Kitchen Cabinet Finishes and Staining Terms and Their Definitions

Cabinet Finishes and Options Defined

If you're planning or undergoing a kitchen renovation, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the terms surrounding your cabinet finishes. Your kitchen cabinets are a major component of your kitchen, and probably the most used element in the room. Cabinets are not only functional, they can set the aesthetic vibe for the entire space. If you're home features an open concept, your kitchen cabinet finish can tie your entire living space together.

Cabinet finishes and finishing techniques run the gamut of styles and textures. Cabinets are available with the following finishes. Each provides its own unique character:

Natural – basically just a coat of lacquer or clear coat on the unit. This allows the true beauty of the wood to shine through.

Stain – Stained finishes are available in a variety of colors and their look varies depending on the wood species used.

Paint – Painted cabinets are smooth and can be done in any color. It can match and color you choose.

Glaze – Glazed finishes are added after other finishing like painting or staining. Glazing can give cabinets an antique look, or add a different hue to the cabinet.

Wash – A washed finish on a cabinet refers to a light coating over the unit and is typically done in white or gray. They can really bring out the grain in the wood.

Cabinet Finishes and Stains

There are literally dozens of types of wood stains, glazes, paints and sealers that fall under these five finish types and there are many different ways to apply them. This can be confusing for homeowners. The best path if you are considering cabinet finishes is to educate yourself of the finishing vocabulary of cabinetmakers in order to have an informed conversation and make the best choice for your home. Here are some finishing and staining terms to get you started.

Blotching – This is an uneven stain color on wood caused by the inconsistencies of the natural porosity/density of the wood and the inconsistent color absorption. Softwoods like pine, alder, poplar, fir and spruce are most prone to blotching. However hardwoods with smooth surface areas can also resist stain absorption and may also be prone to blotching.

Gel Stain – is a thickened stain used on porous wood to give a more even finish. The thick gel sits on top of the wood and does not settle into the deep pores. It's less likely to run or splatter and are often used on non-porous woods. Gel stains can pool in corners, v-grooves and detailed areas making them look darker.

Lacquer – One of the faster drying finish types and is sprayed on. Lacquer is related to shellac and like shellac, it produced from the secretions of the female lac insect. Lacquer is typically shellac mixed with a resin, polymer or plasticizer that allows it to bind properly.

Shellac – Shellac is produced from the same lac insect secretions as lacquer, but is mixed with solvent to create a fast-drying clear coat. It is easily damaged by moisture, heat, and is prone to scratching.

Varnish – Made from oil cooked with resin s a binding agent it dries more slowly than shellac or lacquer. Once it's properly cured it is very hard and durable. It can take up to a month to fully harden. Once oxidized, varnish resists water, scratching, heat and solvent which is why it can be used outdoors. It is thicker and much more flammable than lacquer.

Polyurethane – is a type of plastic used in everything from insulation to toys. It is used in liquid form as a wood finish. It's available in both a water-based and oil-based form. Water -based offers easier cleanup, oil-based takes longer to dry and can add an amber hue to the wood.

Spray – Spray is any stain that can be sprayed on with a spray gun and is thinner than brushed stains.

Wiping Stain – Any stain that needs to be wiped off after applying. It can be applied using a brush, spray, cloth or roller. When not properly wiped off, they can affect subsequent layers and the results are unpredictable.

Wood Conditioner – This is often used to pretreat porous wood. Some cabinetmakers prefer to use thicker gel stains rather than wood conditioners which needs to dry overnight.

Clear Stain- Clear stain protects the wood from water and food and can also block UV rays while leaving the natural wood color and grain intact.

Semi-solid Stain – has less pigment that solid stain so you can still see the woodgrain after staining. It does completely transform the color of the wood underneath.

Solid Stain – completely conceals the wood grain, but allows texture to show if the surface hasn't been sanded.

Semi-transparent Stain – This has some pigment which can help block UV rays, but not enough pigment to block the woodgrain.

Oil-based Stains – Oi-based stain offers a durable, protective coating that is appropriate for outdoor use in high-traffic areas where water resistance is important. Oil based stains emit volatile organic compounds or VOCs so they should only be used in a well ventilated area.

Water-based Stain – These dry quickly and produce less harmful fumes than oil-based stains. Unlike oil-based, they are not flammable so clean up is easier. They are also not as durable, protective or long lasting as oil-based stains.

This Finish and Stain Glossary can help you to understand the terminology used by cabinetmakers when it comes time to select your cabinet finishes. Becoming an educated consumer is the best way to make and informed decision when it comes to your kitchen remodeling project.

Your cabinet finishes are an important element in your kitchen remodeling project. By understanding the terminology, you can be assured that you will make the best decision for your home. Work with your design build contractor or kitchen designer to further explore all of the options available. Your kitchen cabinets are a visual focal point in your kitchen. With a little knowledge, you can make the perfect choice for your new dream kitchen.