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Cabinets, Furniture, Woodworks/unfinished oak cabinets


QUESTION: When building our home we had custom oak cabinets built for the kitchen. When they were installed we were told they were sealed and good to go. It has been 4 years and let me tell you we have since found out they were not sealed. We now have grease and whatever stains running down the front of the doors. I would like to refinish or seal properly but my problem is how to get the existing stains out. Help!

ANSWER: Hi Diane,

Yes, I agree - those cabinets look like they weren't sealed. It's going to take some elbow grease to get them stripped down. You have to strip them clean and get them back to raw wood, which means cleaning off the grease, and then possibly stripping off whatever finish is left on them.

My best suggestion would be to buy some TSP, which can be found in the paint department of a good hardware store. It comes in powder form and you mix it with water. It's very strong, so use gloves. You're going to scrub your doors and drawer fronts with it, using some sort of soft abrasive pad. I would stay away from steel wool, so look for one of those green scrubby pads.

After scrubbing the wood down with the TSP, rinse the wood clean with a damp rag. Try not to get the wood TOO wet, as you can weaken the glue joints.

At this point, you should inspect the wood to see if you can tell if there's any finish left on it. If there is, you will have to get rid of it - by sanding it off, or stripping it with paint stripper. Neither method is going to be fun.

Once the wood is completely clean, I would recommend a couple of coats of polyurethane varnish. Using a good paintbrush makes all the difference in the world, so ask your hardware sales person to recommend a good brush. It's probably going to be 15 or $20. (That's USD!) If you use a cheap brush, you'll get brush marks or shedding bristles, and your paint job will come out horrible. After the first coat of varnish, sand the wood lightly  with fine sandpaper and wipe clean. Then - apply a second coat.

This job is not hard to do, but it is a lot of work. I suggest tackling just a few doors at a time, taking your time and doing a very good job on all of them. Doing too many at once will burn you out! This is not a job to tackle over a weekend, but rather - a month. Like I said - it's a lot of work!

Good luck, I hope this helps. Write back if you have more questions and I'll try to help.

Jamie in Vegas

Jamie Yocono
Wood It Is! Custom Cabinetry
Las Vegas, NV

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Omg Jamie, you were not kidding about a long process. I have washed and sanded but some of the grease stains just will not come out. I faded them out as much as possible, if I apply varnish over the last bit will stains stand out or just blend with wood grain? Also you said to apply couple of coats of varnish, do I want just thin coats? And I am assuming the inside of doors should also be sealed? Is 150 sandpaper what I would use after each coat?


I would experiment a little bit, to see what the varnish will do over the stains. I'm just not sure how they will react together, so the key is to test it somewhere that doesn't matter, like the inside of the cabinet or the backside of the door. If it looks bad - I am not sure what to tell you. You may have to either live with it, or order new doors.

As far as applying varnish - yes,you want thin coats.  You could probably thin your varnish down 50-50 with mineral spirits, and apply it with the rag, rather than brushing it on. That way, you won't have drip or brush marks. You can also buy a rub on polyurethane that is already thinned down, but it's cheaper to do it yourself.

You should sand your wood to 180 grit sandpaper, and between coats of varnish - lightly sand the surface with 220 paper. And yes, you have to seal both sides of the doors - inside and out.

I told you this was a big job!  I wish I had better advice to give you about the grease stains, but I'm just unfamiliar with how to get rid of them. Maybe there is another expert here who could give you more help?

Good luck, write back again if you need help,


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Jamie Yocono


Woodworker, Furniture designer/builder, industrial arts educator. Bachelor degree in Furniture Design, and journeyman carpenter, with a 4 year apprenticeship. Currently owner of custom furniture/cabinet shop in Las Vegas, NV. Can answer most woodworking questions EXCEPT those regarding repairs, refinishing, and antiques.


Bachelor in Furniture Design - Ohio University (1980) Journeyman Carpenter, Local 639 Adult educator - Developed adult education woodworking program for the University of Akron, and taught classes there for 9 years. Opened a private woodworking school in Las Vegas, NV and teach private and semi-private lessons. In 2011, I will begin teaching UNLV woodworking classes at my school. Sweet!

Furniture Society

Tile Design and Installation Magazine (Article on inlaying tile into wood)

Journeyman Union Carpenter Bachelors degree in Furniture Design (Ohio University) College of Hard Knocks!

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