Paint-Grade vs. Stain-Grade Cabinets: What Are The Major Differences?

paint grade vs stain grade cabinets

Shopping for your cabinetry has to be one of the most stress-inducing actions you can take as a homeowner. Or, if you are a real estate investor, a fix and flipper. One of the more taxing decision-making processes is trying to figure out whether you want paint-grade or stain-grade cabinets. What does this even mean, anyway?

Stain-grade cabinets are more durable but have a tendency towards knots and streaks. Paint-grade cabinets are more likely to be knot-free, made of solid wood, and made of materials ready to be painted. Paint-grade wood is smoother and tends to be easier to work with for both stains and paints. 

If you want to make sure that you get the best possible outcomes from your kitchen improvement projects, then it’s best to find out the full specs on each.

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What’s The Difference Between Paint-Grade And Stain-Grade Cabinets?

The big difference between paint-grade and stain-grade cabinets is the quality of the wood. Stain-grade wood is more likely to be streaky and knot-filled than paint-grade cabinets. Paint-grade cabinets are meant to be as smooth as possible, simply because they can be easier to paint. If you paint stain-grade stuff, you’ll see the knots and stuff…unless you get wood putty.

What Is Cheaper, Paint-Grade Or Stain-Grade Wood?

Stain-grade wood is the cheaper option between the two, at least when it come to raw wood materials. When it comes to a matter of wood quality and ease of use, you might find paint-grade wood to be easier. It requires less prep time and therefore is cheaper in terms of the matter of work.

Most people will notice that paint-grade wood will be noticeably more expensive than stain-grade wood. Usually, this means that you will need to pay $1 to $3 more than the typical price of stain-grade wood. So, if you have to pay $1 per square foot of stain-grade wood, then you may need to pay as much as $4 for paint-grade wood.

Can You Paint Stain-Grade Wood?

Painting stain-grade wood is not advisable, but it absolutely is doable. There are several fillers that make it easier to paint, too. These filkers make it possible for people to paint stain-grade wood, even if the wood is originally pretty crappy. So, it’s possible. It just takes more effort than you would expect from paint-grade wood.

Which Is More Common, Stain-Grade Wood Or Paint-Grade Wood?

Both paint-grade wood and stain-grade wood have their own place in the world of woodworking. Most of the time, people who are looking for a bargain tend to choose paint-grade wood. If you are not sure whether you want to paint or stain the wood you buy, it’s best to get stain-grade wood to finish your product.

With all that said, stain-grade wood is more popular than paint-grade wood. This is primarily because stain-grade wood is easier to source than paint-grade wood. (I liken it to the difference between duck liver and foie gras pate, if that makes sense.)

Will People Notice A Difference Between Stain Grade And Paint Grade Wood?

Here’s the good thing you need to be aware of when you’re shopping around for lumber: paint-grade wood is not as popular as it once was. In fact, it’s not even that easy to notice when you look at the finished product. If you are concerned about people noticing a difference, remember that most of the wood that’s made of this particular material is unique.

It’s totally possible to get nearly indistinguishable differences between stain and paint-grade woods by just covering both with paint. Heck, even paint-grade wood can make it easier for people to find a good “happy medium” between the two options.

In other words, the work that’s put into this project will determine how well your wood will perform. If you have good workmanship, then you won’t really notice much of a difference. Otherwise, you might notice a serious dip in quality as far as wood goes.

What Would Most Professionals Suggest?

If you are about to start working on a project that involves cabinetry, then the answer is pretty obvious. Most professionals will tell you that it makes sense to go for the more high-quality material. In this case, that means that you should opt for paint-grade cabinetry.

Sure, you can paint stain-grade cabinets. No one is going to fault you for painting those, and in many cases, you won’t even be able to see the difference. However, when it comes to long-term ROI, it’s pretty easy to figure out which is the clear victor. Most people feel more confidant about paint-grade wood long-term.

A Major Note About Stain-Grade vs Paint-Grade Wood

It’s important to recognize that stain-grade wood and paint-grade wood don’t always make much of a difference when you compare them to their “rivals.” The truth is that the grade of wood that you choose might not always work with what you want to do. In some cases, stain-grade wood actually makes more sense.

There are many moments where stain-grade makes more sense, just due to the sheer texture that it can offer people. For example, if you want a streaky look that has a strong resemblance based in what you see in the wood, stain-grade makes more sense. Moreover, if you have a very rustic look, stain-grade wood has a more gritty vibe to it.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that smooth edges are not everything. You can get a great look with stain-grade. It’s all about having the right look for the type of aesthetic that you want to pull off.

Which Is Better: Stain-Grade Or Paint-Grade Wood?

Honestly, this really boils down to the project that you have. Stain-grade wood tends to have a better texture when it’s brought out by the look of stain. It’s knotty, it’s streaky, and it tends to generally have more pigment than your average wood stain. Paint-grade, on the other hand, is flatter and tends to have less streakage.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the look that you want to create. If you want to get a stain that looks super western and rustic, go for stain-grade. Otherwise, it makes sense to get a slab of paint-grade wood. It’s really just that simple.

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Related Questions

How many layers of wood stain do your cabinets need to have?

This is actually a matter of personal preference rather than anything else. Most cabinets won’t do well with a single layer of wood stain, though some do. The vast majority of people who stain their own cabinets want to see at least two layers on their cabinetry, if only because it offers a better level of color.

If you are unsure of what you need, ask yourself if the level of color is something that you want to deal with. If it’s not, then you may need to grab another layer of paint.

Should you paint or stain hardwoods?

Most hardwoods have a natural streakiness to them that makes them ideal candidates to staining. Stains help bring out the natural textures found in the wood that you have. While all hardwoods have the streaks and stripes that make them great candidates for staining, some are still better than others.

Teak, oaks, as well as hickories seem to do better when it comes to flaunting their stripes. If you have one of these, embrace the stripes they have.

Are there any hardwoods that are unable to be painted?

Honestly, there really aren’t. Due to the major advances made by paint companies in recent years, it’s possible to make any hardwood into a painting surface. This includes oil-heavy hardwoods which normally don’t do well with pigments. As long as you have the right type of primer for the project, you should be able to see an improvement on painting.

Ossiana Tepfenhart

Ossiana Tepfenhart is an expert writer, focusing on interior design and general home tips. Writing is her life, and it's what she does best. Her interests include art and real estate investments.

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