Refinishing Knotty Pine Cabinets

Lead Image
  • 48-72 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 60-200
What You'll Need
100-grit sandpaper
Hand sander
Wood conditioner
Wood varnish
50-grit sandpaper

Knotty pine is a relatively soft wood, and it is highly susceptible to wear and tear over time, so to keep your cabinets in the best possible condition, you will have to refinish them every once in a while. The following set of step-by-step instructions will give you all the information you need to refinish your knotty pine cabinets yourself.

Step 1 - Sand the Cabinets

The first thing you need to do is remove any previous finish from the cabinets. Clamp the 100-grit sandpaper to your hand sander, and sand all surfaces on the cabinets, both inside and out, until all the finish is gone. You will probably have to focus most on the coarse limb knots because they soak up finish better than the rest of the wood. Thoroughly sanding the cabinet will open up wood pores so that they will soak up your varnish.

WARNING: To avoid getting any particles of wood or wood stain into your body, wear safety glasses and a face mask while using the hand sander.

Step 2 - Clean the Cabinets

Use a moist rag to completely wipe down the cabinets. Make sure to remove any stains that made it through the sanding process or dust left from the sandpaper before you continue.

Step 3 – Apply Stain if Desired

If you’re seeking to change the color of your pine wood, now is the time to apply your choice of stain. However, you’ll want to start with a wood conditioner or pre-stain on pine due to the fact that this type of wood can stain unevenly if not pre-treated.

Apply the conditioner even across the entire surface with a paint brush and follow it up with a light sanding with a fine-grit paper. Wipe away any dust that remains and then you can apply your stain with a rag.

Step 4 - Varnish the Exterior

Wood varnish gives off harmful fumes, so you should move your project to a well-ventilated work area or open up any windows in your current room. Since the shape of cabinets is a little awkward for applying wood varnish, you may want to finish the insides and the outsides of the cabinets separately. Alternatively, to make the process a little less complicated, you may want to remove the cabinet doors before you start and varnish them separately from the rest of the cabinet.

Use your paint brush to spread a thin coat of varnish over the whole exterior of the cabinet, making sure to spread it as evenly as possible. Let the cabinet dry for at least 24 hours. During this time, the varnish will harden and any wood dust or other contaminants will rise to the surface of the varnish, making tiny bumps.

Step 5 - Varnish Interior and Sand Exterior

Sand the outsides of the cabinets with 50-grit sandpaper to remove these raised contaminants. Then, apply your first layer of varnish to the interiors of the cabinets.

Step 6 - More Varnish and Sanding

After 24 more hours, sand the interiors of the cabinets as well, and add another coat of varnish to the outsides of the cabinets. Once again, repeat the cycle by letting them it for another 24 hours, before you paint one more another layer to the inside.

Once the second coat has dried, you can decide whether you want to continue applying coats of varnish or return the knotty pine cabinets their place. Keep in mind that each successive layer of varnish will make the wood darker and must be allowed to dry for 24 hours before another layer can be added.

After only a few years, knotty pine cabinets can go from the nice, grainy "country cabin" look characteristic of knotty pine to a dull gray, worn appearance. The process of refinishing your cabinets is easy and straightforward, and you should have no trouble maintaining the wood to keep it looking at its best.