Wood Stained Cabinets

How To Accurately Match Cabinet Stain Color

In Remodeling by Giovanni ValleLeave a Comment

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Your latest home project involves your beautiful wooden kitchen cabinets. You want to make sure your cabinets match each other as well as the hardwood trim in your home. But how does someone do a DIY project to match cabinet stain color accurately?

Here’s how to accurately match cabinet stain color:

  1. Sand using the correct grit sandpaper.
  2. Determine the kind of finish you want.
  3. Choose the correct stain.
  4. Color match samples before staining your cupboards.
  5. Stain the cabinets.

Read on for more detail on how to ensure your cabinet stain color matches and doesn’t become a clashing eyesore. With a good intuition, a little creativity, and careful, meticulous work, these tips will help you achieve the professional-looking result you’re looking for.

1. Sand Using the Correct Grit Sandpaper

When applying a wood stain, you must use the correct grit. You will create larger pores and a rougher surface if you sand too coarsely. As a result, this can result in a darker appearance as the stain soaks into the larger pores. Conversely, the opposite will happen if you sand with too small of a grit, resulting in too small pores to take in the pigments of your chosen stain.

How To Sand the Wood Cabinets

First, you will want to remove the old stain (if any) using 40-60 grit sandpaper. Then, move to an 80 grit, and finish it with a 120-150 grit.

Generally, the ideal grit for finishing use with wood stains is in the 120-150 grit range. Using and staying in this range will allow for an even distribution of the pigments of your wood cabinets.

When you sand your cabinets, make sure you work up through the grain of the wood in the same direction. You want to avoid making swirl marks resulting in flaws in the surface of the material.

When you’re done sanding, use a tack cloth to get off all of the dust before staining to ensure even coverage.

Best Products For Sanding Wood Cabinets

Amazon.com offers a variety of sandpaper and grit options for this type of project. Consider these:

  • Arilier Sandpaper 60 Grit: This is a 12-sheet pack of 9 x 11 inch (22.86 x 27.94 cm), advanced white fused alumina abrasive sander paper is efficient and durable.
  • AUSTOR Sandpaper Roll 80 Grit: This sandpaper roll is 5 m in length by 93 mm in width (16 ft by 4 in). It can be folded, torn, or cut for sizing purposes. This product advertises that it won’t fall apart or crack while using it.
  • LANHU 120 Grit Multipurpose Sandpaper: This 25-pack of 9 x 3.6 inch (22.86 x 9.14 cm) sheets can be cut into any smaller size if needed. They are made of waterproof silicon carbide and are electro-coated to ensure that the grit is evenly distributed. This is ideal sandpaper for buffing, polishing, and finishing woodwork.
  • Warner Sanding Block: This sandpaper accessory works with standard sandpaper sizes to give the user a good grip on sanding corners, curves, and flat surfaces.
  • STEAD & FAST Tack Cloth: Ideal for finishing projects, this pack is comprised of 15 individually wrapped tack cloths, each 18 x 36 inches (45.72 x 91.44 cm) and made of a golden colored cheesecloth. These tack cloths are free of silicone and wax and are anti-static to collect dust from sanding projects without leaving a residue.
  • Minwax Pre-Stain Wood Conditioner: Some softwoods, such as pine, can get blotchy even if appropriately sanded. You can use a wood conditioner to open up the pores for even staining results. This is an option for even stain penetration to avoid blotching and streaking. Wood can be stained immediately after application.

You can even try a free app from the Apple Store called Stain & Seal Experts. This app offers service and support in calculating work needed for various staining projects.

2. Determine the Kind of Finish You Want

Finishes will add some color to your stained project. You need to determine if you are using an oil-based poly, water-based polycrylic, wax, oil, and so on. Generally, popular oil-based polyurethanes will add a warm amber-like color to your work and can come in matte, satin, and gloss finishes. Polycrylic alternatives are clear and will give cool tones to a finished stain and can also come in a matte, satin, or gloss finish.

Finish Types

The purpose of your cabinets and the look you’re ultimately going for can help you decide which finish best fits your needs.

  • Matte Finish: This type of finish absorbs light instead of reflecting it, potentially hiding little bumps and flaws. This finish is not as durable and is generally recommended for bedrooms and offices since they are easy to touch up. A matte finish on wood projects will look like natural wood.
  • Satin Finish: This finish may be described as silky or velvety. It is very durable and is suitable for high traffic areas. This finish does not reflect as much light as a gloss finish but does so more than matte. Brushstrokes and other flaws can be seen more easily with this alternative. This finish is commonly used in hardwood flooring.
  • Gloss (or Semi-Gloss) Finish: This option is much more durable than matte and satin. It can resist moisture better, making it an ideal choice for kitchens and bathrooms. This type of finish will reflect a lot of light and show every imperfection, meaning you will need to do an excellent work when sanding. It’s a popular choice for wooden tabletops and kitchen cabinets, as they can be easily scrubbed and are resistant to mildew.

3. Choose the Correct Stain

There are a variety of stain brands. Consider their advertised drying times to see what works best for you.

When choosing what you need, most brands will offer a color chip fan wheel or sample color pieces to refer to.

You’ll need a sample piece of wood or take a part of the cabinetry wood with you to the hardware or paint store. The wood cells can vary from tree to tree, even of the same variety, so if you can use the same wood from your project, you will be able to get the best match.

Hold the color chips next to your sample from home and look at two things:

  • Grain Color: Grain can be affected by how it was cut from the log. When a stain is applied, the grain pattern will stand out. Take note of the color of the “lines” or “stripes” in the wood. Different types of wood have different grain patterns, but the color is what you are noting here.
  • Sap Wood Color: This is the other part of the wood between the “lines.” This color will be lighter than the grain color.

Your wood has these two parts, and you have to match each of these to get the right stain color, which could involve using more than one stain. Your good eye needs to factor in here, so don’t be afraid to ask for help and opinions from staff in the store.

4. Color Match Samples Before Staining Your Cupboards

You will need to mix stains if you can’t find the perfect match straight from the cans.

Make sure you shake and mix the individual stains before mixing. Consider buying small cans first to allow for some experimenting.

Write down ratios and amounts as you mix to ensure that you can replicate it once you find the right match. You should measure your ingredients using precision measuring tools such as measuring spoons or cups.

Test your mixtures on separate wood samples that are the same material as your cabinets. If you don’t have extra pieces of wood, you can test the paint directly onto the cabinet as long as you choose an inconspicuous spot or the underside or backside portion that won’t be seen on the finished project.

Before painting your mixtures on, sand your wood samples in the same way you did on your cabinets to get the same results.

Start Experimenting

If possible, use the same lighting conditions when matching stains. Colors can look different under fluorescent lighting versus natural sunlight or incandescent or LED light bulbs. Use the same lighting conditions where the cabinets will be located.

  • Apply the stain liberally and evenly, wiping it off with a clean rag after three to five seconds. For deeper penetration, leave it on for up to 15 minutes. Write down any timing you use for each sample.
  • You might find these Arkwright T-Shirt Rags on Amazon as a good option for applying stains. This 5-pound (2.3 kg) box of clean rags comes in an easy-to-use dispenser box. Their low-lint knit makes them an excellent option for staining and can be disposed of after use. These rags are also machine washable when using them for cleaning jobs around the house.
  • Start with one coat, let it dry, and see if it matches. Chances are it won’t until you coat it with your chosen finish. Take note of how many coats you use and which finish matches.
  • You can also gently give the finish a light sanding using 120-150 grit sandpaper. Wipe it down between multiple coats with a moistened rag with mineral spirits such as the U.S. Art Supply Odorless Mineral Spirits Thinner (also on Amazon) for an extra smooth finish. This mineral spirit blends well into oil-based paint, stains, and varnishes. Make sure you remove any sanding dust before applying the next coat.
  • Try tinting polyurethane to get an accurate match for your cabinets. If you try to match to another, older and already-stained wood, you may find the process more challenging. This is because as oil-based polyurethane ages, it can yellow slightly and become more opaque, resulting in a freshly stained piece that doesn’t match in color with a 20-year old finish.
  • To remedy this, you can try adding up to 10% of stain to the polyurethane; however, you may run into adhesion issues if you do more than that. Since water and oil do not mix, you have to only mix oil-based products with each other.

Patience and perseverance are a must here. Keep mixing and combining until you find the right tones and colors.

5. Stain the Cabinets

Now that you have found the right match, use the same sanding, mixing, application, and finishing techniques to coat each cabinet. Follow the instruction labels for safety, drying time, and cleanup.

If you still don’t feel comfortable enough in your abilities to accurately match your cabinet stain color, you can always learn more about the topic by gathering more information from a wider range of sources.

For example, you can always talk to someone at your local hardware store for extra support. They are well versed in their products and are there to help you find what might best fit your needs. You can also check out these videos on YouTube:

  • How to Select a Wood Stain | Matching Wood Stains: This video talks about customizing wood stain color to fit the exact color you need. It also describes how to avoid red and orange undertones, as well as tips for mixing and matching tones in your home. See it here:
  • How To: Stain Matching Process: This is about how a company helps its customers find the matching stain. Interestingly, this video talks about factors that affect or inhibit proper matching. You may find it interesting to learn about and consider these when doing your own work. Watch it here:


Every seemingly minor yet meticulous and important step can be crucial in learning how to match the cabinet stain color accurately. Learning about the variances in your wood, how to sand, and how to apply mixtures in the same lighting conditions can make a significant visual impact.

When you accurately match your cabinet stain color, you’ll feel accomplished and fulfilled by a sense of pride as you showcase them in your home for family and guests to enjoy. It will be well worth the effort.


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