Oak Kitchen Cabinets

Learn all about oak kitchen cabinets and discover why this type of wood has stayed so popular in kitchen designs everywhere.


Wide view of oak kitchen cabinets, a wood floor, stainless kitchen appliances, and empty countertop.

Photo by: Slobo Mitic

Slobo Mitic

Oak kitchen cabinets are popular in traditional kitchen designs. Oak is a very hard, heavy wood that's strong and durable. It also features a coarse and highly visible grain pattern, which makes it a popular choice.

Kitchen Cabinets: Should You Replace or Reface?

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Decisions, Decisions

Whether you're planning a simple kitchen spruce-up or a complete overhaul, deciding what to do about your cabinets is one of the biggest decisions you'll make. New cabinets can take up nearly 50 percent of your total kitchen renovation budget, and functional cabinets can mean the difference between a kitchen that works and one that doesn't. But what if you can't afford to buy all-new cabinets with the latest storage features and styles? Read on for our tips.

Three Ways to Reface

Many homeowners today are saving money by refacing rather than completely replacing their existing kitchen cabinets. There are three primary ways to reface cabinets: 1. Refinish or paint existing cabinet and drawer fronts. 2. Install new wood or laminate veneer over existing cabinet and drawer fronts. 3. Install completely new cabinet doors and drawer fronts.

From: Anthony Carrino and John Colaneri

The Finishing Touch

Deciding which of these three options you choose comes down to budget. However you decide to reface your cabinets, complete the look with all new hardware. Pulls and knobs contribute a lot to your kitchen's style, swapping them out can take your kitchen from traditional to modern.

Beautiful Inside and Out

When refacing the cabinets, consider freshening up the interiors too. They can be sanded, painted or veneered for a completely new look. Adding handy functionality, like pull-out drawers and rotating shelves, is another great option.

Refacing Saves Money and Stress

Fans of refacing say this mini-makeover can give a kitchen a whole new look at a much lower cost than installing all-new cabinets. "Cabinet refacing can save up to 50 percent compared to the cost of replacing," says Cheryl Catalano, owner of Kitchen Solvers, a cabinet refacing franchise in Napierville, Illinois.

From: Anthony Carrino and John Colaneri

Refacing is a Time Saver Too

Cabinet refacing is also a much less involved process than removing old cabinets and installing new ones. "Refacing is an ideal option for many people because of its convenience," says Cheryl. "The process doesn't require removal of the appliances, so the kitchen stays functional while the work is being done."

From: Anthony Carrino and John Colaneri

Consider Quality

Even with the potential cost-savings, however, refacing isn't right for every kitchen remodel. Before making the decision to reface, rather than replace, homeowners need to consider a number of factors, starting with the "bones" of their current kitchen cabinets. "If they are not high-quality cabinets to begin with, it usually makes more sense to replace the entire piece," says Deborah Ramos, an interior designer in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Construction Counts

Lorey Cavanaugh of Kitchen and Bath Design Consultants in Hartford, Conn., agrees. "The old adage about not throwing good money after bad comes into play here," Lorey says. Thoroughly inspect the interiors of your existing cabinets for any signs of water damage from plumbing, excessive wear and tear or faulty construction.

Consider Your Kitchen's Age

Knowing when your kitchen cabinets were originally constructed is another consideration. "Don't spend money to refront products that are truly worn out." Says Gary Reynolds, a cabinet craftsman in North Carolina, "Cabinets built prior to the 1980s were generally built of better materials than newer ones. Back then, 3/4-inch plywood was actually 3/4-inches thick and particle board was used for floor underlayment," explains Gary, who handles both refacing and new cabinet construction.

Another Option: Open Shelving

Another alternative for homeowners with older cabinets in good condition is to remove the doors altogether and convert their existing cabinets to open shelving. Interior shelves can be removed or reconfigured inside the existing cabinet frames for a thoroughly modern and updated look. "With conversion to open shelving there is an opportunity to refinish interiors in another color from the exterior or add beadboard backs," Lorey says.

Know When to Start From Scratch

However, even if your original cabinets are solidly built and in good condition, refacing or converting to open shelving may not be the best option if your current cabinet design or layout isn't efficient or functional. If the cabinets you have now aren't deep enough to hold your saucepans or tall enough to accommodate your cookie trays, replacing them completely may be the better option. "If a homeowner is looking for major design or layout changes, those can be better achieved by starting over," says Gary Reynolds.

New Meets Old

What about a mix-and-match option, where some existing cabinets are rehabbed while others are completely replaced? Experts say this is a practical and cost-saving option many homeowners overlook. "We often leave original glass upper cabinet doors and replace just the base cabinets to improve functionality," says Lorey.

If you're considering oak kitchen cabinets in your kitchen redesign, you might want to consider that oak comes in a wide range of colors. Oak is often known for its distinctive pale gold color, but it can also be seen in brown with rich red highlights. The pronounced grain pattern of natural oak wood is often brought to light when stained, so oak may be a particularly good choice if custom cabinets are what you seek.

You can actually choose from more than one subspecies of oak. Red oak is strong, durable and relatively inexpensive. It is often featured in traditional cabinet styles as it shows off the pronounced grain patterns that oak is known for. It is available in a wide range of styles and finishes and is widely available in stock cabinetry as well as through custom retailers.

White oak is as durable as red oak and even a bit stronger. It has more of a golden tone than red oak and a more subtle grain pattern. White oak is generally quarter-sawn for custom cabinetry—a process that creates a distinctive grain pattern with a characteristic fleck. Quarter-sawn white oak is often seen in Arts and Crafts furniture design, although it is also popular in contemporary design because of its consistent grain pattern.

For the budget-conscious kitchen designer, oak is lower in price than maple, cherry or birch. This lower price allows you to buy very sturdy yet inexpensive kitchen cabinets in many different styles and colors. Oak is widely available in stock kitchen cabinetry, which allows for much less expensive kitchen renovation. It is also available from custom cabinet retailers, allowing you to design your oak kitchen with more creative freedom.

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