Cabinets are a crucial part of any home’s interior design. They not only provide storage space but also serve as a focal point in a room. The finish on your cabinets can greatly impact the overall aesthetic of your space, so it’s important to choose the right one.

Whether you’re remodeling your kitchen, bathroom, or any other room in your home, this guide will provide you with all the information you need to choose the perfect interior cabinet finish.

We will cover the different types of finishes available, the pros and cons of each, and how to properly care for and maintain your cabinets. By the end of this guide, you’ll have the knowledge and confidence to make an informed decision about your interior cabinet finish.

Guide to Interior Cabinet Finish

Choosing the Right Finish

When it comes to choosing the right finish for your interior cabinets, there are a few important considerations to take into account. The first is durability – you want a finish that will stand up to everyday use and wear and tear.

Aesthetics is also an important factor – the finish you choose should complement the style of your home and the overall look you are trying to achieve. Finally, safety is also a consideration – you want to choose a finish that is non-toxic and does not emit harmful fumes.

There are several popular finishes to choose from when it comes to interior cabinets. One of the oldest and most traditional finishes is shellac, which is derived from the lac bug and provides a warm, amber-toned finish.

Lacquer is another popular choice, and is known for its high durability and quick drying time. Oil-based varnish is also a classic choice and is ideal for those looking for a traditional look.

Finally, water-based polyurethane is a more modern option that is known for its low odor and fast drying time. Each of these finishes has its own unique properties and benefits, so it is important to consider your specific needs and preferences when making a decision.

Preparation for Applying the Finish

Preparation is a crucial step when it comes to applying a finish to interior cabinetry. To achieve a smooth and long-lasting result, it’s important to follow these steps:

  1. Sanding and Cleaning: Before applying the finish, it’s essential to sand the surfaces of the cabinetry to remove any rough spots or imperfections. Then, clean the surfaces thoroughly to remove any dust, dirt, or debris that could affect the adhesion of the finish.
  2. Sealing: Apply a sealer to the wood to provide an additional layer of protection and improve the adhesion of the finish. The type of sealer used will depend on the type of finish you’re using.
  3. Choosing the Right Applicator: Selecting the right applicator is crucial to achieving the desired result. A brush is a popular choice for precise application, but a roller or spray gun may be a better choice for a smoother finish.
  4. Safety Precautions: Many finishes contain chemicals that can be harmful, so it’s important to take safety precautions. Always read the label and use the product according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Wear protective gear such as gloves, goggles, and a mask to protect yourself from any fumes.

By following these preparation steps, you can achieve a beautiful and durable finish on your interior cabinetry. Practice using the applicator before starting your project to ensure that you’re comfortable and confident with the process.

Applying the Finish

Applying the finish to your interior cabinets is the final step in achieving the desired look and protection for your cabinetry. There are a few different methods for applying the finish, each with its own set of pros and cons.

Brush or Roller Application

Using a brush or roller to apply the finish is the most common method for small to medium-sized projects. This method allows for more control over the amount of finish applied and can be useful for getting into tight corners and edges. However, it can be time-consuming and may not result in as smooth of a finish as other methods.

Spray Application

Spray application is a faster method for applying the finish and can result in a smoother finish. However, it requires specialized equipment and is best suited for larger projects or those with a lot of flat surfaces. It also requires more practice and skill to achieve a consistent finish.

Tips for a Smooth, Even Finish

Regardless of the method chosen, there are a few tips to keep in mind to achieve a smooth, even finish. First, work in small sections and apply the finish in thin, even coats. Also, be sure to keep the brush or spray gun moving at a consistent speed to avoid drips or runs.

Finally, allow each coat to dry completely before applying the next. By following these steps and tips, you can achieve a beautiful and durable finish on your interior cabinets that will last for years to come.

Finishing Touches

Once the finish has been applied and has had time to dry and cure, it’s time to add those finishing touches to give your interior cabinets that extra bit of character and charm. One of the most popular options is to add a splash of color with colored dyes.

These dyes can be applied directly to the wood or used as a glaze to add a subtle hint of color. Another popular option is to use stencils to create intricate designs or patterns on the surface of the cabinets.

Woodburning is another decorative technique that can be used to create unique designs and patterns on the surface of the cabinets.

Finally, you can add decorative molding to the edges of the cabinets to give them a more finished and polished look. Once you have added these finishing touches, it’s important to protect the finish by cleaning and maintaining it properly.

This includes avoiding common mistakes such as using harsh chemicals or exposing the cabinets to too much moisture.

Comparison of Popular Interior Cabinet Finishes

ShellacModerateTraditional, WarmLow VOC
LacquerHighShiny, DurableFlammable
Oil-based VarnishHighTraditional, WarmStrong odor
Water-based PolyurethaneHighClear, DurableLow VOC


Can I use interior cabinet finishes on exterior surfaces?

No, interior cabinet finishes are not designed to withstand the elements and should not be used on exterior surfaces. Exterior surfaces require finishes specifically formulated for outdoor use.

Can I use interior cabinet finishes on countertops?

While it is possible to use interior cabinet finishes on countertops, it is not recommended. Countertops are subject to much more wear and tear than cabinets and require finishes that are more durable and heat-resistant.

How do I know which finish is right for my project?

The best finish for your project will depend on your personal preferences, the type of wood you are working with, and the level of wear and tear the surface will be subject to. Consider factors such as durability, aesthetics, and safety when making your selection.

Can I apply multiple coats of finish to my project?

Yes, multiple coats of finish can be applied to a project to achieve the desired level of durability and shine. Each coat should be allowed to dry completely before applying the next.

Can I mix different types of finishes together?

Mixing different types of finishes is not recommended as it can lead to compatibility issues and a poor final result. It’s best to stick with one type of finish for the entire project.

Can I use a clear finish on a previously stained piece of wood?

Yes, you can apply a clear finish over a previously stained piece of wood, but it is important to ensure that the stain is completely dry and sealed before applying the clear finish.

Editor’s Note

Using shellac or lacquer as a finish inside solid wood cabinets is a good choice as it is food-safe, dries quickly, and enhances the grain of the wood. Other options include water-based aniline dyes and sealers, contrasting wood plugs, brazing rods, copper pipes, and colored epoxy for decorative edges.

Some people also use faux painting, rosemaling, crackle paint kits, and sandblasting for glass panels. It is not necessary to finish the inside of solid wood cabinets, but it is a good practice to protect the wood and make it easier to clean.


Applying a finish to your interior cabinets can be a daunting task, but with the right knowledge and preparation, it can be a rewarding and satisfying project.

By considering factors such as durability, aesthetics, and safety, you can select the right finish for your project. Popular finishes include shellac, lacquer, oil-based varnish, and water-based polyurethane.

Proper preparation is key, including sanding and cleaning the surface, applying a sealer, and choosing the right applicator.

The application process can be done with a brush or roller, or by spray, with tips for achieving a smooth and even finish. To add a decorative touch, consider options such as colored dyes, stencils, woodburning, and decorative molding.

Lastly, protect your finish by following proper cleaning and maintenance techniques, and avoiding common mistakes.

Take the time to learn about the different finishes available and experiment with different techniques to achieve the perfect look for your interior cabinets. Additional resources are also available for further learning.

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