If you’ve been hanging out with us on Instagram Stories, you know that our most recent DIY home decor projects have been a rollercoaster of emotion, filled with trials and triumphs, hilarity, all kinds of opinions and ultimately, some really fun lessons learned. And when I say fun I mean totally painful and headache-inducing, but ultimately worthwhile because as always, I get to share them all here with you! Today’s DIY home decor project in question? The now infamous wood kitchen cabinet hardware project!
Now you might be asking yourself, “but didn’t you already have kitchen cabinet hardware?” and that’s a fair question because yes, yes we did. We used to have black knobs and drawer pulls that came into our lives when we remodeled our kitchen in a terrifying, but awesome 48 hours about 4 years ago, which you can read all about here! And though the contrast of the black hardware on the white cabinets is delightful, for some reason I’ve been dreaming of swapping that black hardware out for some cozy, warm, cottage-inspired wood hardware ever since, and one day while C was out of town got a wild hair and decided to go for it, so naively thinking to myself, “How fun! A quick and easy update that will require minimal effort on my part, but make a huge difference in the look and feel of the kitchen.” And if you’ve been following along on Instagram Stories and weighing in on the saga that is the wood kitchen cabinet wood hardware project, you’re probably already laughing because quick and easy this project was not.
Of course, I wouldn’t be writing this if the story didn’t have a happy ending, but we didn’t get there “easily” which was really maddening because I’d say that typically, swapping out cabinet hardware is one of the easiest, quickest, most affordable and approachable ways to update the look and feel of your kitchen for the average human with little to no home improvement skills.
Left: Before; Right: After
First, I had no idea how hard finding good wood cabinet hardware was. I totally underestimated this part of the project. Home Depot and Lowes have basically one kind of wood knob that they offer, and in addition to that here in Phoenix we have basically no independent hardware stores that offer cool, affordable cabinet hardware. So out of desperation I grabbed the only wood knob offering Home Depot had, and left without pulls because they don’t sell wood pulls. When I got home and brought the knobs into the kitchen, they were too small. They were 1 1/14” knobs and would have looked oddly tiny in proportion to the cabinets. So now I was already annoyed because I wanted to finish this project in a weekend. So I hopped on Amazon to find slightly larger wood knobs and hopefully some wood pulls, and much to my delight, they had many delightful options for 1 1/2” wood knobs. Wood pulls? Not so much.
So I ordered this pack of 20, 1 1/2” wood knobs (I needed 16 total and it’s always good to have a few extras) on Amazon Prime and hoped for the best! Now the listing for the knobs I ordered didn’t specify the species of wood these were made out of, so I was just sort of guessing that these would show up and be a wood tone I could work with. Luckily, when they showed up they were absolutely perfect and all I had to do was spray them with a clear enamel to protect them from nasty kitchen hands and potential gross stains, screw them on and bam, the knobs were done! After spraying them they darkened slightly, but didn’t yellow or change color in a bad way at all. They maintained that perfect sort of natural, cooler wood tone, but just got a little bit darker.
Despite that small triumph, this project was far from over. After that I needed to finally hunt down some wood pulls and get them in my hands so this project wouldn’t drag on longer than it already had. When C and I were in Seattle last spring we stayed right next to this awesome hardware store Hardwick & Sons that has been owned and operated by the same family for 4 generations, and we were completely blown away by how many amazing (and totally affordable) hardware options they had. As in they had a huge, long aisle with walls full of hardware options of all kinds, including just about every kind of wood knob and pull you could ever want or need. We took pictures of tons of the hardware we loved while we were there because you can order their hardware online and we knew we’d want to catalogue this epic resource for future projects. And now here we are!
Left: Before; Right: After
So I hopped on their site, found a couple of great oak drawer pull options and ordered them up. The only catch? The width of the holes for the screws. The black pulls we already had used holes that were 3” apart, centered. Hardwick & Sons only offers one wood pull with screw holes that are 3” apart on centers, and the style just wasn’t right for our kitchen. The pulls I ordered had holes that were 3 3/4” apart on centers, so that would require us to drill new holes in the drawers. Not ideal. Just add that to the list of reasons this project was becoming much more annoying that originally intended.
So what were the options I ordered? This simple, smooth oak pull and this more detailed, carved oak pull. The smooth oak pull was what I had originally envisioned for this project, but when I saw the carved oak pull I thought it could be kind of fun and funky! Which you guys know I love. When the pulls arrived (they arrived in two days, which was awesome) I was totally torn. I really enjoyed the carved option, but also enjoyed the simplicity of the smooth option. And now I was just all kinds of torn and confused and had to turn to Instagram Stories and put up a poll so I could crowdsource the pain away. Luckily, you guys totally came through and though it was pretty close, it was 60/40 for the simple pulls. So that’s what we went with.
Left: Before; Right: After
Oh you thought the saga was over? Not a chance, friends. Choosing the pulls was only the beginning of this wood drawer pull battle. I loved the unfinished look of the oak, but just like the knobs I couldn’t leave these bare and susceptible to all kinds of stains and yuckiness in the kitchen. Sure it’s great when wood wears with age and use, but in a kitchen these would wear in a gross way, not in a cool way. So I gave them the same treatment I gave the knobs, sprayed them and brought them back in to drill the new holes and fasten them to the drawers. Once we measured, drilled and fastened them onto the cabinet, I stepped back and it was… rough. The clear enamel spray brightened them to a strange, sort of bright yellow color which is always a possibility when you spray a clear enamel on wood. It can change the color or the tone of bare wood, stain or paint and you never really know what that color might look like. So now, it was back to square one.
I quickly (and begrudgingly) ordered new pulls (thank goodness they’re not super expensive) and decided that I’d need to stain them in order to get them to mesh with the wood countertop, floors and the wood knobs. The stain would have to be subtle though, which was going to be a challenge. Once they arrived I tested three different stains on three different test pulls. I had to test them on the actual pulls because I had to see what the stains would do to this exact oak. I tried Minwax’s Pickled Oak, Weathered Oak and Classic Gray, and all of them looked rough. Pickled Oak was too white and a little too red, Weathered Oak was just plain a little too red and Classic Gray was way too dark and grey. Now the frustration really set in. Nevertheless, I was determined to get this right. Never say die, guys! Stain is a tricky beast.
I also had another problem on my hands. I noticed when testing that the pulls have end grain on the outer edges of the pull, which really soaks up stain. So the center of the pull would look like normal, evenly stained wood and the outer edges would get really dark and muddy. Yet another hurdle to overcome that I was less that thrilled about.
In more positive progress news, after much more testing and more pulls ordered, I finally landed on a stain mixture and figured out an approach to the endgrain problem. The mixture of stain that I landed on that gave the pulls a perfectly subtle, natural stained look that was just slightly darker than the bare wood, a kind of “warm grey” (I don’t know how else to properly describe it), that looked weathered, but not at all muddy and meshed really well with the stain of the wood countertops and my new wood knobs. The mixture is three parts Weathered Oak to one part Classic Gray. I loved the subtle look of Weathered Oak, but I just wanted it to be cooler, i.e. less red, and more gray. That’s where the pinch of Classic Gray really helped. As far as the endgrain goes, I detailed how I tackled that problem in step one of the tutorial below. Easy peasy!
To keep it as subtle as possible, I wiped it on with a dry, soft cloth very lightly and then wiped it off right away with another soft, dry cloth. That was just enough to nicely stain the wood without going overboard on saturation. Essentially I just tried not to rub it in really aggressively and then wipe it off quickly so the wood wouldn’t soak it up too much. And it totally worked.
Ok enough of me gabbing! Below is the brief, but hopefully useful tutorial on how how I stained these oak drawer pulls and how I tackled that endgrain problem. Thank you guys again for hanging in there with me on this project and offering such awesome feedback – we made it, friends!
Supplies for Your DIY Wood Kitchen Cabinet Hardware Makeover
2 clean, soft cloths of your choosing (I like using these)
180-grit sanding block
320-grit sanding block
How To: Easy DIY Wood Kitchen Cabinet Hardware Makeover
- To even out the grain of the wood, including the tricky endgrain, I sanded the center of the oak drawer pulls using 180-grit sanding block, then sanded the outer edges or endgrain using a 320-grit sanding block to make those endgrain pores smaller and avoid the endgrain soaking up too much stain. Once you’ve sanded, brush dust off and wipe off with a damp soft cloth. Let dry.
- Mix 3 parts Minwax Weathered Oak stain with 1 part Minwax Classic Gray in a jar (so you can seal it back up and re-use that exact mixture if you need more down the road). The more Classic Gray you use, the grayer and more opaque this stain will get. My color needs for this stain were really specific to our own space, but in general this is a great mixture if you’re looking for a somewhat transparent natural stain that’s a nice subtle warm gray. You can adjust the ratio of mixture to be more or less gray as desired.
- Wipe your stain onto your pull, following the grain, using a soft dry cloth. I started in the middle of the pull and worked my way out, using less pressure on the endgrain so I didn’t overdo it to the point of no return. Wipe stain off immediately using another soft, dry cloth. If you want a darker look, simply let your stain sit for 30 seconds to a minute before wiping.
- Let dry for 24 hours in a well-ventilated area before fastening your pulls to your cabinet drawers. They’ll be dry to the touch in a couple of hours, but oil-based stains can be… oily for 24 hours following staining.