Jul 18

Refinishing Kitchen or Bathroom Cabinets DIY

Part four of a four part series.

Maple finished cabinets a four part series covering the following:


1)      Existing cabinet materials

2)      Method of refinishing

3)      Selecting a Contractor

4)     Doing the work yourself

Tackling a large refinishing project can be daunting. However, not all kitchen cabinetry requires an expensive makeover by a costly refinishing contractor.  In this article we will explore how to do the work yourself! Below are lists of tasks, in a recommended sequence, that will enable you to refinish your cabinets, with excellent results.

1)      Removal of doors, and drawer fronts, removable panels, and cutting boards.

2)      Masking and protecting the environment of your home.

3)      Sanding, and/or stripping the cabinets of the existing finish.

4)      Staining the cabinets, and components.

5)      Toning and blending uneven coloration.

6)      Finish sealing and top coating.

7)      Installation of doors and drawer fronts.

8)      Removal of masking and clean up.

Note: Following the recommendations below, consider practicing on an individual drawer front or cabinet door before tackling the whole project. Any problems you incur are more easily resolved in the small scale, and will prepare you better for the larger scope of the project.

To begin, select a sturdy step ladder, and avoid over-reaching when removing the upper cabinet doors. If possible get some one to assist you in holding the doors while you remove the hinge screws. Be sure to tag and number each door with removable blue or green painters tape so you will be certain of where to reinstall them later. A good place to tag them is on the interior top edge. Also, collect all the screws and hinges, keeping them in a sealed container to avoid losing any.

After removing the doors, and drawer fronts, and any other removable parts, it is time to prepare the work area, and protect the environment of your home. Painter’s blue or green tape is a ‘low tack’ tape perfect for attaching newspaper or plastic sheathing to counters, walls and ceilings that are adjacent to the cabinets.  You can also drape off any entryways to other rooms. If you haven’t emptied your cabinets, be sure to mask off the open cabinets with newspaper and tape, protecting your dishware and food goods. Once this is done you are now ready to begin the work.

The first part of the process is the removal of the existing paint or finish. You can use chemical paint removers for this work. If you do, there are environmentally safe, orange scented strippers available at your local paint and hardware store. Doors and drawer fronts can be laid out on a work table outdoors, where the stripper can be applied heavily, with easy workability. However, stripping the cabinets is a different story. Working with stripper in a vertical position can be difficult and time consuming. If you do, be sure to mask the floor with heavy plastic sheathing, or aluminum foil.

Another alternative is to ‘sand’ the cabinet surfaces. Using a shop vacuum with an attachment for an orbital sander, apply #150 grit or less. Be sure to approach the surface of the cabinet sides and trims with caution so as not to ‘over sand’ or mar the surface. The cabinet sides will most likely be veneer, so use a light touch and only sand the surface until it appears lighter than its original color.

Once all the cabinets and components have been either sanded or stripped to clean bare wood. Wash the surfaces completely with a rag dampened in isopropyl alcohol. This will remove any contaminating oils left in the wood from cooking spatter, and dry quickly without swelling the wood fibers, or raising the wood grain.

Next, apply your choice of stain. Oil or water base is fine. If you use water base, take a water soaked sponge, and pre-wipe the surfaces first. This will allow the stain to meld into the wood more evenly, and avoid ‘lap-marks’.

After everything has been stained to your satisfaction, allow it to dry for at least 48 hours.  If there are areas that took the stain lighter, or darker than other areas, you can ‘tone’ the uneven difference away.

If using water base stain, you will need a clear water base top coat (typically called water based polyurethane).  By adding a small amount of stain to a greater amount of top coat, you will create a translucent color glaze. Then using a sponge brush, gently blend the glaze over one area to another, adding color where it is needed. Once this is dry you are ready to complete the work with additional clear, gloss or satin top coats.

For the best result, you will need to apply at least three top coats to all surfaces. Be sure to gently hand sand with #200 grit between coats, and wipe the surface clean using a ‘tack’ rag to remove dust particles prior to applying the each coat.

Toning can also be achieved if you have used oil based stain. Just remember to match oil based products, with oil based products when toning and top coating for the best result.

When installing the doors and drawer fronts, replace any bent, or threaded screws with new, and clean the hinges first.  Or replace the hinges and pulls altogether for a fresh new look.

Lastly, when it’s time to clean up, use a razor (box cutter type blade) to score along any edges of tape where it meets painted walls, cabinets, or wallpaper o ensure the tape will be removed without damaging any surface. Now, sit back and admire you work!


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