Super Closeup of a made over old wood cabinet showing just the top part

Wood Cabinet Refresh

With Colored Stain

Here’s how to use colored stain on a wood cabinet (table, sign, etc) to add a fun, interesting pattern. It’s a great quick + easy makeover!

 

This is the tale of a beloved, but rather homely furniture friend that gets a makeover! And how to apply colored stain to add an interesting pattern to a piece of boring furniture that might be lurking in your corners. 

It’s quick and easy — provided you learn from my mistake!

 

final image of the made over old wooden cabinet with fun stripes marking the corners

We’re friends, right? ‘Cause I’m counting on you NOT judging me when you see this before picture!

It’s embarrassing. I admit it. 

 

poor neglected old wood cabinet sitting in the corner of the patio with "stuff" piled around it

 had this great old cabinet from some dear old neighbors. It was the perfect size and had soooo much service left. It sat on our screened porch in the last house for 17 years holding all the fun outdoor decor pieces I needed for entertaining. I always meant to update it, but it worked, and it actually looked good there.

Somehow, I even grew blind to the fact that it never had both knobs.

But in our new home, this cabinet needed some love just like the rest of the house. Living on a lake translates to living outdoors and I am putting every last corner of our outdoor living spaces to work. 

This cabinet’s little corner of residence is getting some style, so it needs some too!

It’s a Cabinet Makeover Using Colored Wood Stain:

Concept Drawing of Wood Cabinet Makeover

When I start a project, I usually like to have a concept drawing.

It can be a doodle on the back of a stray receipt in my purse, a loose drawing in my sketchbook, a more measured drawing on graph paper or; as this one, a mock up in Canva. 

If you don’t know about Canva, you need to! There’s a great free version. with mobile options. It’s easy to use! And particularly helpful when you’re playing with color. It gives a much better representation than I could get with colored pencils. Check it out.

Scroll back up and plant that before in your head, then the mock up and now . . . .

 

After picture of the finished cabinet with a distressed plaid pattern in blue and white stained stripes.

So How Did I Use Colored Stains On My Wood Cabinet Her Makeover?

Supplies:

  • Sand Paper
  • Tack Cloth
  • Painters Tape (I used Frog Tape)
  • Colored Stain (I used Cabot)
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Screwdriver
  • Small Zipper Bag (for the hardware)
  • New Door Knobs/Handles, optional

Step 1) Sand and Wipe Clean 

a hand holding a high grit sandpaper on a sanding block lightly sanding the cabinet door fronts
hand holding cloth wiping off the dust on.a newly sanded cabinet door

As with all staining and painting projects, start with your surface prep.

In this case a very light sanding. I wanted to preserve the old character and just remove any “yuck” or film from its years of service. And use a tack cloth or damp cloth to remove the dust.

Step  2) Test Style of Stain Application

 

Inside of a cabinet door with six test stripes painted using different methods

On the inside of one of the doors, I tested the colored stains to see what kind of coverage to expect. 

Really i ended up testing the style of how to apply the stain. I wanted an aged look — somewhat transparent. That’s one of the reasons for using stain vs. paint. I wanted the stripes to look like they had been there forever and were part of the cabinet’s aged past.

Somewhat paradoxical, I know!  Aged and original, but a fun update. Hhmmm.

We immediately liked the dry brushed at an angle best. And determined that it would need two coats of the white to support the blue pinstripe. 

Step  3) Tape and Stain the First Lines, Possibly Two Coats 

First pattern of painters tape marking off the first two lines on each door

 

Determine which lines should be the background lines. Those need to be stained first.

Notice that my doors had an extra groove cut into them. This is actually what inspired the plaid design.

These grooves also required a bit of extra taping to make sure the stain didn’t ooze down in the grooves as I planned to paint them black.

To dry brush, dip your brush into the stain and then dab most of it off before very lightly swiping the stain across the stripe. And I did my swipes at an angle.

As the stain dried, it became clear that I needed a second coat. (Glad I didn’t pull all that tape right away.) After the second coat, remove the tape. 

Step 4) Stain, Stain & Remove . . . Again 

Now painters tape is replaced marking off the second set of stripes

 

Once the first lines are completely dry — like overnight dry — tape the second set of stripes to over lap. Again, I had to work a bit more because of the grooves.

Apply two thin coats of stain using your preferred method. 

Remove the tape and let dry overnight.

 

Step   5) Tape, Stain & Remove . . . Yes, Again 

stripes of painters tape overlapping forming a plaid pattern for a thin stripe on top of the previously stained wide stripe

 

Basically, you need to tape and stain for each layer of your design. How intricate your design is determines how many times you need to repeat this step.

For me, that’s four times:

  1. the wide blue stripes
  2. the wide white stripes
  3. the thin blue pinstripes on the white
  4. the black accent of the groove 

Step  6) Distress Your Stripes, Optional 

closeup of the plaid pattern stained and distressed in the corners

 

Break out the sandpaper, optionally a power sander, and play with the edges of the stripes. Since I wanted the original, aged look, I really needed to soften the sharp edges that wonderful Frog Tape gives us. I didn’t want bleeding, but in this case I didn’t want sharp either. So I really concentrated my sanding along the edges of the stripes.

So happy with the results! 

Step  7) Rehang Doors, New Hardware 

A side view of the finished patio cabinet

This is where you’re so happy you took the extra minute to grab a baggie for all the loose hardware! 

 

You’re Wondering: Where did she go wrong with her colored wood stain?

 

It wasn’t evident until the second set of stripes, the white ones.

image of the two doors with the original attempt of white stain looking different

The left door was nice a white. The right door varied, with the upper corner particularly “yellowed”.

I decided that a second coat might take care of it. However, this is stain, NOT paint. The second coat idea would work with paint. But stain inherently will reflect the wood that it is being applied to.

Either I had not sanded the doors the same on my initial light prep sand, or I had not cleaned the dust off the right door and it was picked up in the stain, or the doors were made from different woods and one had more intrinsic color to it. To correct this, I ended up sanding most of the stain off the right door and started over. 

Now of course this means the left door is darker than the right, so I factored that in when I was doing the distress sanding, bringing the center part of the door to match more with the right. This is truly and aged cabinet now!

So keep min mind how important the prep is when you are working with stain.

Why colored stain vs. paint?

My goal was to give this old cabinet some new style, but not make it feel new. I wanted to marry some modern design with some aged character. 

I wanted to accomplish this with just some accents, not a total refinishing. I wanted the original wood to show through the stripes. I wanted the stripes to be somewhat transparent. Stain accomplishes this better than paint ever could. 

This cabinet sits outside — under the balcony, but not totally protected. I think stain holds up better than paint in this kind of environment. Stain will fade a bit, but that is good for this application.

What Do You Store in a Patio Cabinet?

The contents of the cabinet organized in bins

In the last house, this cabinet was on our screened porch and held all the decor items I used on the porch for entertaining.

In this house, it now holds all the water supplies:

  • tub of sunscreens and such
  • tub of bug sprays and such
  • tub of inflatables
  • tub of small inflatables, pumps, patches, etc.
  • my water shoes
  • waterproof phone pouch
  • key floats
  • nerf football 
  • cornhole sacks

You know, all those lakeside playing essentials (the bigger items are in the cabana shed)

I hope this inspires you to try some colored stain — particularly these from Cabot. I’m going to be using them for signs coming up soon, I hope.

 

final image of the made over old wooden cabinet with fun stripes marking the corners

And one more parting shot. Thanks for indulging me! I’m just so happy with the results.

Pin showing a closeup of the stained color plaid pattern with a title that reads: How to Update an Old Cabinet with Colored Stain
Here's to Joy-Filled Living, Diane
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