How To Darken Oak Cabinets

Oak cabinets themselves can make the interior look classic and cozy. However, some oak cabinets can have that orange tint that can make your space look outdated. That said, you must be asking yourself how you can darken your oak cabinets so they can look more modern. We have researched the most efficient ways for you!

To achieve a darker finish, apply an oil-, water-, or gel-based stain. Staining your oak cabinets can take at least five days from prep day to reassembly, depending on the size of the cabinets. Here are steps to stain your oak cabinets darker:

  • Pull out your cabinet doors, drawers, and hardware.
  • Fill in any gaps on the surface for seamless staining.
  • Lightly sand the surface of the cabinets.
  • Apply the first coating and let dry.
  • After 24 hours, buff the surface and apply the second coating.
  • Let the coated surface cure.
  • Patch up your kitchen and see the finished work.
  • Seal the surface for a final, long-term preservation touch.

Oak cabinets are adaptable both in form and function. You can stain them with shades that best complement your interior design, although some staining processes can be more difficult and time-consuming than others. We have found easier routes you can take, so keep reading to learn more!

Coating an oak wood cabinet with varnish on surface, How To Darken Oak Cabinets

How To Darken Oak Cabinets with Gel Stain

Dark gel stains are ideal for small home projects such as staining your kitchen cabinets. These stains mask both porous and non-porous surfaces and create a smooth finish across various wood types. 

Kitchen in luxury home with oak wood cabinetry

Here is how you can apply a dark wood stain to your oak cabinets.

What to prepare

  • Gel stain of your color and finish preference
  • Stain-grade paint brushes
  • Sanding papers or sanding blocks
  • #000-grade extra fine steel wool
  • Screwdriver
  • Old cardboard pieces

For an easier job, and if it is your preference, you can also prepare wood fillers, painter stands, and deglossers. 

Be sure to wear protective gear such as gloves, thick clothing, and a face mask to prevent yourself from inhaling or being in contact with toxic gases.

What to do

Now that you have all your materials, it's time to get your hands dirty. Before starting, make sure you have enough ventilation to prevent suffocation since the air can become heavy with this home project.

Pull out your cabinet doors, drawers, and hardware

You need to remove any possible obstructions if you want a smooth painting job. Although some people stain the cabinets in place, you can risk doing a messy job and missing certain spots. It is better to have everything laid out so you can maneuver them as much as you want.

Fill any gaps on the surface for seamless staining

Solid wood butcherblock countertop maintenance with oil

This is also a benefit of laying down the removable parts of the cabinets: you can take this opportunity to fill any holes or gaps to restore the cabinet's luster.

You can even get new handle hardware for your cabinets to create a new look. Fill in all the gaps and holes from the hinges and handles install new ones to your preference.

Do you have to sand before using gel stain?

Sanding the surface is necessary to make the stain adhere. Lightly sand the surface with a high-grit sanding block to create a strong adhesion for the new color. 

After sanding, wipe off the debris with a damp rag. Inspect all the spots and see whether some areas have grime. If this is the case, you may need a liquid deglosser to smooth everything out. 

Check out this liquid deglosser on Amazon.

Apply the first coat and let dry

This is the reason why you need to make sure that your sanding process went excellently. The first coat will need to adhere reliably to the surface, and you cannot do that with debris blocking the way.

You need to wait for the stain to oxidize so it can reveal its true shade. After drying, you can weigh whether you want to apply a second coat or if that shade is enough for you.

Read: "What Color To Paint Kitchen With Oak Cabinets?"

How long do you let gel stain sit before wiping off? 

The first coat needs to dry for 24 hours before applying the second coat. Buff up the surface so the second coat will stick, but be sure you do it with fine steel wood so it will not break the surface. 

Check out this oak wood gel stain on Amazon.

Let the coated surface cure

Applying wood to varnish to make it a new

Wait for another 24 hours and let the second coat blend nicely. Check the cabinets after it has fully dried and see if you have achieved a sleek dark surface that can make your kitchen look more modern.

Do you need to seal gel stain? 

Applying a sealant to the surface is crucial to making the color stick for a long time. A sealant also protects the oak wood from water damage and harmful chemicals. 

Check out this wood sealer on Amazon.

Patch up the kitchen and view your finished work

Reassemble your cabinets and clean up the excess dirt. By now, you should have a smooth and dark surface without any signs of that bright orange tint.

Gel stains are highly effective and easier to apply compared to other painting projects, so you should consider that for your next home renovation!

Dark Oak Wood Cabinets Design Inspirations

Depending on the type, oak wood can look either outdated or rustic. Off course, it all depends on the preference, but dark oak wood has a certain edge that makes the cabinets complement any interior.

Here are dark oak wood designs that you can consider for your kitchen project.

Sleek and Modern

A modern kitchen that has been freshly remodeled

Dark oak wood can be paired with a contemporary aesthetic. You can lean into its industrial appeal and go for concrete accents, sleek light fixtures, and a solid color scheme. 

A natural-toned oak wood would not have suited this interior design, but with simple staining, it has achieved an almost cosmopolitan look that will satisfy your aesthetic.

Rustic and Classic

Kitchen Counter Top With Back Splash, Gas Cook Top And Decorator Items

Rustic themes often cycle around brown, tan, and muted orange color schemes. You would think that dark oak wood would look out of place, but it simply blends well with it. The dark wood cabinets balance out the rich brown and orange tones and bring out a sophisticated appeal.

Minimalist dream White and brown modern Kitchen with wooden island


Dark tones against light color schemes create the perfect minimalist style. Your dark oak wood cabinet will fit a minimalist interior since it is not overpowering, unlike when it was naturally toned red and orange. 

Grounded in Color

Beautiful Modern light grey and dark grey kitchen

If you want a more vibrant interior, dark oak wood cabinets will ground a color display. The dark stain will be an elegant accent amid the splash of bold tones, and it will not clash with anything since it is now in a neutral shade.

Go Monochrome

Luxury studio apartment with a premium contemporary kitchen loft style in dark colors


Go for a monochromatic look and pair these dark cabinets with an equally dark color scheme--if that is your style. Some may find a monochromatic color scheme to be too dim, but with the right lighting, it can look unique and elegant.

Go for an All-Wood Scheme

A different take for going monochrome, this time, you get to go uniform. Wood schemes are unique and classic, although they can be high maintenance.

Dark oak wood would break the monotony of wood because of its sleek appearance, and its dark stain would add visual allure to the kitchen space. 

Pair a dark oak wood cabinet with a dark high chair and countertop. This will create an elegant finish often lost on rustic wood.

Pair with Bold Colors

Modern style kitchen interior design with red and black wall

A benefit of dark oak wood cabinets is they can easily be paired with bold colors, and they would not clash.

Bold colors such as red and orange would be grounded and balanced out by the dark stain, and you do not have to worry about dizzying the viewer with the array of rich colors.

Pair your favorite color with dark oak wood to have a complementary scheme.

Final Thoughts

Coating an oak wood cabinet with varnish on surface

Putting a dark stain on your oak wood cabinets is a great way to make your cabinets more adaptable to any type of aesthetic. Dark oak woods are less overwhelming, and it revamps the outdated style of orange-tinted oak wood.

The waiting time may be long, but the results will be worth it. As with any home improvement project, proper maintenance is key, and following your preference should be your top priority.

If you enjoyed this article, check out "Does Primer Need To Be Even?"


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