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Updating Honey Oak Cabinets: Using Lacquer As An Option

Honey, Yellow, Golden, Orange, oak kitchen cabinets.  Call them what you like, but the 80’s and 90’s called you on their rotary phone to tell you that they are not cool anymore.   Just kidding! Well, partially…the color, yes, the oak, no. The clear coat that was used on the red oak cabinets back in the day made them look a yellowish or Cheeto orange. That color has fallen out of favor for darn sure. But, oak, as a material, has never lost popularity necessarily.  For me, honey oak is not such an eyesore.  My beef with builders from the honey oak era is: why so much?  Do the floors, cabinets, trim, and (in my parent’s house back then) the ceiling all have to be honey oak?  It’s like walking into a honey oak cave.  Nothing stands out, no contrast, nothing interesting is happening, I mean, where does the floor stop, and the cabinets begin?  I guess I should be more specific about my appreciation.  I’m a very big fan of honey oak as a flooring choice.  It has been around for ages and perfect for homes with pets and kids. It’s not too light and not too dark so you don’t see as much dust and dirt and scratches and all the things that pets and kids bring.  So, I don’t hate honey oak, I really don’t, just not every effing where.  Let’s face it, oak is an extremely durable wood that doesn’t die easily.  So, what do you do if you have honey oak cabinets and don’t want to spend the money to replace them, but desperately want an update?  You have some product options, but today I want to discuss my favorite option: lacquer.  I also will be giving you a few other things to think about when it comes to painting oak. Ready? Set. Go!

What about the grain? The grain in oak can vary in color, pattern, depth, and of course, consistency. On a cabinet door, there can be 4 or more pieces of oak that make up the panel, and each of those pieces may be installed with the grain going opposite directions.  The deep grain can sometimes be seen even after being painted or lacquered depending on the depth of the grain.  Grain is important as it can lead your decision on how to update your honey oak cabinets.  Gel staining, lacquering and painting are the options we offer.  Painting will show the least amount of grain, gel staining highlights the grain.  Lacquer is as durable as paint and happens to be my favorite option.

Ya’ll remember that super shiny black lacquer from way back?  Well, this is not that, though it can be.  It is available in different sheens and can be tinted most any color. As I mentioned, lacquer is more durable, has a better finish, and is faster in process.  Pre- catalysed lacquer makes that possible. The catalyst initiates a chemical reaction as the finish dries.  Pre-catalysed just means the hardening agent is added by the manufacturer before it is sold.  It sprays on evenly and smoothly without running, builds fast, and dries quickly. It has a hard, flexible surface that can be polished to a shine.  It reminds me of going to the Z Nails to get a gel manicure. I get a gel manicure because my nails are dry right away, have a nice finish, they’re more durable, yadda, yadda…

I can’t talk about lacquer if I don’t at least mention distressing.  When I refer to distressing oak cabinets, I don’t want the over-the-top, antiqued, glazed edge, war-torn, look be the first scene that comes to your mind.  I’m talking about the light, pencil thin distressed edge that is only seen on the edges of the rails, raised panels, and corners (see picture).  Distressing the edges helps lend a more “lived-in” feel for all of the cabinets.   The grain shows through giving the cabinets a rustic look and the distressing goes along with that look, however, the grain that will show through does not match the color of the wood coming through when distressed.  Distressing the edges gives the entire job a more cohesive look if the homeowner keeps a honey oak stain on the flooring.  I especially like the distressed look on the bottom cabinets, but I have to throw out a caution flag here.  The distressed look, if over-done, could come off as a bit dated.


In the Kansas City area, we use lacquer for nearly every cabinet job we do for all the reasons I mentioned above.  Some of the cabinets are distressed, some are not.  Either way an update has taken place.  The cabinets no longer look like Winnie the Pooh’s hang out, and that is the most important thing, am I right?  If you’re on the fence about what to do with your dated honey oak kitchen cabinets, give us a call (816-500-7759) and let us show you some samples and some fantastic before and after pics to set your mind at ease.

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Sara Ward
June 7, 2017

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