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Staining Oak Cabinets an Espresso Finish {FAQ’s}

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January 2018: Hi there! Welcome to the FAQ’s from my most popular post ever. I’ve since sold and moved from this home, but I wanted to update this post and state that the cabinets were in fabulous shape even four years after this post when we sold our home. Also, I’m still blogging and sharing DIY ideas, so head to the main page to see my latest posts.

We now live in a new home, and I hope you come check out my foyer, living room, dining space, office and our white kitchen (yup, after all this, I chose a white kitchen when we built our home!)

I get many e-mails about my honey oak to espresso staining tutorial, and most of the questions are recurring ones, so I’ve started an FAQ (see below). I update it as needed, so feel free to bookmark this page.

1.) Have you done your kitchen cabinets yet? I’d love to see them!
-Nope! We’ve been focusing all of our effort on finishing up the office/dining room and getting the darn bathroom renovation done. We sold and moved from this home in 2016.

2.) What kind of sock? Really? Why? Are you sure? The white kind?
-Bottom line: men’s cotton athletic socks, Hanes or store brand doesn’t matter, and it’s because it simply works. If you want to use something else, that’s cool.

3.) Why General Finishes? Why can’t I use <insert other stain brand here>? Does it really matter?
-Well, this stain works well, is easy to work with, has excellent coverage and I love it. I haven’t had luck with other stains. If you have and want to use something else, that’s great. I only will recommend General Finishes for this specific project. Because it works. So yeah. :)

4.) Does the stain have bad odor or fumes?
-Not that I can recall. As always, ventilation is important, so open a window, run a fan/vent, or work in a garage if possible.

5.) What kind of poly did you use? How long did you wait between poly coats?
This satin top coat is what I used.. I wanted a non-high gloss finish. If you can’t find this poly, I would recommend any water based poly and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for drying time. I also applied it with a sock.

6.) Has the stain held up?
-Granted I don’t have kids, but the stain has held up to me scrubbing with a Lysol wipe and no issues for nearly 4 years now.

7.) Should I stain my cabinets?
-Up to you! It’s easy. :)

8.) Does this work on bare wood? Why not? Wouldn’t it? Do you know how to make it work on bare wood?
-It’ll likely take some extra coats, but it should all even out in the end since it’s so dark.

9.) Will this work on my white cabinets (or any other color)?
I think it’ll work on white paint as long as you’re ok with 2 things:
1- you likely won’t see a ton of wood grain
2- it may take more coats

Other than that, the process is exactly the same. Again, I’ve never tried it, it’s just what I think. I make NO guarantees.

10.) Do you have any photos showing your vanity completely finished?
-See below:
DIY Stain honey oak cabinets with gel stain to get modern, dark espresso kitchen or bathroom cabinets for under $50. This tutorial is amazing!

11.) Amazon is sold out. Where else can I buy it? What if I live in Canada or the moon and can’t find it?
Amazon usually has it in stock in various sizes, so you should be able to find it.

12.) How long did you wait to put on the hardware?
-1 full day after my final topcoat.

13.) Will this work on <insert other random piece of furniture here>?
-Definitely! Stair rails, dressers, beds. Stain away.

14.) What if it’s particle board/laminate?
-Treat it the same way. You’ll be fine.

15.) OMG I think I screwed up my cabinets.
-You likely put too much stain. The solution isn’t to put more, it’s to let it dry completely, put less next time, and move on. :)

16.) Are you SURE I don’t have to chemically strip my <insert piece of oak furniture here>?
-I’m positive. People, I am not lying. Make sure to clean with TSP or use a deglosser for greasy kitchen cabinets, but no need to strip your cabinets to bare wood.

If you’d like to see the full tutorial 
on how to get these results, go here.

If you’d like to see my inspiration for 
doing this in the first place, go here.


Tuesday 21st of June 2016

Found you through pinterest too! I went to Amazon to get the gel and then wondered if there was a color a step lighter. Has anyone had success with another color of Gel Stain from General Finishes? I saw an Antique Walnut...Not sure Im brave enough to go all the way to Java when most of my house is painted white. But want to follow your advise to not diviate! Thoughs? Thanks! [email protected]


Tuesday 31st of May 2016

Awesome tutorial an FAQs! I'm settling into a new place and most of my living room furniture is second hand (or third) from various family members, but ALL of it is that honey oak color... the only wood finish I don't like! So I'm planning on staining some of it darker and painting a couple things a bright accent color, but I really did not want to have to totally strip the two big cabinet units to stain them, since they're kind of enormous and I'd have a hell of a time getting them back out of the living room, so it's great to have proof that it does work just fine to sand the finish a bit and stain over it, an a specific stain that definitely works! Also very much appreciate FAQ #4 mentioning that the General Finishes stain/poly hold up to Lysol wipes, since they're my preferred everyday cleaning method and certain finishes DON'T react well to them!


Sunday 15th of May 2016

Reading this in 2016-so grateful for all your advice! Currently staining with Java in my bathroom and if it goes well next year I'll tackle the bottom 1/2 of my kitchen and island.


Tuesday 26th of April 2016

I would love to try this in my RV, LOTS of pine cabinets that I wish were dark...putting it on my wish list!


Monday 28th of March 2016

Started this project in my bathroom this weekend...can't wait for next weekend to finish with top coats and hardware!!! This is so easy and really very little mess!

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