When you buy your unfinished cabinets, you will most likely buy either birch, or oak. Birch cabinets have a fine grain. Often times, these are painted...but stain looks great on them. If you put a cherry stain on, the birch will look like cherry.
Regardless of birch or oak, make sure you prepare the wood properly. Begin by lightly sanding the wood with a 120-grit sand paper. Work in the same direction as the grain or you’ll get scratches.
Do a second sanding using a 220-grit sandpaper. This is finer and designed to remove any scratches from the 120. It will also give the wood a smooth finish. Your final finish is only as smooth as the top of the wood.
Remember, stain is for the color of the cabinets. It does not protect the wood. You need to put on a finish. If you use an oil-based stain, use an oil-based polyurethane for a finish. Apply two coats — this will ensure your wood’s protection.