What can I do to repair the finish on the old wood?

Four years ago I had the first part of a solid cherry cabinet set installed in my kitchen. Unfortunately, the water-based urethane I finished them with hasn’t aged gracefully. There are grease marks around the door knobs and water marks where wet hands most often reach for a towel. I’ve also noticed spots where grease splatters have soaked through the finish, leaving a mark on the wood underneath. The time has come to install another section of cabinets, but I don’t want the same old trouble with the finish. What should I use on this new wood? If I go with an oil-based urethane it’ll yellow with time, making a match with the existing cabinets impossible. What can I do to repair the finish on the old wood?

I’m surprised you’ve had trouble with the durability of a water-based urethane finishing stain. I’ve use it in my home with no trouble. All I can say is that maybe the original finish wasn’t thick enough. At least three and perhaps four or even five coats are needed to provide protection in harsh areas like a kitchen. I wouldn’t hesitate to use a water-based product on your new cabinets, and as a top-up coat (or two) on your old ones after roughening the existing finish with 240-grit sandpaper. As for the grease marks, I’d suggest you try hand-sanding down to new wood in one affected area, then recoat the entire cabinet. It’s impossible for me to say that’ll work for sure, but it’s worth a try. A lot depends on your finesse with the work. That’s why you should try this fix initially in one spot only. Cherry is a beautiful wood and deserves to look its best. Good luck.