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Why Unfinished Cabinets Are Great to Have In Your Kitchen

No kitchen is ever complete without cabinets. Whether you’re remodeling or building a new home, finding the perfect kitchen cabinets is essential. Not only should your cabinets stand out in your kitchen, they should last for as long as possible. It is common for people to follow trends on what a home should look like. Room-by-room, they consider this idea or that idea. Overtime, some trendy styles will lose their value and will soon become outdated. You also risk having to invest a lot of money to update the look of your kitchen.

On the other hand, unfinished wood cabinets are certainly less expensive than many solid wood cabinets. They save you a lot of cost; they can withstand the test of time, can be experimented with and require little efforts to maintain. More so, you could use the unfinished wood for several cabinet functions in your home including the corner cabinets, pantry cabinets, wall cabinets, and base cabinets with drawers, among many others.

Why choose a trendy style of cabinets when you can rely on unfinished wood? You can paint it, stain it, or leave it unfinished in its natural state. Either way, you decide how your kitchen is going to look once the project is finished. Imagine having a remodeling project done where you have the freedom to create how your entire kitchen should look. Will you finish it or leave it unfinished? Will you stain it or paint it? All of these are the choices available to you with the unfinished kitchen cabinets.

Now, let’s delve into why unfinished kitchen cabinets are best for you. You will also find the suitable types of wood to use for your next kitchen cabinets project. Also in this article, we’ll show you how you can stain or paint your kitchen cabinets, so they last long and stay beautiful for many years.


Why Unfinished Kitchen Cabinets?

One of the main reasons that people prefer unfinished wood to the other options is the price. Unfinished wood cabinets are relatively cheaper than the ready-made wood cabinets. They are affordable for everyone even at budget prices. Unfinished wood gives you more bang for your buck while the average price for a kitchen remodeling project is around $25,000. Another reason why you should opt for unfinished cabinets is the flexibility. Let’s assume that you want to leave the cabinets as they are (i.e. the regular unfinished wood look). Sometime down the road, you can decide to give your entire kitchen a whole new look. You can easily paint or stain them to whatever color that catches your fancy.

One thing that should be noted is that even if you go the unfinished route, you should know what type of wood the cabinets are made from. Some woods will look better and last longer than most (for example, maple). If you leave it unfinished for too long, you can expect it to be much harder to clean when dirt, grime, and grease get to it. Sealing it will help you keep it clean and make it easier to clean.

Finding the Right Wood Type For Your Unfinished Cabinets

Everyone has different preferences or tastes when it comes to looks. Finding the perfect unfinished kitchen cabinet will come down to exactly what you prefer in terms of how you want your kitchen to look. Do you want a more country-style look? How about something more modern? Do you want something that’s durable? Do you want to stain or paint it later on? The answers to these questions will help you whittle down your options.

There are several types of woods to choose from. Some of our favorites are pine, oak, birch, and maple. These woods are easy to stain or paint, but each has their own pros and cons in terms of pricing and durability. Keep in mind that while they can last a long time, some factors like sunlight or even heavy amounts of kitchen traffic can test the cabinet’s durability and lifespan.

1. Pine Unfinished Cabinets

When choosing the type of wood for your unfinished kitchen cabinets, you can never go wrong with pine. One of the main reasons is the cost. Of all the woods available for cabinets, pine is one of the least expensive. Pine can serve as the base for a rustic kitchen style. If you want a more down home, country-style feel, rustic is the way to go. The knots in pine give it the charm of a kitchen style that is reminiscent of a weekend cabin excursion in the woods or days at summer camp as a kid.

If knots are not your thing, you can look for a “clean pine” type. However, the prices for clean pine will be the same as if you’re buying oak.

Pine may not be interesting to look at. Because it can give your kitchen a bit of a “striped” look thanks to its very broad and straight grains. Another downside for pine is that it is a soft wood. This means the wood can easily be dented or scarred, even from minor impacts. You can prevent damage with a durable finish. Pine is also easy to paint. But if you have pine with knots, you’ll need a half dozen coats of paint if you want to cover them up. Pine is usually better if you want to preserve the rustic look the knots create.

2. Rustic Kitchen Cabinets (Pine)

Rustic Kitchen Cabinets (Pine)

One of the reasons why people opt for an unfinished look as opposed to staining or painting is the natural look of wood. If you want a down home, out in the country kind of look, rustic never fails. It doesn’t matter if you live in a loud city or in a suburban neighborhood, you can give your kitchen that home off the beaten path kind of style. It’s never been easier to get this kind of look.

Some rustic kitchen cabinets are made from materials such as barn wood and leftover pallets. These are good options to give that the cabinets a natural look. But one of the cons about cabinets build from these materials is the risk of splinters when you open a cabinet door or a drawer. However, you can use other types of wood to give it that country type of feeling. You can even give the wood a distressed look with dings and dents, regardless if it’s stained or not. It’s kind of fun to add dents if you want the rustic, distressed look.

Pine with knots is the better option. If you want a more aged look, you can easily stain pine wood. Even better, you’ll have less risk of getting a splinter in your finger.

3. Oak Unfinished Kitchen Cabinets

Oak Unfinished Kitchen Cabinets

If durability is the most important thing you want in an unfinished kitchen cabinet, you should go with oak. Despite not being the hardest of hardwoods, it’s more durable than pine. Oak resists nicks, cuts, dents, and scratches. Plus, it will last you a lot longer. This is the type of wood you’ll use if you want a more traditional, elegant kitchen cabinet design.

As far as hardwoods go, oak will cost you the least. Most unfinished oak kitchen cabinet sets will typically start around $1,000 and up depending on the measurement of your kitchen. Unlike pine, oak has a grain pattern that would be hard to cover up using good old-fashioned paint. However, like pine, you’ll need several coats of paint if you want something to disappear. In this case, the grain pattern. Oak is much better when it’s stained rather than painted. Once it’s stained, the grain pattern will make the oak look beautiful.

4. Birch Unfinished Cabinets

Birch Unfinished Cabinets

Birch is another hardwood that is a reliable choice for unfinished kitchen cabinets. In fact, it is one of the most abundant since it grows throughout most of Canada and the United States. It is for this reason that it is also one of the least expensive hardwoods on the market today. Birch is a pale wood that has a yellowish cast. This makes birch a versatile wood because it would look perfect with all kinds of finishes and paints. Birch can be stained to make it look like walnut, cherry, or maple depending on the finish you choose. Unless one of your neighbors knows a thing or two about wood, they will marvel at how great the kitchen cabinets look. If you want a more traditional kitchen cabinet look, you can never go wrong with birch.

Birch has a straight and uniform grain. Sometimes, the grain can have curling or wavy patterns. This is not unheard of, but it’s not as common.

One of the downsides of birch is that it’s somewhat porous. This may pose a problem if you decide to stain it with a darker color. The results could be blotchy or irregular.

Pricewise, birch is less costly. Your basic top-to-bottom birch ready to assemble cabinets can run from anywhere between $2,000 to $4,000.

5. Maple Unfinished Cabinets

Maple Unfinished Cabinets

Maple is a hardwood that is indigenous to the northeastern United States and Canada. Compared to hardwoods like birch, it is denser and stronger. It is also more receptive to a lot of stains, especially dark and glossy finishes that would pose a problem for other hardwoods. With its dark shade, maple can easily be mistaken for other types of wood like cherry, mahogany, and even some exotic woods. Because of its abundance, maple is one of the least expensive hardwoods on the market. However, it is slightly more expensive than birch. Maple also has several distinctive grain patterns like knotty maple. Another pattern that is considered rare is the bird’s eye maple.

Maple is the wood of choice if you plan on painting your unfinished kitchen cabinet in the future. Maple is the wood of choice if you plan on painting your unfinished kitchen cabinet in the future. It is also a popular choice for kitchens that gets a consistently higher level of traffic. That’s because it is more durable and resistant to scratches, dings, dents, and cracks. Although this type of wood cabinetry is expected to last up to 10 years, it manages to look beautiful and brand new for many years. Although this type of wood cabinetry is expected to last up to 10 years, it manages to look beautiful and brand new for many years. However, one of the major issues with maple is that it can discolor or fade if it has been exposed to direct sunlight for long, consistent periods of time.

Another reason why maple is among one of the popular choices is its availability. They come in a wide range of colors and styles that can be perfect for either modern or traditional home decor. Maple cabinet sets aren’t as cheap as birch or pine. Ready to assemble sets will start at around $2,500 and go up to as high as $6,000. Maple cabinet sets won’t be as cheap as birch or pine. Ready to assemble sets will start at around $2,500 and go up to as high as $6,000.

6. Raised Kitchen Cabinets

The raised kitchen cabinets has been in use for years. It is the style of cabinets you find in most traditional kitchens but can now be found in more modern kitchens. The raised kitchen cabinet involves a center panel and a rim. Sometimes, the rim is decorated on the interior and exterior to give it a more appealing appearance while its center panel is often carved backwards to tilt towards the edges of the cabinets. When designed this way, you would have a brief impression that the complete raised kitchen cabinet was made from just one wood plank.

One of the reasons people love the raised kitchen cabinets is that it is quite easy and inexpensive to maintain. It also allows you the freedom of decorating to your taste, especially with the center and the rim and go can get them anywhere both at physical and online stores. However, it could be a little pricey owing to all the decorations.

7. Shaker Kitchen Cabinets

The shaker kitchen cabinet is the perfect contrast of the raised kitchen cabinets. They contrast in lots of ways. Whereas the raised kitchen cabinets involve lots of decorations, the shaker kitchen cabinets are very simple and they have very minimalist designs. The shaker kitchen cabinets equally have a central panel and the rim but the edges are simple. They are relatively flat, inexpensive and quite easy to use. They are the more preferred option of the two in modern designs. Shaker kitchen cabinets are often preferred frameless because using it without frames removes the rustic look of the traditional raised kitchen cabinets and it makes it sleek and attractive. They look very much like the sophisticated flat kitchen cabinets. A typical shaker kitchen cabinets setup costs about $2,706 ad against the more expensive raised kitchen cabinets which costs about $3,392. This is, of course, without the installation fees.

8. Flat or Slab Kitchen Cabinets

You want solid wood flat panel kitchen cabinets? The slab kitchen cabinets is your best shot! Also known as flat kitchen cabinets, the slab kitchen cabinets are one step different from the popular shaker kitchen cabinets. They have a beautiful effect on the kitchen, especially when stained. They also make your kitchen look modern and sleek. In addition to these benefits, slab kitchen cabinets are strong, and that is largely because they can be made with several types of wood. Some of the wood types used particularly in slab kitchen cabinets are as follows:

  • Furniture-grade Plywood These wood types are used in addition to the base pine used to make the slab kitchen cabinets. They are applied to the surface of the slab soft wood such as pine. This is to make the cabinets sturdier and more appealing.
  • Solid Hardwood Here is an alternative to the furniture-grade plywood mentioned above. These are in themselves hard and, therefore, do not require veneer or extra ply. The hardwood are the most dependable wood type for slab kitchen cabinets.

9. Bridge kitchen Cabinets

A bridge kitchen cabinet is a smart way to economize the space between two wall cabinets.  Bridge kitchen cabinets are especially installed right on kitchen sinks, refrigerators or other low items in the kitchen. The essence of this is to save space and fill up the vacuum between your wall cabinets. Rather than leave the space empty and useless, you could install a bridge kitchen cabinet to provide you with extra space for storing kitchen items and small essentials.

Bridge kitchen cabinets are typically small, not taller than 25 to 30 inches. This explains why they are useful for storing mainly small items such as tumblers, cutleries, small storage bottles, etc. They are typically not meant to be used as the only kitchen cabinets but they certainly come in handy when your other major kitchen cabinets are getting full and difficult to access. Leave the most basic things you use regularly in the bridge kitchen cabinets and you will find it easier to pick them up. However, since they’re hanging, it is advisable to anchor your bridge cabinets to the wall and ceiling to make them stronger.

10. Corner Kitchen Cabinets

Have you completely run out of space in your kitchen so much that there’s no room for a kitchen cabinet? You can’t give up yet! The corner kitchen cabinets offer a solution. These are cabinets subtly installed in the corners of your kitchen. They are often deep and can contain a number of items of various sizes. However, there is a problem with corner cabinets. Because they are installed in the corners, they are difficult to reach and are almost always dark. This is why they are called blind cabinets. To mitigate this challenge, several modern designs have been developed to make corner kitchen cabinets much easier to use. They include the Blind Corner Pull-outs which require you to pull out the drawers to pick any item. The swing-out cabinet base works much smarter than the Blind Pull-Outs. The cabinet swings towards the right hand side to reveal the drawers containing your items. Other options include the Much-Evolved Lazy Susan Swing Out and the Classic Lazy Susan.

11. Pantry Kitchen Cabinets

Pantry kitchen cabinets are massive projects for homeowners who use lots of items, food resources and commodities and would like to store them at one spot for easy access. The pantry kitchen cabinet functions as a room on its own for all your commodities. It is wide enough, and comes with a lot of compartments to store items ranging from packaged foods to bottled drinks. You could as well store small cooking items such as baking pans, pots and dishes. Common examples of pantry kitchen cabinets are the pull-out pantry kitchen cabinets, fitted larder pantry kitchen cabinets, appliances, etc. Also, the pantry top is equally useful for storing cooking appliances such as toasting machines, blenders, and so on. It is advisable to situate the pantry kitchen cabinets close to a window so as to get sunlight during the day. You should also install a lighting system in the cabinet to serve you at night.

Putting a finish on your kitchen cabinets is a task that’s best left up to professionals. But you don’t have to be a pro at something like this. At the same time, from a budget standpoint, you’re better off doing this yourself because it is a cost-effective thing to do for your kitchen remodeling project. Listen, you know that your cabinets will sustain years of abuse. So finishing it will not only maximize the beauty of your cabinets, but it will help them withstand wear and tear for years to come.

As mentioned before, if you want the best results for your finish, it all starts with the wood you choose. You have a better chance of ending up with beautiful cabinets if you choose a hardwood like maple or birch because are more durable than other wood types.

Materials And Tools Needed For Unfinished Kitchen Cabinets

With that said, let’s get on with what you’ll need:

  • Fine sandpaper (150 grit is a good choice)
  • Wood conditioner
  • Foam paint brush
  • Tack cloth
  • Stain of choice (Polyurethane is your best choice)
  • Stain grade paint brush
  • Paint thinner
  • Clear polyurethane or varnish

Now that you’ve gathered all the tools, materials and stains that you need, let’s get this project started:

Step 1: Find a well-ventilated area where you can sand and stain. This can be outdoors or a room in your house with a lot of windows. Use plastic or cloth for the cabinet frames.

Step 2: Remove all drawers and cabinet doors. You will be able to treat and stain the fronts and backs of the doors and the whole face of the cabinet.

Step 3: Lightly sand before applying the wood conditioner.

Step 4: Take your foam brush and apply a light coat of wood conditioner. The purpose of the conditioner is to draw out the grain of the wood. It will also help even out the coat of stain across the whole piece. This makes blotching less likely.

Step 5: Let the conditioner dry for 15 minutes. The previously smooth wood should be fairly rough. Sand it down until it is smooth. Wipe away any dust with a tack cloth.

Step 6: Apply an even coat of stain across everything. Do not leave any drips. Let it sit for 6 hours.

Step 7: At this point, the grain will be visible, but the wood may not look stained. Unless you want to add on another coat of stain, you’re done here. If you want a darker stain, apply a second coat. Be sure that the stain is mixed with polyurethane. Wait for the second coat to dry following the instructions on the stain.

Step 8: You’re done. If you wish to seal and protect the cabinet further, add two coats of urethane.

Painting Your Unfinished Kitchen Cabinets

The prep for painting your kitchen cabinets is much similar. Of course, you should be able to sand the rough parts down to a smooth texture. Once you’ve sanded and cleaned everything off with tack cloth, you can apply sanding sealer. Before you do, keep in mind of the type of paint you plan on using. Some sealers won’t work with certain types of paints. Depending on the manufacturer, there should be instructions that tell you how many coats of sealer you need to apply. Lightly sand again after the sealer dries.

Next, prime the unfinished wood. There are two types of primer: oil-based and water-based. Choose the one that will best work with the type of paint you chose. Apply primer to small areas, the trim and cut-in using a 2 to 3-inch sash brush. To apply primer in larger areas, use a 6-inch paint roller and roller cover. The number of coats and drying time will depend on the manufacturers’ instructions.

Finally, paint your cabinets with the topcoat paint you’ve chosen. Begin with the cut-in trim and small areas first using a sash brush. Then paint the larger areas with a paint roller and new roller cover. Let the first coat dry completely before putting on a second coat.

Another way to paint your cabinets is to use a spray painter. Not only will it dry faster, you will be able to apply a second coat quickly compared to the process of using a brush or roller. The way you paint your cabinets is entirely up to you.

Unfinished Cabinets FAQs

1. What should I look for when buying new kitchen cabinets?

Buying a new cabinet could be demanding, mainly because you want to ensure you buy the best and the most suitable cabinets for you. If you’re at that stage, here are some of the factors to look out for while considering buying a cabinet.

Do you want framed cabinets or unframed cabinets?

Do you want finished or unfinished cabinets?

What grade of cabinet wood do you want?

Do you want cabinets with drawers or gliders?

Would you like to personalize the cabinets?

Do you want cabinets with hinges or latches or doors?

Do you want wall, base or tall cabinets?

Answering these questions will help you decide on which kitchen cabinet is actually the best for you.

2. Do you have to prime unfinished cabinets?

Yes! This is necessary for unfinished cabinets. Before you paint, apply about two coats of oil-based primer to keep the surface of the wood prepared for the paint. It will also keep the wood surface from discoloring the cabinets when you apply the paint. Priming the cabinets will keep the cabinet surface balance and ready for any paint whatsoever.  Also, it prevents the paint from soaking into your unfinished wood.

3. What Kind of Paint Should I Use on Unfinished Cabinets?

Selecting the color of paint to use should be at your own discretion. However, you must be careful with what type of paint to use. Recommended options are water-based acrylic paint and oil-based interior paint even though the latter are more difficult to clean up.


Your kitchen is one of the most important areas in your home. It is a place where you can cook a home-cooked meal, entertain your family members and guests, and an area you’re proud to show off to your neighbors. If you are remodeling or building a home, knowing which kitchen cabinets to install is important. If you want to save money and are up to a do-it-yourself type of challenge, then consider getting an unfinished kitchen cabinet set. You never know how far your creativity will go with unfinished wood. To find out what types of cabinets are available, you can visit your local hardware stores like Lowe’s or Home Depot. On the other hand, you can employ the services of experts to install a perfect kitchen cabinet for you. Their services differ in price, depending on the area and the nature of kitchen cabinets you would like to install.


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