How can I lighten a stained finish

My kitchen cabinets need to be refinished. Originally, they were stained in dark oak, with what appears to be a lacquer finish.
The stain and finish has worn off in spots and the cabinets need to be re-stained and refinished. While I am at it, can I lighten the previous finish, somehow, maybe bleach it with Clorox? The cabinets would look better with a lighter finish, like light oak.
The cabinets are also very dull (almost no sheen). Do most people use semi-gloss on their kitchen cabinets. Is lacquer a good kitchen cabinet finish?
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Walter
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Making a lighter finish is not easy to accomplish. I'd start by sanding and try to remove most of the stain that way. Clearly, some stain will have penetrated the wood but simple sanding might give a result you're happy with.
Bleaching is tricky to do well. If you're determined to try, I'd suggest a visit to your local library -- study at least a couple of different books.
For finishing kitchen cabinets, my personal recipe is:
* 4 coats of full gloss, oil based poly. Apply thin even coats with a good foam brush (Wooster's available from Lowes highly recommended).
* Lightly sand with 400 grit between coats
* After a couple of days, remove the plasticy looking gloss by rubbing with 0000 steel wool and some wax.
I refinished my oak kitchen cabs last year using this process and have been delighted with the results. Aside from the sanding (a pain in the ass) it was remarkably easy to get a very professional finish.
I took off some medium oak stain with the sanding and this did lighten the color but only slightly. However, the sanding also removed that "dead looking" layer and the wood looks very much more "alive" -- much brighter, even though the color only changed a couple of shades.
Of course, you're other option is refacing. Refinishing is just so labor intensive, it's not economically viable in most cases unless you have the enthusiasm and skills to tackle it yourself. If you really want light oak, refacing may be worth considering.
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Thanks for your good tips, Malcolm. I will take them to heart.
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Walter
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