Kitchen Cabinet Finish in a Nutshell
There are three basic types of cabinet finish. These are, in no particular order, None, Stain, and Solid Color. That's IT! Well, there's a little more to it. The nice thing about cabinet finish is that there are so many choices in stains and colors. But the bad thing about cabinet finish is that there are so many choices in stains and colors. Cabinet finish has cause more than one argument in kitchen showrooms…
None is a pretty self explanatory cabinet finish (although you can get cabinets ready to take a finish, or in a state where you have to prep the wood yourself) so I won't talk about that much here.
Stains and solid color cabinet finish can vary quite a bit; there are subcategories of each and some stain and solid color cabinet finishes hover right on the line between the two. Stain is sort of a transparent cabinet finish. If you can't see the wood grain beneath the color, you can at least see the texture of the wood (more pronounced on something like Oak). Stain is applied directly to the wood itself.
Lighter cabinet stains make the grain a little more pronounced than just a clear coat.
Paint is a totally new surface, and you see nothing of the wood underneath paint. If there is a texture to the paint, it's the paint itself, or a bad job of filling grain and priming. Stain and paint cabinet finish both come in glazed and distressed forms.
Glazing is usually done with a grey, brown, or black paint/glaze mixture. It gets rubbed onto the cabinet, and then wiped off. There is some color left after the wiping though, especially in the nooks and crannies of the cabinet.
Actually, this video on glazing kitchen cabinets will tell you how to do it yourself or just help you understand the process in general, whichever way you want to look at it.
One variation on stain AND paint is the distressed cabinet finish. This typically involves a glaze, but not necessarily. What it does involve is people at the cabinet factory beating the tar out of their products, resulting in a cabinet finish that's "pre-dinged."
Glazing and distressing generally bumps the cost of cabinets up 15%-30%. I'm seriously debating whether I should rent out my children with their tricycles to people who want a distressed cabinet finish but didn't want to pay the extra up front. The kids will have a blast, and the price should be far less than the 15%-30%. If you're interested in a custom distressed finish and the money is right, I'll bring them down to your kitchen and spend a few hours…