Rustic kitchen cabinets are a beautiful addition to any home. They add a coziness and warmth and so much character. Today’s post is all about how to make your rustic kitchen cabinets using the best stain color Special Walnut for that perfect brown with a hint of gray.
Keep reading to see how we transformed the kitchen cabinets in our home and brought them back to life. Heads up, this post gets super detailed on the staining application process!
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In my recent before and after kitchen remodel post in our new home, I shared briefly how we chose to keep the cabinets in the kitchen and give them a face lift. The cabinets were custom made and high quality and in great shape, it seemed silly to rip them out and put in brand new cabinets for thousands of dollars, when we had perfectly good cabinets already, the stain just needed updating.
Kitchen Cabinets When We Moved In
After doing some testing on discrete areas of our cabinets, we realized they didn’t have any stain and were just sealed with a form of polyurethane when they were installed for the previous home owner. This was good news because it meant we just needed to sand them all down to remove the coat of poly, but we didn’t have to sound down and remove any stain! It’s much easier to go from light to dark color rather than dark to light when doing any kind of wood refinishing.
Now that we knew sanding down all the cabinets could be done, it was time to find the best stain color for rustic cabinets.
I had in my mind what color stain I was after for our kitchen cabinets and went on the hunt to find it. I wanted a medium-tone brown with a little warmth but nothing orangey or yellow. I also wanted a hint of gray in the color as well for a touch of modern. Pinterest had tons of photos of kitchen cabinets that I loved and that’s what I was basing my colors off of.
I started at Sherwin Williams and showed them the Pinterest photos I found of stain colors and what I wanted and had them mix up a custom stain. They said it would take a few days to mix it and test it. I gave them a cabinet door front we sanded down to test sample colors.
What I realized after getting that first sample stain color back was that this was going to be MUCH more complicated than I anticipated to find the exact color, and that it would also likely require a couple different stain colors combined to achieve the brownish gray.
The first stain color I got back was way too dark and grey. It looked completely gray with no warmth or brown in it, and it was much too dark.
I thought I had taken pictures of that first stain sample from Sherwin Williams but I can’t seem to find it. I went back and forth with them a few times and they tweaked the stain and tested it more, but each time it just wasn’t quite what I wanted. It was either too gray, or too brown and the wood was soaking in so much stain color that it was way too dark.
Since I wasn’t having much luck at Sherwin Williams, I decided to go to Home Depot and try several stains myself. I picked up a few colors and even dumped a couple cans together hoping to find that perfect mix.
Stain Application Techniques
The other factor that can substantially affect the way the stain color looks on wood is the application. As I was testing 10+ stain colors, I also tried applying them several different ways to see how it changes the color. From trying a foam brush, to a rag, to a natural bristle brush, they all provide slightly different looks. I noticed using a rag you get a very light stain color application because you are dipping the rag in just the top layer of the stain in the can. When using a bristle brush, I tend to dip deeper into the can, therefore picking up more stain.
In my research, I also found that a wood conditioner is a product that’s applied to the natural wood before stain, helping the stain apply evenly and soaking in less stain. I ended up really liking the conditioner because it did change the stain color and brought in more of that warmth I still wanted and helped stains apply more evenly and less blotchy.
These are all super important factors and change how the stain looks on the wood and whether or not the stain is too dark, too light, etc.
After testing countless stains and varying the application techniques, I was starting to feel like I would never find a stain that was the EXACT color I was looking for. A couple were close, and since I was testing on small areas, I figured I’d give them a shot and just start staining our cabinets.
Over the course of several weeks while I was testing multiple stain colors, we were also sanding down all of the cabinet doors, drawers, and faces to prep them for staining. This is a BIG undertaking and of everything we did in our kitchen remodel, sanding down the cabinets took the longest and was the biggest job. It took WEEKS as we sanded on weekends and in evenings and on days my husband had off. Getting all of the poly off is key in order for the new stain to take.
The Staining Process
Once we finally got all of the cabinets sanded, we decided to go for it and start staining.
Before staining, make sure all of the saw dust is off and your cabinets are clean. We used a tac cloth to wipe off all the tiny dust particles and it worked great. Then we started by applying a light coat of wood conditioner with a foam brush. It’s best when stain is applied within 5 minutes after applying the conditioner so it’s good to work fast.
The first stain we used is called Shipboard by Minwax at Sherwin Williams. It’s a greyish light colored stain. We applied this with a quality natural bristle brush by Purdy. These are the best brushes (we use them for painting too) and I highly suggest getting them. If you are taking the time to stain your cabinets, you will be getting a ton of use out of it and you don’t want to be picking out bristles that fall out from your brush as you’re staining. I’ve used cheap brushes before and that’s what ends up happening.
Let the first coat of stain dry completely, at least 24 hours. Once we applied Shipboard to all the cabinet faces and doors, I liked it but didn’t LOVE it. It was light and rustic looking, but it needed more brown still. And I saw a hint of blue in it, so I was slightly freaking out. The next day we went to the store and picked up Minwax Special Walnut semi-transparent.
We tested a little sample, brushing Special Walnut over the cabinet that already had Shipboard. We waited five minutes, wiped of the stain so it wasn’t too dark and we loved it! It was the perfect color so we put a second coat of stain on all of the cabinets using another Purdy bristle brush and the Special Walnut stain. Waited about 5 minutes and took a rag and wiped off the stain.
Next up is sealing the cabinets once they are stained and completely dry. We chose a satin finish polyurethane by Minwax. We used yet another Purdy bristle brush and applied a thin layer of poly all over the cabinets. It’s pretty watery and runs easily if you get too much on the brush. Wait another 24 hours for that to dry completely and then you take a fine grit sandpaper and do a light sand to get rid of any bubbles or drips. Follow it up with your tac cloth to get all the dust particles.
We applied 3 coats of poly to all cabinet faces, doors and drawers, sanding between each coat.
Staining is a lengthy process that takes time, but so worth it in the end. We are super happy with how the cabinets turned out and the color is exactly what I was wanting! It was a little questionable at first, but it ended up looking amazing!
All Products We Used:
If you’re interested in painting your kitchen cabinets to save on time and reduce the amount of steps, read how to paint cabinets with milk paint. It’s another great option to update outdated kitchen cabinets!