Cherry cabinets done...any tips on less blotchy finish?

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Project by tallpaul posted 02-25-2008 06:40 AM 11492 views 2 times favorited 14 comments Add to Favorites Watch

Hey brothers and sisters,

I’ve included a couple of pictures of some simple cabinets I’ve refaced in my laundry room. I used cherry veneer on the cabinet rails and stiles, and made some flat panel cabinet doors in a shaker style. I’m okay with the results, but I feel the finish could be better, due to some blotchiness. I haven’t worked with cherry before, and I’d like to perfect a great finish before I move on to other rooms in the house…ie the master bath.

So here’s what I did:

Sanded to 220.

Put a wash coat of boiled linseed oil on the cherry to bring out the color.

Wanted a deeper color, more like aged cherry, so I used Varathane gel stain in a natural cherry.

Sprayed four light coats of Minwax poly, with steel wool to rub it out.

I’m pleased with the color, rich but not artificial looking. But it has some blotchiness.

Should I try a pre-stain conditioned before a gel stain in the future?
What works well for you?


-- tallpaul

14 comments so far

View GaryK's profile


10262 posts in 3983 days

#1 posted 02-25-2008 06:45 AM

That’s not blotchiness, that’s character. Good job!

-- Gary - Never pass up the opportunity to make a mistake look like you planned it that way - Tyler, TX

View Grumpy's profile


23916 posts in 3846 days

#2 posted 02-25-2008 10:05 AM

Goog looking cabinet. Cherry is something we don’t see much down under, looks like a nice timber.

-- Grumpy - "Always look on the bright side of life"- Monty Python

View grumpycarp's profile


257 posts in 3741 days

#3 posted 02-25-2008 10:28 AM

Nice work. They look pretty good in the pics but I know what you mean. Pine and Cherry take stain really unevenly. Definitely use a wood size or wood conditioner to even out the stain. As to color sticking, it in the sunlight will darken freshly planed cherry pretty quick and you might experiment with blond or amber shellac to warm up the color a bit. I like shellac a lot as it dries pretty quickly (alcohol based) so dust nibs and the like are a little less of a problem. BTW, I know more than a few people who consider staining cherry a capital offense ;-)
It continues to darken with age and the color you have now is not the color you will have two years from now.

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3817 days

#4 posted 02-25-2008 12:57 PM


This looks good to me. Cherry is my favorite wood with which to work. There are some differences in the stain adsorption with cherry but, as GaryK says, it adds character to the piece. With my pieces I usually start with a penetrating oil and then seal it with shellac followed by wipe on poly.

Another method that is published by Jeff Jewitt is as follows:

Sand to 180
Raise the grain with distilled water. Let dry and sand to 220
Color with dilute mix of honey amber dye
Let dry and seal with 1 lb cut of shellac
Apply dark brown gel stain
After drying apply finish topcoat (Jeff uses shellac but I prefer wipe on poly)

Jeff’s method is more involved but it is designed to produce an aged look to the cherry.

Another method, that I haven’t tried, to color cherry is to expose it to sunlight for 2 to 3 weeks and then apply a finish. But to me this is a lot of work bringing the wood in and out of the shop and worrying about the weather.

Hope this helps.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View Jiri Parkman's profile

Jiri Parkman

953 posts in 3808 days

#5 posted 02-25-2008 01:30 PM

I donĀ“t see blotchiness. Good job.

-- Jiri

View Tim Pursell's profile

Tim Pursell

499 posts in 3777 days

#6 posted 02-25-2008 02:33 PM

Maybe it’s the photos, but I do not see any “blotchyness” either. I have worked enough cherry to know what you mean though. I’ve had good results with sealing the wood with one or even two coats of 1lb cut shelac, light sanding with 320 grit, then using a gel stain. Topping with a poly/oil/thinner mix applied as a wipe on.
Play around with any scraps you have left over, but the color on your cabinets look good to me! Nice work!


View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4214 days

#7 posted 02-25-2008 04:17 PM

As others have said, they look great in the photos.

There was a time when I thought staining was part of every project. When I started working with a wider variety of wood types, and experienced the benefits of NOT fooling around with stain, and life got much easier. About the only time I use stain now is when I have to try to match something to an existing piece.

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View Mario's profile


902 posts in 4047 days

#8 posted 02-25-2008 04:24 PM

They look great!

-- Hope Never fails

View jockmike2's profile


10635 posts in 4242 days

#9 posted 02-25-2008 10:15 PM

I also have read that you need to put a coat of wood conditioner or a thin coat of shellac with denatured alcohol about 1 to 4 or poly thin with paint thinner same about 1 to 4. mike

-- (You just have to please the man in the Mirror) Mike from Michigan -

View USCJeff's profile


1063 posts in 4063 days

#10 posted 03-15-2008 06:37 AM

I’m in the same boat. I’ve got a cherry piece that I really don’t want to take chances with. From what I’ve gathered so far from a few resources is that there are a couple ways to go. A gel varnish seems to be the easiest. I’ve been told a washcoat of BLO that has set for a week will speed the aging/color transition before applying gel. I think that will be the way I go. There are a few other reputable recipes that involve analine dyes and home-made custom concoction’s of various tints. Pretty involved though.

-- Jeff, South Carolina

View rikkor's profile


11295 posts in 3870 days

#11 posted 03-15-2008 11:02 AM

There is no obvious blochiness in the photos. I’ll bet a little natural aging will even things pretty good.

View Douglas Bordner's profile

Douglas Bordner

4024 posts in 4059 days

#12 posted 03-15-2008 09:36 PM

I believe I read in FWW that BLO may add to cherry’s tendency to be blotchy. I would stick to a first coat of a one or two pound cut of dewaxed shellac prior to any staining or other clear coat. And I would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to trumpet my praises of Zinnser Sealcoat – a two pound cut of dewaxed shellac with an extended shelf-life. It doesn’t get much easier than that. Rag it on quick, let it dry and level it out with 320 grit.

And I am chapter and verse with Charlie about trying to avoid the staining step whenever possible. If I need my cherry to be darker I set it out on the deck during a sunny day.

BTW, Paul I think those cabinets look first rate!

-- "Bordnerizing" perfectly good lumber for over a decade.

View HarleySoftailDeuce's profile


320 posts in 3415 days

#13 posted 07-28-2009 08:57 PM

Nice job! I too am building kitchen cabinets, and am educating myself about finishing. I bought Bob Flexner’s book “Understanding Wood Finishing” ...and it’s a real keeper. I use it as a resource. I have so much to learn here!

-- Paul, Bristol,Rhode Island

View mtkate's profile


2049 posts in 3320 days

#14 posted 08-03-2009 11:26 PM

Agree with folks here – the blotchiness does not show to the extent you think it does. We are always much more critical of our own work, of course.

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