How to Care for Solid Oak Kitchen Cupboards

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Things You'll Need

  • Wood soap
  • Dish soap
  • Scotch pad and sponge
  • Soft bristle brush
  • Old toothbrush
  • Toothpicks
  • Towel
  • Canister vacuum cleaner
  • Shelf liner paper
  • Scissors
  • Utility knife
  • Toothpicks
  • Lacquer thinner
  • Rag
  • Scraper
  • Eye and hand protection
  • Optionals:
  • Sandpaper and sanding block
  • 100, 150, 220 grit sandpaper
  • Wood sealer
  • Stain
  • Stain marker
  • New hardware
  • Wood filler stick
  • Replacement shelf support brackets
  • Spray-on lacquer (satin finish clear)
  • Tape
  • Plastic sheeting

Oak is a wonderful wood. It is hard, dense, robust and attractive. Too often people think of oak as outdated, particularly with kitchen cabinets. But, that is temporary. Oak is one of those woods that returns to fashion in relatively short time. So, if you have solid oak kitchen cupboards, you are a lucky person. Your cupboards, when well cared for, will last your lifetime in good shape.

Remove the contents of your cupboards and inspect the cupboards and shelves at least twice a year. Strip off old shelf paper and throw it away. Remove the shelves if possible. Vacuum your cupboards.

Fill a sink with hot, soapy water and scrub the insides of your cupboards. Use your small toothbrush for cleaning the corners. Dry your cupboard wood immediately. Clean all of your shelves, stripping off any old paper. Dry your shelves immediately.

Check your shelf brackets (sometimes these look like pegs). Look for broken support holes in the oak or missing brackets. Replace any missing brackets. Tighten any loose brackets by wedging the end of a toothpick alongside the bracket and breaking it off to fill the hole.

Cut and reline your shelves using your scissors and utility knife. The paper will attach best to a clean and dry surface that is smooth. Use your sandpaper block if your shelf isn't smooth and wipe it clean before attaching the paper. Reinstall your shelves in your clean cupboards.

Clean the outside of your cupboard doors thoroughly. Often these doors are paneled with molding. Use the brushes to lift grime out of the grooves. Over time doors lose their finish, which makes them susceptible to water problems and stains.

Apply lacquer thinner to a rag and then wipe a small, inconspicuous area on your cupboard. If the sealer on the oak is lacquer, then the thinner will dissolve it. Lacquer thinner will also dissolve urethane, but much slower. With lacquer sealer you can wipe the thinner around the area where the sealer is worn (such as near handles) and then lightly sand to feather the edges between the raw wood and the still working lacquer. Try not to remove the stain on the wood, but be prepared to touch up the stain as needed.

Wipe lacquer thinner around any scratch marks. Use wood fill on any deep gouges, and then sand the surface to feather to the existing finish. Stain and allow the stain to dry, then spray any area you have touched up with lacquer spray. It is a good idea to remove cupboard doors when possible and spray in an outside area. If you must do this in place, then mask off everything around your spray area with tape and plastic sheeting and ventilate your room well. Lacquer should spray over old lacquer just fine. If you have problems, then your underlying sealer may not be lacquer.

Update your cabinets every few years with new hardware for a fresh look. Keep water from sitting on your wood and remove stains immediately. Clean with a wood soap.


  • Keep your cabinets clean and your surface finish in good shape to protect your cupboard's appearance.

    Don't wax your cabinets. Wax will trap dirt and create a grungy and overly shiny look.

    If you need to strip urethane off and refinish, then remove all your doors, drawers and hardware and use a product like Citristrip in an outside location. Reseal your doors before reinstalling them. Do your entire cupboards all at the same time so your finish is consistent.


  • Many solvents should be handled wearing gloves.

    When using spray-on paint, you should wear a face mask.

    To refinish touch-ups, work in a well ventilated area.