How to Update Oak Kitchen Cupboards From the 1980s

Oak kitchen cabinets were very popular in the 1980s. If you have these cabinets, you may have noticed that they are still in very good shape but that the finish is beginning to look worn and dated. This is a common occurrence with any type of cabinet. Replacing these oak cabinets with new ones can be very pricey but there is a way to make them look fresh and modern without all the work of remodeling. Painting and staining your oak cabinets can be time-consuming but in the end you will literally have a brand-new kitchen.

Paint and stain update old cabinets.

Prep Work

Step 1

Prepare a place where you can finish your cabinet doors and drawers. An unfinished basement or a garage is an ideal place for doing this project, since there will be a lot of sanding, which will cause some dust. Cover the counter tops and floors with a tarp in the kitchen area so that, when you sand the cabinets that are attached to the wall, these surfaces will be protected.

Step 2

Remove the drawers and doors from the cabinets and all hardware. Place the hardware in a safe place where the the pieces will not be lost.

Step 3

Wash all the doors, drawers and cabinets with warm soapy water to remove all dirt and grime. Allow them to dry completely.

Step 4

Tape along the edges of the cabinets to help protect the walls and ceiling.

Sanding and Painting

Step 5

Sand the doors, drawers and cabinets with 220-grit sandpaper by hand or with an electric hand sander. Always sand in the direction of the grain. This sanding process is not meant to remove the existing finish but rather to rough it up enough to allow for the latex paint to adhere to the wood. Sand by hand the spots that cannot be reached with the electric sander, such as in the creases of the panels and the corners.

Step 6

Wipe the wood clean using a tack cloth. This step is important because if there is any sawdust left behind you will paint over it, causing the surface to look bumpy and uneven once the paint has dried. Go over the wood at least twice to ensure that all of the dust particles have been removed.

Step 7

Apply your first coat of paint to the wood, always painting with the direction of the wood. Use a two- or three-inch foam brush. Using a foam brush will diminish the chances of brush strokes. Allow the paint to completely dry.

Step 8

Buff the wood after the first coat of paint has dried using a buffing pad. Always buff in the direction that you painted. Wipe the surface clean with a tack cloth.

Step 9

Apply a second coat of paint. Allow to completely dry.

Stain and Polyurethane

Step 10

With a cloth, apply one coat of oil-based stain over the painted doors, drawers and cabinets, wiping the stain off with an old white T-shirt. This process will take the most time since the stain should not be allowed to sit on the wood for too long or it will begin to dry. Work on each door and drawer separately, staining one and then wiping the excess stain away before moving onto the other. If you desire, allow the stain to sit and dry in the creases and corners to help add some contrast to the overall look. Allow the stain to dry and cure for 24 hours before moving onto the next step.

Step 11

Apply the first coat of polyurethane with a foam brush onto the doors, drawers and cabinets. If possible, lay the doors down so that you do not have to worry about drips drying. Since it is not possible to lay the cabinets flat, you will have to watch the polyurethane carefully to avoid drips. Wipe drips with the foam brush as you notice them. Allow the polyurethane to dry for 24 hours.

Step 12

Apply a second coat of polyurethane and allow it to dry for 24 hours.

Step 13

Repeat steps 2 and 3 if desired.

Step 14

Replace the doors and drawers onto the cabinets.