based vs water-based. Gel stains offer thicker consistency for more dramatic effects.

Paints – Give cabinets a fresh painted look in any color imaginable. Use high quality cabinet paint for durability. Consider primers, topcoats, and techniques like distressing.

Glazes – Translucent colored topcoats used to modify stained cabinets. Glazing adds deeper color tones, contrasts, and accentuates wood grain. Multiple coats create buildable effects.

Oils – Penetrating finishes that enhance natural wood grain. Oil and wax blends offer mild luster and protection. Oils like tung oil dry slowly for gradual curing and muted look.

Waxes – Used alone for subtle protection and sheen or as a topcoat over stains, paints, and oils. Offer a soft satin luster and protective seal. Apply paste wax for protective patina.

Lacquers – Quick drying and highly durable. Easy to apply and repair. Requires respirator mask due to toxic VOCs. Consider water-based options as a safer alternative to solvent-based.

Varnishes – Similar to lacquer with slightly longer dry time. Provides a clear, protective, durable coating. Gloss, satin, and matte finishes available. Select oil or water-based varnish.

How Much do Unfinished Kitchen Cabinets Cost?

In general, expect to pay 20-30% less for unfinished cabinets compared to pre-finished. Keep in mind that your total project cost increases back up when factoring in finish materials and labor to complete the process.

Cabinet TypeCost Per Linear Foot

Costs vary based on door style, wood species, construction quality, and customizations. Expect to pay more for features like soft-close hinges, organizational inserts, and matching cabinet hardware.

Tips for Finishing Unfinished Cabinets

  • Carefully read and follow finish product instructions. Pay attention to dry times, sanding requirements, and application techniques.
  • Use high quality primer, paint, stain and topcoats formulated for cabinets and kitchen use. Avoid cheap products with high VOCs and strong odors.
  • Sand cabinets with progressively finer grit sandpaper before applying finishes for enhanced adhesion.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area and use respiratory protection. Finishing can generate harmful fumes.
  • Apply multiple thin, even coats of finish instead of one thick coat. Thin coats provide better adhesion and a smoother look.
  • Distress and sand between coats to achieve an aged, worn look if desired. Consider glazing over stains or paints.
  • Allow proper dry time between coats – at least 24 hours is recommended for most cabinet finishes.
  • Hire a professional if you don’t have the time, skill or breathing protections to take on the finishing process yourself.

Ordering and Installing Unfinished Kitchen Cabinets

Follow typical cabinet construction and installation techniques when working with unfinished cabinets. Wait until after cabinets are installed before applying any finishes.

  1. Have a designer create a detailed kitchen layout and cabinet measurements. Obtain contractor quotes for installation.
  2. Select cabinet type, door style, wood species and order cabinets based on kitchen design specifications. Include matching unfinished cabinet hardware if desired.
  3. Ensure proper delivery timelines and inspect cabinets upon arrival. Report any shipping damage immediately and do not install damaged cabinets.
  4. Hire a contractor to install cabinets securely according to design layout. Check for plumb and level installation and make any needed adjustments.
  5. Apply desired finishes after cabinets are installed. Follow all finish product instructions closely. Allow finishes to fully cure before use.
  6. Install cabinet hardware like knobs, pulls, and drawer slides after finishing is complete.
  7. Stock cabinets with dishes, food items and accessories. Enjoy your beautiful new custom finished kitchen!

Unfinished kitchen cabinets provide flexibility and customization at a fraction of the cost of buying pre-finished. Follow the recommendations in this guide and you can achieve magazine-worthy style tailored exactly to your unique taste. Let your creativity run wild! With unfinished cabinets, the possibilities are truly endless.

Frequently Asked Questions About Unfinished Kitchen Cabinets

What are the benefits of unfinished kitchen cabinets?

The main benefits of unfinished kitchen cabinets are affordability, customization, being eco-friendly, and offering a fun DIY project. Unfinished cabinets cost 20-30% less than pre-finished. You can apply your own custom stain, paint or finish. Unfinished wood is eco-friendly. Finishing them yourself can be a rewarding project.

Do unfinished cabinets offer the same quality as pre-finished?

Yes, unfinished cabinets provide the same durable construction as pre-finished cabinets. The wood is the same quality and the frames and doors undergo the same manufacturing processes. Only the final finishing step is left out.

What are the most popular unfinished cabinet door styles?

The most popular door styles for unfinished cabinets are shaker, slab, recessed panel, flat panel, and distressed. Shaker offers versatile clean lines while slab provides a minimalist contemporary look. Recessed panel is traditional and distressed creates a vintage feel.

What are the most commonly used finishes for unfinished cabinets?

Popular finishes include oil or water-based stains, cabinet paint, glazes, oils like tung oil, waxes, lacquers, and varnishes. Consider durability, look, and your safety when selecting finishes.

How much do unfinished kitchen cabinets typically cost?

On average, expect to pay $50-150 per linear foot for stock unfinished cabinets, $150-300 for semi-custom, and $300+ per linear foot for fully custom unfinished cabinets. Total costs depend on customization.

What tips should I follow when finishing unfinished cabinets?

Carefully follow all finish product instructions. Sand before finishing. Work in a well-ventilated area and use appropriate safety gear. Apply thin, even coats of finish and allow proper drying times between coats. Distress or sand if desired.