The A-to-Z Guide to Unfinished Cabinets

Mariel Loveland
Written by Mariel Loveland
Updated December 17, 2021
A large kitchen with unfinished oak cabinets
Photo: pics721 / Adobe Stock

Highlights

  • Kitchen cabinets can cost anywhere between $100–$1,200 per linear foot

  • Unfinished wood cabinets are less expensive than finished wood cabinets

  • Consider grain, color, construction, and budget when purchasing unfinished cabinets

  • Seal your unfinished cabinets to protect them from moisture

Get quotes from up to 3 pros!
Enter a zip below and get matched to top-rated pros near you.

So, you’re looking to replace your kitchen cabinets—but do you dare to go unfinished? Unfinished kitchen cabinets open a world of options for customizing your cabinetry and completing your dream kitchen design, but are they worth the money? Here’s what you need to know if you’re buying unfinished cabinets.

What Is an Unfinished Cabinet?

Unfinished kitchen cabinets are exactly what they sound like—cabinets made from unfinished wood that hasn’t been exposed to lacquer, stain, paint, or sealant. There are two major types:

  • Veneer wood unfinished cabinets: Inexpensive wood makes up the main body of the cabinets, but the most visible areas consist of higher-end wood. For example, you may have plywood cabinets with solid wood cabinet doors and drawer faces.

  • Solid wood unfinished cabinets: The cabinets are constructed of one type of solid wood. This is less common with custom cabinets because high-end plywood is usually stronger than solid wood and warp-resistant. Solid wood is, however, stronger than particle board (also known as furniture board).

Things to Consider When Buying Unfinished Cabinets

Before you buy new unfinished wood cabinets, there are a few things to consider. You may also want to familiarize yourself with common kitchen cabinet terms.

Budget 

Unfinished wood cabinets can fall on either side of the budget spectrum. Wood veneer cabinets made from particle board are usually the least expensive and can even cost less than laminate cabinets. Semi-custom cabinets and custom cabinets are usually a bigger investment than ready-to-assemble (RTA) cabinets. According to HomeAdvisor:

  • Wood veneer cabinets cost approximately $2,000

  • Solid wood costs around $5,000

  • High-end unfinished wood cabinets can cost $15,000–$25,000 or more. 

Grain and Color

Different wood species have varying grains and colors, so choose carefully. Dark cherry wall cabinets may look cluttered in a small kitchen, whereas pine may be too soft for the durability needed in heavily-used base cabinets.

Construction

The construction and joints of cabinet drawers—like rabbets, dowels, or dovetails that make the drawers slide—impact both price and longevity. Dovetails last the longest but tend to cost more because they use more wood.

Style and Type

Familiarize yourself with the different styles and types of kitchen cabinets. Which cabinet box and door style best suit your home? There’s a huge range from shaker to craftsman. Do you want framed cabinets or frameless cabinets? You may even want glass panels on your kitchen cabinet doors, areas of open shelving, or a soffit.

Hardware

Make sure the hardware on your cabinet doors and drawers matches your existing fixtures.

Types of Wood Species for Unfinished Cabinets

Unfinished cabinets come in every wood species under the sun, but hardwood is much more durable than softwood. Each wood has its own color, grain, and level of durability. Types of unfinished wood cabinets include:

  • Red oak cabinets

  • White oak cabinets

  • Cherry cabinets

  • Birch cabinets 

  • Maple cabinets

  • Knotty alder cabinets 

  • Hickory cabinets

  • Pine cabinets

Painting Your Unfinished Cabinets

A hand painting a kitchen cabinet
Photo: FotoHelin / Adobe Stock

If you’re buying unfinished wood cabinets, you’re going to need to finish them eventually. At the very least, you’ll have to apply a wood sealant. Natural wood is porous, so it will absorb water if it’s not finished or sealed. Most cabinetry happens to be in places that harbor moisture, like around your kitchen sink or bathroom vanity—which is bad news if you splash water from the sink or spill something. To finish your unfinished cabinets, you can choose:

  • Wood stain: This shows off the natural wood grain. 

  • Paint: You can use either water-based or oil-based paint when painting cabinets. 

  • Sealant or finish: A clear polyurethane finish will protect your cabinetry from moisture and stains.

As far as the best paint for cabinets, the sky’s the limit. White painted cabinets are classic, but you can choose chalk paint for a vintage feeling or a high-gloss latex paint in a bold color. Since cabinet painting is time-consuming and requires meticulous work, many homeowners opt to hire a local cabinet painter.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Unfinished Cabinets

Buying unfinished cabinets is all about personal preference. You should weigh the pros and cons before you make a purchase.

What Are the Advantages of Buying Unfinished Cabinets?

  • They’re very versatile and ideal for a custom remodel.

  • You can seal, stain, or paint unfinished cabinets.

  • Unfinished cabinets are less expensive than painted wood options.

  • Once finished, wood cabinets can last longer than laminate cabinets.

Why You Might Not Want to Buy Unfinished Cabinets

  • Unfinished wood cabinets are vulnerable to warping and staining.

  • It can be difficult to match wood types (particularly if you don’t have tile flooring).

  • Hiring someone to finish your cabinetry is an added cost.

  • They may not be as affordable or easy to maintain as laminate cabinets

Unfinished Cabinet FAQs

Can I turn my finished cabinets into unfinished cabinets?

As long as your finished cabinets are made from wood and in good condition, you can probably turn them into unfinished cabinets. You’ll have to sand off the paint using a coarse, 80-grit sandpaper (if it’s rough from previous paint jobs) or 120-grit sandpaper (if it has a factory finish).

What are the materials and tools needed for unfinished kitchen cabinets?

Seal, stain, or paint kitchen cabinets to protect your wood from moisture and stains. For sealing, you may only need sandpaper and sealant. If you plan on painting your unfinished kitchen cabinets, you’ll also need primer, paint, and painting materials. 

How can I buy and install unfinished kitchen cabinets?

You can buy bathroom cabinets or kitchen cabinets from home improvement stores or local cabinet makers. Since installation is complicated, it’s best to hire a local cabinet installer.

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.