Jul 16

Kitchen and Bathroom Cabinets refinishing methods

Kitchen Cabinet Refinishing

This is part two a four part series covering the following:

1)     Existing cabinet materials

2)      Method of refinishing

3)      Selecting a Contractor

4)     Doing the work yourself


There are many methods of refinishing to be considered when refinishing kitchen or bathroom cabinets.  In this article we will explore the most common.

To begin with, in order to change the color and finish from any cabinetry, the surface on all exposed sides of the cabinet boxes, doors, and drawer fronts must be stripped of its existing painted, stained, lacquered, or varnished surface. Typically if you select a contractor to refinish your cabinets, the contractor will remove the doors and drawer fronts only, and sub-contract the ‘stripping’ of these components to others. Be sure to ask if they do, and if so, will they guarantee the work is done by ‘hand’ and not ‘submersion’. Often paint stripping contractors with submerge these items in harsh chemicals to remove the paint and finish. This is a quick, effective, and cost saving method that unfortunately results in the wood completely drying out, leaving doors and drawer fronts to crack and warp months later (after your contractor has been paid in full!).

It is best for doors and drawer fronts to be ‘stripped’ by hand; mainly because fewer chemicals are applied to the wood. Often the surfaces can be successfully stripped by power and hand sanding; usually with solid hardwoods like Oak, Cherry, Maple, Ash, or Walnut. Also, the contractor will usually prefer to power-sand down the remaining cabinet boxes in your home, rather than remove them to perform the work elsewhere. This can be successfully accomplished if the contractor properly prepares the environment for the work, and is sensitive to the nature of the materials, so as not to damage the veneer surfaces (typical to the sides of cabinet boxes) with the sanding process. This requires skilled craftsmen, with an eye for detail.

One the cabinet surfaces are completely stripped and dust free the staining process can begin. Woods that are naturally dark will show a best result by either forgoing stain altogether, or going with yet additional darkening. Woods that are naturally lighter provide more staining/color options.

Wherever there is veneer cabinetry the stain will absorb poorly. This problem can be corrected by a process called ‘Toning’.  Toning is accomplished in the top coat, or ‘Clear Coat’ portion of the refinishing process. After staining the materials, everything will receive a top coat, or clear coat of sealer to protect the stained surface. Usually lacquer is the product of choice. Lacquers differ in chemistry resulting in different sheens such as; gloss, satin, or flat. Most lacquers specifically manufactured for cabinet finishing will not yellow over time like varnish, or shellac will often do.

In order to blend the depth of color evenly between veneer, and solid wood surfaces, adding the stain color (using pigment, not stain) to the top coat will allow the refinisher to apply multiple thin layers of color, one after the other until the proper look has been achieved. Then the work can be protected and sealed with a final clear coating of lacquer.

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