refinishing very old kitchen cabinets


lucyt
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Hi, and thanks for the add! 

I am refinishing some very old kitchen cabinets from my parents house. House was built in 1940's, and I think it was 50 yrs ago that my mom refinished the cabinets.  They look like a brassy medium shade of red with a hint of brown in it. I took the cabinet pull off, and underneath the wide base of the pull, was a golden oak color! I'm assuming they were stained and the finish (lacquer?) must have really yellowed.  I'd like to put a gel stain on them to tone the red down at least, not trying to darken them. I washed one, did a little bit of sanding and used some Minwax Chestnut gel stain on a spot, and it did nothing to the reddish color-looked the same. So for the heck of it, I took a dark walnut stain (I know stain won't penetrate the lacquer but figured it might give me an idea of what color it might turn out to be) and that darkened it only a little bit but still too red.  Any idea what color gel stain I could use to tone the red down? I would like a warm brown, to complement the diff colored brick my mom put up in the kitchen.  Do you think a coat of General Finishes "Java" would be too dark and make it look muddy?

 

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You may be looking at a real challenge unless you put in enough work to get down past the lacquer coat and I think this may be more then it is worth.  Woodgrain is always more attractive but you might consider going with a color coat.  I was up against the same thing in my own kitchen the cabinets were Oak, stained and then Lacquer top coat back in 1995ish.  I really wasn't wanting to go through stripping everything.   I just scuff sanded the cabinets then primed them and used Benjamin Moore's Cabinet Coat, the primer was Benjamin moore's also.   I did build new doors and drawers to up date the style of the cabinets.  Even though the Cabinet Coat is formulated for this use, besides the colors in the brochure you can get it tinted in almost all the colors they offer in their store.

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Applying gel stain over the clear finish will do two things.

a. Hide the wood grain more than it already is.

b. Appear very streaky, as even gel stain is meant to color the WOOD, not the lacquer or varnish.

If you just want to change the color, without bringing the natural wood grain to light, @Chet's recommended paint is a great solution. Alternatively, you might work with your local paint supply store (Sherwin-Williams, PPG, or similar) to have a tinted lacquer mixed to go over the existing finish. They can probably recommend a color to tint with, which if left at a transparent mix ratio, should correct toward the color you want. This is most effective when sprayed, so might be more than you care to tackle.

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I too believe you are beyond the wood look. Even if you sand down to bare wood (imagine the mess) you are dealing with cheap contractors grade ply which will easily sand thru the thin veneer. @Chet‘s suggestion is what I would recommend.

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