Stripping Stained Cabinet Doors

Most woodworkers find that stripping stained cabinet doors as opposed to those that are painted to be a much easier, less time-consuming task. For stained wood coated in lacquer, polyurethane, or similar products, the process entails removing as much of the old coating as possible. But because these finishes are, for the most part, clear, while paint obviously is not, even if you miss a few spots, the end result remains satisfactory.

To Prepare for a New Finish

The color removed when stripping stained cabinet doors can never be totally taken out. Because any stain applied is absorbed through the pores of the wood, removing any but that absorbed in the top layers is impossible. By removing any old clear finish as well as the top layers of the wood containing stain, however, after sanding leaves an attractive, smooth surface on which to apply new, fresh products more successfully.

Getting Started Right: Use Quality Products and Buy Enough

To make the job a lot easier, first remove all the hardware and then the doors themselves when stripping stained cabinet doors. Lay them down on a flat surface in a well-ventilated area such as a garage floor with the garage doors open.


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Use the same chemical remover to remove the old clear finish, whatever it is, i.e., lacquer, varnish, polyurethane, etc., when stripping stained cabinet doors, the same as you would do if they had been painted. Always use a high-quality product. The higher price of good paint removers pays off in the long run with less product used and much better results.

When stripping stained cabinet doors, you won't need as much paint remover as you would if the doors were painted, but make sure you have enough on hand so you won't need to stop in the middle of everything and run to the hardware store for more. Keep in mind that you can always return and get your money back on any unopened containers of paint remover (keep your receipt!).

Protect Yourself and Work Correctly

Always keep gloves and a facemask on hand when stripping stained cabinet doors. To guard against eye irritation, wear goggles. Even though you may be working in a garage with doors wide open, fumes from chemical paint removers can affect your vision as well as your breathing and not using gloves invites damage to the skin from harsh chemicals.

Steel wool or synthetic steel wool (a product manufactured by the 3M company is recommended) works best when stripping stained cabinet doors. Work in small areas rubbing with the grain of the wood, rinsing the steel wool or synthetic pad when it becomes saturated with old finish. When done properly, the color of the wood evens out, leaving a clean, smooth surface.

Nothing Like Good Results

Stripping stained cabinet doors does not require the same amount of elbow grease as does stripping those that are painted, but it does require work. Be prepared to invest adequate time to do the job properly if you want the best results. And then afterward, also be prepared for the feeling of satisfaction of having cabinet doors ready and waiting for a clean, newly applied finish that will add years to the life of your cabinets and years to the good looks of your room.

See Also:

Adding Moulding to Dress up Cabinet Doors