How to make painted cabinets look like stained wood

Updated February 21, 2017

Painting your cabinets is one way to update their look without spending a lot of money on replacements. If you change your mind at some point and want to return to the look of wood, you can achieve this through faux finishing techniques. After you have created the pattern of wood grain on the surface of your cabinets, you can even mix a varnish colour to give your cabinets the appearance of stained wood.

Remove all the knobs and drawer pulls from your cabinets using a screwdriver. Keep all the hardware in a safe place. Remove the drawers from their slots and set them aside.

Protect worktops with plastic sheeting. Tape around the outside of the cabinet to keep paint off walls and other surfaces.

Sand the cabinets with medium-grit sandpaper if their surface is glossy or slick. Wipe them off with a damp sponge or rag.

Paint the cabinets with tan paint. Use an angled brush for edges and small areas. Apply paint to larger areas with a small foam roller. Brush out all the rolled areas, following the direction of the wood grain. Use two coats of paint for even coverage, if necessary. Paint the front of the drawers. Allow the paint to dry overnight before glazing.

Mix a glaze with glazing medium and tints to use for wood graining. Use various browns to achieve the desired colour.

Apply strips of glaze with a small foam roller, using a 2.5 cm (1 inch) bristle brush to fill in small areas when necessary. Roll on approximately 15 cm (6 inch) sections at a time. Drag a graining comb or stiff, flat brush through the wet glaze, in the direction of the grain. Aim to drag the brush in a straight line, in one continuous motion. Your arm will naturally waver, duplicating the subtle movement in real wood. Wipe off the brush or graining tool after each pass. Repeat the dragging process to soften the grain, if desired.

Apply and drag 15 cm (6 inch) sections until the cabinets, including drawer fronts, all have the pattern of wood grain. Let the glaze set overnight.

Tint the varnish to the desired stain colour. Use burnt sienna for a stain with a warm, reddish hue or raw umber for a dark, neutral brown stain.

Apply the varnish in smooth, even strokes. Shine a bright light on the surface to look for spots you might have missed. Remove the tape. Let the varnish cure for a few days before touching the cabinets, to avoid gauging or scratching the soft varnish.

Replace the hardware. Return the drawers back to the drawer slots.

Things You'll Need

  • Screwdriver
  • Plastic sheeting
  • Low-tack painter's tape
  • Sandpaper
  • Sponge or rag
  • Tan self-priming latex paint in satin finish
  • Small foam roller
  • Paint pan
  • 5 cm (2 inch) angled paintbrush
  • Water-based glazing medium
  • Tints in raw sienna, burnt sienna, burnt umber and raw umber
  • 2.5 (1 inch) bristle brush
  • Graining comb or stiff, flat brush
  • Water-based varnish
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About the Author

Fiona Fearey has an undergraduate degree from Temple University and a master's degree from New York University. She has been a freelance writer and editor for over five years. She has written for Pluck on Demand and various other websites. Other professional experience includes education, the arts and decorative painting.