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Guide to Wood Finishes


kitchen cabinets with cinnamon stain

Understanding wood finishes can be daunting for any homeowner. The plethora of products available serves a unique purpose, from accentuating the wood's natural features to providing a durable shield against the impacts of daily life. Check out our guide to wood finishes, which will give you the knowledge you need to make informed decisions for your home.

The Role of Wood Finishes in Cabinet Construction:

Wood finishes are not just about the look; they are the unsung heroes of your cabinets, offering protection from moisture, stains, and wear and tear. Whether you're installing new cabinets, giving your existing ones a facelift, or refinishing an antique piece, understanding the importance of wood finishes is vital to the health of your investment.

Aesthetics vs Functionality 

The finish you choose should align with your aesthetic taste but also harmonize with the intended use of the cabinets. A high-gloss finish might be stunning in a show kitchen, but it could require more maintenance and reveal fingerprints more quickly than a matte finish, which is better for heavy-traffic areas.


Wood is a living material that expands and contracts with the seasons, which can lead to warping or splitting if left unsealed. A good finish keeps the wood stable, ensuring your cabinets last years. Working with brands like Sorrento helps ensure the finish is baked on, along with the paint color of your choice.


The right finish can transform the entirety of your space. Darker stains can add an air of tradition, while lighter finishes create a modern and airy feel. Wood finishes come in four primary categories with unique characteristics and applications. We'll explore how they can work for different styles and wood types.


Stains penetrate the wood, adding color while allowing the natural grain to show through. They're ideal for homeowners who appreciate the warmth and character of natural wood. From transparent to opaque, stains offer various colors and densities. Stains are especially popular now as the natural wood helps create an organic aesthetic.


Varnishes are topcoats with a robust, clear finish protecting a stained wood surface. They come in a selection of sheens—from matte to glossy—and are great for highlighting the beauty of the wood beneath.


While not a traditional wood finish, paint is frequently used for cabinet applications because it can completely change the wood's appearance. It is best suited for achieving a uniform or solid-colored look. This is the most common top coat for wood cabinets in remodeling. While some cabinet lines have limited paint color selections, others offer customization and allow homeowners to pick any Benjamin Moore paint color.


Lacquer dries exceptionally fast, producing a durable, satin finish. It's often used in cabinetry to provide a tough, clear coat for years. Lacquer can be tinted, but it is also available in clear form to keep the wood's natural color.

How to Choose The Right Finish for Your Cabinets: 

Navigating the vast array of wood finishes can be overwhelming. Here is a helpful framework to guide your decision-making process:

Wood Type 

Different woods absorb finishes in unique ways. For example, pine and birch are more absorbent and may require more coats, while maple and cherry are less absorbent and need less. Hence, the type of wood you're finishing should significantly affect finish selection. Choosing a higher-quality wood for your cabinets leads to longevity and allows you to refinish them decades later.


Kitchens and bathrooms endure a lot of use, so you'll want a finish that's not only impervious to moisture and heat but also resists nicks and scratches. Polyurethane varnishes and water-based finishes are excellent choices for these high-traffic areas.


Consider your lifestyle and how much time you're willing to dedicate to maintaining your cabinets. Stains and clear finishes typically require less maintenance than painted ones, which can show wear and tear more easily.

Your cabinets are more than just functional storage spaces. They are aesthetic elements that contribute to the overall design of your home. Wood finishes are the last step in a long line of careful planning and craftsmanship, and they deserve your full attention. By understanding the differences between wood finishes and their application, you're one step closer to creating the space of your dreams. If you are considering remodeling your kitchen, contact us. We’d love to help you build the space of your dreams.



Article Categories: Cabinetry, Remodeling, Home Improvement, Finishes, Wood Finishes

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