Types Of Wood Cabinet Finishes: A Comprehensive Guide

Types Of Wood Cabinet Finishes

When considering the materials for our home projects, many of us will always opt for the classics: wood is a versatile, timeless material that has been in use for centuries, and its uses are becoming more widespread as new styles are constantly developed and explored. One such iteration is wood cabinet finishes: depending on the type of wood, carpenter’s discretion, and desired outcome, many different types of finishes can be applied to wood cabinets to both improve the appearance, and protect the surface from outside wear and tear. This article aims to demystify the artistry and craftsmanship behind the various types of wood cabinet finishes, and provide a guide on how to choose the best one for any application.

From traditional matte finishes for subtle understatement, to glossy varnishes for a modern touch, and distressed treatments for a vintage flair, the different types of wood cabinet finishes are varied and almost endless. We will cover the most popular types here, and go into detail on the processes used to achieve each one, as well as the best method to preserve each type of finish. So, if you want to learn more about the various types of wood cabinet finishes, and find the perfect one for your project, we have you covered.

Types of Wood Cabinet Finishes

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving the perfectly polished look for your wood cabinetry. With a wide range of finishes available, it is important to understand the differences between them in order to pick the best finish for your specific needs. Here, we’ll explore the many different types of wood finishes and different installation strategies to help make sure your cabinets look their best. From matte, glossy and lacquered finishes to distressed and varnished finishes, find the perfect look to make your kitchen or bathroom stand out.

Overview of Finishes

When purchasing a piece of furniture, understanding the variety of available finishes is essential. Wood cabinets come in a variety of finishes designed to meet aesthetic, preservative, and practical needs. The most common type of finish applied to wood cabinets is varnish. It helps protect the wood and gives it a glossy or matte look. There are also a range of other finishes that can be applied to cabinets, such as lacquer, glaze, stain, and paint. Each of these finishes serves a specific purpose, and it is important to choose the right one for your desired look.

Popular Finishes for Wood Cabinets:

  • Matte Finishes
  • Glossy Finishes
  • Distressed Finishes
  • Lacquered Finishes
  • Stained Finishes
  • Varnished Finishes

Matte finishes are commonly sought for wood cabinets, as they provide a more natural look than glossy finishes. This is because matte finishes are not as reflective and allow the wood grain to show through. Matte finishes tend to hide scratches and other blemishes more than glossy finishes.

Glossy finishes, meanwhile, are best suited for modern kitchen designs, as they are highly reflective and create a striking look in the right setting. This finish is prone to showing scratches, but it may be the right choice for a sleek, modern look.

Distressed finishes can add texture to your cabinets. This finish is achieved through graining, scraping, and chipping the wood to make it look worn. It can be used to add a rustic touch to a room.

Lacquered finishes are typically used in high-traffic areas, as they are more resistant to wear and tear. This finish is also known for its shiny and glossy characteristics, but is generally not as reflective as other glossy finishes.

Stained finishes are perfect for creating a specific look in wood cabinets. This finish is achieved by dying the wood with a pigment, allowing you to select from a variety of colors.

Varnished finishes provide a blend of matte and glossy characteristics. This finish helps to protect the wood without obscuring its natural beauty.

Preserving Cabinet Finishes

It is important to properly care for the finish of your wood cabinets to ensure they last for many years. Make sure to regularly dust and wipe down your cabinets to keep them free of dirt and grime. For deeper cleaning, use a damp cloth or mild detergent and warm water. Be sure to avoid abrasive cleaners to avoid damaging the finish. You can also use specially designed cleaners and polishes to keep the finish looking its best.

Popular Finishes for Wood Cabinets

When selecting a wood cabinet finish, there are many factors to consider. One of the most important is the color and look you want your cabinets to have. Depending on the style of your kitchen, certain finishes might fit the space better than others. There are a few popular finishes for wood cabinets that are worth considering when choosing a finish:

  • Matte Finishes
  • Glossy Finishes
  • Distressed Finishes
  • Lacquered Finishes
  • Stained Finishes
  • Varnished Finishes

Matte finishes for wood cabinets are popular for their traditional, subtle look. They are ideal for cabinets in homes with classic decor and are often used in traditional or farmhouse-style homes. The finish is more understated than it’s shiny counterpart, but can still bring a lot of life to a kitchen.

Glossy finishes provide a sleek, modern look to wood cabinets. A popular option is a high-gloss finish that reflects light and adds depth and depth to a space. It can be difficult to keep clean but is easy to wipe off and lasts longer than most finishes.

Distressed finishes are perfect for a rustic-style kitchen or one with country or shabby chic influences. The distressed look provides a lot of character to a kitchen and is easy to maintain.

Lacquered finishes are another great option if you are looking for a glossy look but don’t want to have a fully glossed finish. This somewhat shiny finish looks more natural and provides more of an aged look than a traditional glossy finish.

Stained finishes are great for a more natural look. While it does take more effort maintain, it can bring out the grain and beauty of the wood.

Varnished finishes are a great way to protect a wood cabinet from damage. Not only does it provide protection, but it gives the wood a polished, luxurious look.

Preserving the finishes of your wood cabinets is essential for their longevity and to maintain the beauty of the cabinets. When cleaning your cabinets, it’s important to use the right cleaning products to not damage the finish or create any unwanted shine. Depending on the type of finish, you may want to avoid using a strong disinfectant or acidic product as they can damage the wood.

Matte Finishes

Matte finishes are perfect for achieving a low-gloss, uniform appearance. They are popular in various woodworking projects, such as cabinets, and can provide a subtle, elegant look. They don’t reflect as much light as glossy finishes, and so they’re great at hiding any imperfections in the wood grain and reducing glare.

Matte finishes are often easy to clean, as they don’t require polishing. They are also a great option for those who prefer a natural look, as matte finishes don’t usually bring out the color of the wood.

Types of Matte Finishes for Cabinets:

  • Matte Lacquer
  • Matte Enamel
  • Matte Polyurethane
  • Sheen Polyurethane
  • Dull Wax

Matte lacquer is a popular finish, as it provides good protection against wear and tear while offering a smooth surface. It also prevents moisture from entering the wood and fading the color.

Matte enamel is another popular choice, as it creates an even, low-gloss finish. Unlike lacquer, it is available in a range of colors, and can be used to bring out the natural beauty of the wood.

Matte polyurethane is a strong, durable finish that is easy to apply and requires no sanding. It protects the wood from water, and offers a subtle sheen.

Sheen polyurethane is slightly more glossy than matte polyurethane and has a more vibrant and glossy finish. It is more difficult to apply, however, and requires more work in order to achieve a consistent finish.

Dull wax is a natural finish, as it is applied in the form of a soft wax paste. It creates a non-reflective, subtle polish that protects the wood while preserving its natural look. Unlike other finishes, wax will need to be reapplied periodically to maintain its protective qualities.

Glossy Finishes

Glossy finishes give cabinets a luxe appearance and a high-end look. This type of finish also highlights the grain, giving cabinets visual depth and complexity. However, glossy finishes can often be difficult to maintain.

Types of Glossy Finishes:

  • Glazed
  • High-Gloss Lacquered
  • Satin Lacquered
  • Glitter
  • Mirror

Glazed finishes are made by lightly hand-sanding and then brushing a coat of glaze over the wood’s surface. This type of finish is usually used to lend cabinets an antique look. High-gloss lacquered finishes are achieved by applying several layers of varnish, which is then polished to a glossy sheen. This type of finish is challenging to create, but it is highly durable and long-lasting.

Satin lacquered finishes are achieved by applying several coats of lacquer in an alternating glossy and low-gloss pattern, resulting in a slightly glossy finish with a unique texture. Glittered finishes are created by applying small flecks of glitter into a glossy topcoat in order to create a subtle shimmer effect. Finally, mirror finishes are achieved by layering several layers of highly polished, reflective lacquer.

High gloss finishes require frequent cleaning and polishing in order to maintain their shine. Also, fingerprint marks and smudges can be easily noticeable on these types of finishes. Be sure to choose a type of gloss finish that is appropriate for the way you plan to maintain your cabinets.

Distressed Finishes

Distressed finishes are becoming increasingly popular for wood cabinets, as this look offers a warm, homey feel. Distressed finishes also exude a sense of timelessness and can be customized to match the homeowner’s desired aesthetic.

Distressed finishes can be achieved in a variety of ways. Here are some common techniques used to create a distressed finish on wood cabinets:

  • Sanding: To achieve a distressed look, the surface of the wood is lightly and evenly sanded. This creates a subtle texture and adds a bit of age to the cabinets.
  • Painting: Painting is often combined with sanding to create a more textured, aged look. The paint can be applied in various ways, such as creating a distressed pattern or painting random splotches on the wood.
  • Stripping: This technique involves stripping away some of the wood to create a worn, aged look. The amount of wood stripped away can be customized to achieve the desired level of age and wear.
  • Burnishing: This technique involves sanding down the wood with an abrasive material to give the wood a dull finish and create a distressed look. It can be used to replicate an antique look or simply add a bit of texture.

Each of these techniques can be used to create a unique, one-of-a-kind distressed finish on wood cabinets. Plus, with the right care, these finishes can last for years and become part of the home. With a bit of creativity and a few materials, anyone can create their own customized distressed finish on their cabinets.

Lacquered Finishes

Lacquered finishes provide a hard, glossy coating that’s exceptionally durable and resists dust, stains, and dirt. The lacquer is applied to the wood by spraying or hand-brushing, with several coats applied to build up the desired level of finish. A common finish to apply on wood cabinets is a clear lacquer, which gives the wood natural shine, providing subtle dimension to the grain, and offering protection for the wood. One downside to clear lacquer finishes is that fingerprints and smudges are visible, so periodic cleaning is needed to maintain the glossy surface.

For a more intense shine, wood cabinets can also be finished with a colored lacquer. There is a wide range of colors available, from subtle hues like blush to bright and vibrant neons, providing a modern and eye-catching look. Colored lacquer cabinets are very versatile and give us the opportunity to express our own style. For a more subtle and toned-down look, a semi-opaque lacquer finish can be used which still gives a glossy coating but with a muted hue.

Another popular finish is a high-gloss lacquer. This finish gives an exceptionally glossy and shiny look and is very modern in style. However, high-gloss finishes are very delicate and easily scratched, so must be cared for with special attention in order to prevent any damage.

Lacquered finishes are very durable and can last for many years if maintained properly. They do require periodically waxing or oiling to keep the finish looking its best. Regular dusting with a microfiber cloth is also recommended to prevent streaks and fingerprints.

Stained Finishes

Stained finishes are an increasingly popular option when it comes to wood cabinets. The outcome of this type of finishing can provide a more intricate look to the wood, and allow the beauty of a particular wood species to shine through. Stained finishes offer a certain warmth and elegance that can give any kitchen or bathroom a unique character. Stains can be used to enhance the grain patterns in wood, while also providing a tinge of natural earthy colors. Furthermore, stained finishes can provide a layer of protection to the wood itself, allowing it to last longer.

When it comes to applying stained finishes, one must be careful to use the appropriate technique for the type of stain. There are essentially two types of staining available; reactive staining and film staining. Reactive staining involves the use of a chemical that reacts with the wood, which results in a specific shade and depth of color. This can take longer to apply, however, the outcome is usually more consistent and long-lasting. Film staining, on the other hand, involves the use of a chemical compound or pigment that is added to a film that is then applied to the wood. This method is faster and easier to apply, yet the outcome can be more unpredictable.

No matter which technique you choose, it helps to know a few basic tips when it comes to stained finishes. One should be mindful of using gloves and proper protective clothing when staining wood, while also being sure to properly clean surfaces before and after application. Additionally, if a reactive stain is chosen, one must make sure to mix it according to instructions. Additionally, it is essential to use an adequate number of coats in order to get the desired effect, as too few can result in a superficial finish that may not last as long.

No matter the type of finishing you choose for your wood cabinets, stained finishes can provide your home with a classic look with a modern feel. They can be customized to fit any style, and properly applied, can last for many years.

Varnished Finishes

Varnished finishes deliver a long-lasting natural look for traditional wood cabinets. This type of finish does not offer an exceptionally glossy sheen, but instead provides a subtle luxurious texture that is both visually appealing and durable. It is often used in commercial cabinetry due to its longevity and resilience against scratches, spills, and other wear and tear.

Applying multiple layers of sealant on the cabinets will further enhance the protection of the wood against dust, moisture, and other foreign particles that may otherwise damage the surface of the cabinet. Varnished finishes typically offer excellent water-resistance, making them an ideal option for wet areas. The result is a glossy, durable finish that is both attractive and longer lasting than other cabinet finishes.

In addition to the protection it provides for wood cabinets, varnished finishes also offer a number of other attractive features. These include a wide range of color options, from clear to golden-hued tones, making it easy to find a finish that best complements the cabinet’s design. Additionally, a clear varnish finish will bring out the natural grain of the wood, giving your cabinets an elegant, classic look that is timeless.

Varnished finishes can provide a beautiful, low-maintenance option for wood cabinets that is both sturdy and visually pleasing. It is important, however, to pay attention to the manufacturer’s instructions for proper installation and maintenance of the varnish for long-lasting results.

Preserving Cabinet Finishes

Preserving your wood cabinet finish is an important part of owning and maintaining your furniture. Taking the right precautions can help you keep it looking great for years to come. Here are some tips for preserving your wood cabinet finishes:

  • Avoid direct sunlight.
  • Sanitize the surfaces regularly with a light, water-dampened cloth, and wax the finish every six months.
  • Keep heat sources away from the cabinet. Prolonged or intense heat can cause the wood to expand and warp, thus damaging the finish.
  • Ensure furniture is kept dry and away from moisture. Moisture will cause wood to swell, which may damage the cabinet’s finish.
  • Keep acids away from the surface. Acids, such as fruit juices, can damage the finish with frequent contact.
  • Don’t slide dishes, furniture or other objects on cabinet doors, as this may wear the finish.
  • Clean spills quickly, taking extra care around the cabinet’s joints, edges and corners.

For polished finishes, use a mild non-abrasive cleaner, such as dish soap, to keep the luster of the finish intact. Be sure to test the solution on an inconspicuous area first before applying to the entire surface of the cabinet. If you have a painted cabinet, use a damp rag to wipe down the cabinet and then a dry cloth to wipe off excess liquid.

To further protect your wood cabinet finish, you can use a furniture polish, wood conditioner, or wax to protect it from dust and dirt. All of these products will enhance the look of the wood and will also help to put a protective seal on the surface. Additionally, if you are using semi-gloss or high-gloss finishes, use a mild detergent to keep the sheen of the finish.

Following these tips can help protect your wood cabinet from dirt, wear and tear, moisture, and other damage. Regularly caring for wood cabinets can help you enjoy its beauty for years to come.


Devin B

Hi everyone! My name is Devin and I'm the author of this website about tips for woodturning and wood finishing. I'm an avid woodworker and have been doing it for over a decade. I'm constantly learning new techniques and experimenting with new materials and finishes.

I started my journey in woodworking when I was a teenager, making furniture for my bedroom and small projects for my family. As I got older, my interest in woodturning and wood finishing grew. I took classes on the subject and read books on the topic.

I'm passionate about woodturning and wood finishing because it allows me to express my creativity in a tangible way. I love the satisfaction of seeing a piece of wood that I have transformed from a block of raw material into a beautiful finished product.

I hope you find the tips and advice on this website helpful. If you have any questions or comments, please don't hesitate to contact me. I'm always happy to help out and share my experiences. Thanks for visiting my website!