Can I tone or stain MDF?


My home is newer and the builder's grade cabinets installed have MDF or another product that appears to be photo paper to match the existing stain of the birch doors and facing. Can these end panels be stained or toned (a dye or stain product to increase the tone of the color) or do I need to replace these with a veneer?

End panel of my cabinets

  7 answers
  • Rose Broadway Rose Broadway on Nov 12, 2018

    You don't need to replace them, that's a lot of work. There are many ways to paint or stain them. These videos will give you so many ideas!

    • GAGalNSC GAGalNSC on Nov 12, 2018

      I believe the hard structure of the end panels are MDF but there is a layer over it like a wallpaper that matches the existing birch doors and frames. That paper is my concern of whether it will bubble up or soften and tear.

  • Jlnatty Jlnatty on Nov 12, 2018

    My guess is that stain would not have something to "soak" into if this is MDF or "foil paper" finish on parts (like Ikea uses on some of its products); I am concerned too that any contact with a wet product like stain might actually cause potential damage to the existing finish. MDF can be wiped down with a damp cloth (maybe), but it doesn't work well generally with moisture. If you want to change the color, I would check with my local big box store or hardware store about a good bonding agent and primer for this type of finish and then paint. If you want to restain instead, I think you had the right idea about "resurfacing" with wood veneer sheets. That doesn't strike me as a particularly easy thing for someone who isn't a pro at it to do, though.

    • GAGalNSC GAGalNSC on Nov 12, 2018

      I know it's not a foil paper. Its shiny but definitely not a wood veneer. Another source is recommending a clear primer as well. I need to check into that. The side appear to be built into the face frame and finished with a trim piece against the wall. I would probably reach out to someone to cut it and put it on but it would require another trim to finish the end facing the frontal area. I have done a lot but this is not in my field of knowledge. :)

  • Shore grandmom Shore grandmom on Nov 12, 2018

    You should be able to stain or paint the veneer the same as the cabinet doors.

    • See 1 previous
    • Shore grandmom Shore grandmom on Nov 12, 2018

      It may be a contact paper type of cover. If so, I doubt that you'll be able to do anything with it. Getting a veneer would probably be the way to go then you can stain it to the color you want.

  • Jlnatty Jlnatty on Nov 12, 2018

    Sorry for the confusion over my use of the term "foil paper." That is the term Ikea uses for the finish on their less expensive items that uses a form of printed paper product over an MDF surface to give the appearance of wood. I don't think the paper would take the stain or if it did, it would act as you suspect it might - pucker and wrinkle. I did a fast check - according to this website, you can stain MDF but because it does not absorb the stain like real wood, you have to let each coat dry for at least a couple of days and then apply a protective hard finish coat.

    • GAGalNSC GAGalNSC on Nov 12, 2018

      Ahhh...okay! I wasn't familiar with that term's association with Ikea. I did contact the manufacturer and they confirmed the inability for the end panels to absorb the toner and suggested replacing them. I have ordered the wood veneer. I tried :/

  • Lucie - Oh my sander Lucie - Oh my sander on Nov 14, 2018

    I would definitely not stain the MDF. I have tried this, and it looks horrible. I see where you have ordered the veneer so good luck! :)

  • Chris Gignac Chris Gignac on Nov 14, 2018

    Your builders should’ve used veneered plywood on all outward facing cabinets sites. It cost extra money to have the good stuff that’s why he gave you the cheap stuff instead.

    • GAGalNSC GAGalNSC on Nov 14, 2018

      I definitely don't disagree with you on that. I've told a few cabinet companies the name of the manufacturer (when I was trying just to replace the doors) and their response was not favorable. I can't blame them for the product as the market obvious called for a cheaper product (like the 1st heat foiled that came out that peeled away from heat such as ovens and dishwashers) but for the consumer, it's a short term part of the house due to durability. They DO make great products but they also make these and that is what several big builders are installing by default. Homes in my area selling for $350K get the same cabinets.

  • GAGalNSC GAGalNSC on Nov 14, 2018

    I purchased new wood veneer end panels and have two coats of stain on them so far. One more should bring it to the level of what I'm trying to achieve and then I do 2-3 coats of topcoat. My cabinet doors are birch and honestly, I think the face plate is another species of wood so adding this to the mix can't hurt. :)

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