Tuesday, January 16, 2018

How to Glaze Cabinets with Gel Stain

Glazing cabinets is an easy way to update the look and feel of your space. Using a gel stain as the glaze requires minimal work and maximum results. My kinda project! I love the deep, rich tones of the wood after glazing it. Today I'm sharing our adventures in glazing the bathroom cabinet. Keep reading for all the ins and outs of glazing.

How to Glaze Cabinets

For a while now, the cabinet in the kids bathroom has needed an update. The kids splash and spill water all over. Pretty much what all kids do, but over time that water has wreaked havoc on our cabinet finish.

update scuffed up cabinets
But update the cabinets? To me that seemed like a very scary proposition. I visualized sanding down all those crevices, applying stripper, reapplying stain and lacquer. All of that would take hours upon hours of work. It was not something I was looking forward to.

My whole perspective on it changed one weekend. We bought a used piece of furniture that was made from knotty alder. {Our cabinets are also knotty alder} But it had this rich, darker finish that I absolutely loved. I REALLY liked it and mentioned that I wished our cabinets had that finish.

Well my husband turned to the internet and determined that it was probably some type of glazing. A few days later, my husband had work off and we spent the morning at different home improvement stores trying to figure out the products to use to create this same look. We came home with a gel stain, mineral spirits and lacquer in a spray can.

We decided to experiment on the bathroom. Being unsure of the outcome, we wanted to start in a place that wouldn't be as overwhelming to redo again {like the kitchen!} It ended up that we LOVE how it turned out and it was so easy to do.

We started this project about 5pm. At 8 pm, not only was it all done, but we had prepared and eaten dinner and had done the dishes during the drying times.

UPDATE: I recently glazed a hutch using this same method. Go check it out: Hutch Makeover

How to Glaze Cabinets with Gel Stain

How to Glaze cabinets with gel stain

Supplies Needed to Glaze Cabinets: 

Mineral spirits
Lacquer - we used a satin finish
Old rags
Rubber gloves

Glaze- There are a few different types of glaze. We decided to use a gel stain. 

We used Old Masters in American Walnut. Honestly the stain was the hardest thing to find. Our first two stops had only 2 or 3 options on gel stain colors. We ended up going to a paint specialty store, then we had the problem of too many options! I think the stain we picked works really well with our knotty alder cabinets.

Below are a few affiliate links to the products we used. If you have a hard time finding gel stain in your area, this may be helpful.  {I will earn a small commission should you choose to buy something, the cost to you is the same}

Tip: If you don't know which stain color will look best, try it out on the inner side of the cabinet.

use gel stain as a glaze

How to Glaze Cabinets

Step 1 - Remove doors and drawers and remove hardware

Remove the doors. Unscrew and remove the handles and knobs. Take the drawers out.

Step 2 - Wash cabinets

Clean off any dirt or grime that may have accumulated. This includes on the doors, drawers and cabinet base. We also have a bit of wood trim on our countertop. I cleaned that off as well.

Step 3 - Apply a light coat of lacquer, if needed.

Let me explain this step a little bit. This step is not always necessary. The gel stain is to be applied to a finished piece of wood in order to act as a glaze. If applied directly to unfinished wood, it will act as a stain.

In most cases, cabinets will be finished. However, our cabinets {especially along the bottom} had places where the finish was no longer there. If we had applied the stain without a barrier, we would have had big splotchy places where the stain soaked into the wood. Thus, the need for a quick coat of lacquer.

Tip: Glaze can also be applied to painted cabinets.

prep work for glazing cabinets

Step 4 - Add interest with "wormholes"

This step is also optional. Basically you create little holes by pounding a nail into the surface of the wood.

I was hesitant to do this, but my husband insisted. I grew up helping my dad who made cabinets for a living. I took wood shop in high school. I cannot count the hours of sanding I've done to remove blemishes and imperfections from wood. So to put blemishes there intentionally goes against all I've learned about woodworking.

I will admit that it brings character to the finished product, but I'm not sure that I will do this when we refinish our kitchen.

Step 5 - Apply the gel stain

Using an clean rag {we cut up an old t-shirt}, apply the gel stain to the cabinet door. Really work it into the grooves of the wood and make sure you apply it all over.
Tip: Gel stain dries pretty quickly, so work on one door, drawer or section of cabinet at a time.

applying gel stain

 Step 6 - Remove excess gel stain

Grab another rag and wipe off the cabinet. The color will remain, but we are working to remove the splotches from application. The grooves will remain darker in color. We used a brush to blend a little bit along the grooves. Allow the stain to dry before moving on to the next step - 10 minutes or so.

Tip: If you don't like the way it looks, you can wipe it down with mineral spirits and start over.

before and after gel stain glaze

Step 7 -  Finish off with a coat of lacquer

 Once the stain has dried, apply two thin coats of lacquer, drying completely between coats. Be sure to work in a well ventilated area, where possible. In the bathroom we turned on the fan, quickly sprayed, and then closed the door with the fan still on so the fumes didn't spread to the rest of the house.

tape off walls

Repeat these steps for the remaining drawers and the base of the cabinet as well. Be sure to tape off the walls and the inner part of the cabinets.

Tip: If you get gel stain on the wall, or inner part of the cabinet, there's an easy fix. Just pour a little mineral spirits on a rag and the gel stain will wipe right off. 

how to glaze cabinets with gel stain - after picture
If glazing your cabinets is something that you've thought about doing, just do it already! Glazing is honestly the easiest home improvement project I've done in a long time.

Don't forget to pin it!!

How to Glaze Cabinets - A Step by Step TutorialUpdate cabinets with a gel stain glaze


  1. Wow, what an improvement. The update adds such warmth to the wood. You did a great job. A very informative tutorial. Thanks for sharing.

  2. I am going to try this! I have knotty alder cabinets which have yellowed. What do you use to clean your cabinets with? TSP? Thanks!

    1. I used dish soap and water. Good luck with your cabinets!

  3. I love this method, and think it would work great for deepening the color of my oak kitchen cabinets. I happen to have wood floors in the same hue and wondered if this might work on floors, as well.

    1. I wish you luck with your cabinets! I think it would work on wood floors - will you let us know if you try it? One thing I would suggest is making sure to finish it with a durable clear coat (maybe multiple coats). Floors will wear so much more quickly than counters, so protecting it is especially important.

  4. So you didn't sand the lacquer between it and the gel? My cabinets look just like yours did but I have 27 doors in my kitchen and on an entertainment center. I think I could do this if there is no sanding. Thanks so much for the info!

    1. Nope, didn't sand them at all! You definitely want that layer of lacquer between the wood and the gel. Otherwise it will stain the wood instead of glaze it. You can totally do this!! It's really easy! If you're on the fence, you could do the inside of a door to see how you like it. Good luck with your cabinets!

  5. Do you think it would look good on yellow oak cabinets?

    1. Yes, I think glazing would look great on oak. You might need to test out a few different colors of glaze to see what looks best. (You can test on the inside of the cabinets and remove with mineral spirits if needed). Good luck with your project! I’d love to know how it turns out!

    2. Where can you get mineral spirits from?

    3. You can get mineral spirits at most hardware or home improvement stores. It will be in the paint/stain section of the store.

    4. I am wondering if Unknown did this to their yellow oak cabinets and what color they chose? I have yellow/gold 90's oak cabinets that I need to take the gold hue out of! I am wondering if the American Walnut would be dark enough...

    5. I have not heard if they tried it or how it went. I suggest trying it on the inside of the cabinet to test out the color.

  6. I'm curious why you finished with a coat of lacquer. I thought that lacquer is sensitive to water. I've been intending to finish with a really tough polyurethane, or similar, if that tends to yellow. I just hate DIY projects you pour a lot of time and love into, and then they're not so durable.

  7. Lacquer is water resistant. It is true that polyurethane is even more durable. I like the fact that lacquer is a true clear coat and doesn't change the color of the wood and/or stain. Lacquer is also very easy to touch up - just add another coat and it will meld right in with the existing lacquer. That being said, if you feel more comfortable with another type of finish I say go for it!

  8. Thank you for this information I am excited to try this. My cabinets are beautiful, but a little light for my liking. I am ready to try.

  9. Thanks for sharing this! I am going to try it on the oak cabinets in my bath - and then, if successful, my kitchen. I have glazed furniture pieces before but never thought to use it on cabinets! So smart!