Stained, Painted, or Unfinished Cabinets: Things to Consider when Selecting a Cabinet Finish

| Finishing | by Jeff Haylon | 2021-11-08 |

One of the questions I’m asked the most while I help customers order cabinets for their kitchens, home offices, laundry rooms, and vanities is to identify the advantages and disadvantages of our different finish options. It’s a complex question, made no easier by the fact that we have over 7,000 unique finish combinations to consider. The paint, stain, or glaze on your cabinets will likely be the first thing you and your visitors notice, and you want to make sure that you choose an option that will suit your needs and keep you happy with your cabinets for years to come. Let’s break down some of the choices:

Painted Cabinets

Our most popular finish option, cabinets painted with our Colourtones line represent a durable and timeless look that can add a splash of color to your cabinet project. Our high-tech paint application system uses a two-part catalytic basecoat that then receive a conversion varnish topcoat. That’s a lot of fancy words to say that the end result will be a smoother, harder finish than anything you could get from your local paint store. The ease of cleaning is a big benefit with Colourtones, and unlike some more old-fashioned paints these won’t fade or become dingy in the lifetime of your cabinets. For an even wider range of color, our Prism Paints line utilizes Sherwin-Williams colors to give you ultimate customization (bear in mind that these colors are mixed to-order and are thus more expensive).

We typically use paint-grade hard maple and/or MDF as the base material for painted cabinets, as they’re a relatively inexpensive set of materials that provide for a smooth finish. MDF also has the advantage of resisting the seasonal expansion and contraction present in solid wood. We recommend it for high-humidity areas like bathrooms to help avoid any issues that can arise from wood movement. For those who prefer to have the wood grain show through the paint, a coarse-grained wood like red oak is the way to go.

Stained Cabinets

For those who want the natural beauty of their wooden cabinets to shine through, stains provide dozens of options to emphasize wood grain while still allowing ways to color your cabinets. We meticulously hand-wipe the stains into the wood, providing a greater amount of grain penetration and depth of color than other alternatives. Stains are still topped with the resilient clear top coat (and we can also clear-coat the wood itself if you prefer the natural look) for extra durability, and have the advantage of being less expensive than Colourtones.

Unlike painted finishes where the material underneath is hidden, it’s important to choose a wood specie that will complement your stain selection. Our lighter and white stains, like Alpine, aren’t available over darker species like walnut or mahogany, whereas darker stains like Cordovan or Colonial aren’t recommended on lighter-colored species like maple or birch. As a rule of thumb, picking the right wood for your stained cabinets and stained cabinet doors means picking a wood that is similar in tone to your stain. Of our more common choices, maple works well for lighter stains and cherry works well for darker or redder tones. Your account manager can help point you in the right direction if you’re not sure.


Glazing is a secondary process that adds a translucent layer of color over your stained or painted cabinets. Using a hand-rubbed application process, glaze can highlight wood grain, grooves or details in your finished cabinet doors. Cabinets finished with glaze offer a unique coloration to set your kitchen or office cabinets apart. Since glazing is a separate finishing process, it does raise the price considerably, and so we highly recommend ordering a sample door to make sure the glaze combination is everything you want before committing to a larger order.

Unfinished Cabinets

Since we sell Ready-to-Assemble cabinets to many DIY homeowners, unfinished cabinets allow even more in-person customization while lowering your price. We’ll sell cabinets that are sanded and ready for finish, so as soon as you assemble them you can paint or stain them yourself. We can even prime them for you, if you’re planning on painting. This is a great choice for built-ins or for projects where you’re replacing just a cabinet or two out of a kitchen and you’d like to be able to match the color to what’s already in your house. DIY finishing is certainly more work, but it gives you the ultimate flexibility and control over your project.

When it comes to having the right color and texture for your new cabinets, replacement doors, or other accessories, we strive to provide as many options as possible. By choosing the right finish options for your space, you can make sure to be happy with the look of your cabinets for years to come. If you need help deciding, you can request a sample kit of your choice here.

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