Tips for Successfully Refinishing Kitchen Cabinets

Updated on April 30, 2019
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Linda is hands-on involved in home improvement projects, organization, storage and house cleaning tips and ideas.

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Refinishing cabinets is a DIY project that requires plenty of time and elbow grease. If you follow these tips your kitchen will look fabulous and you can restore your original cabinets instead of spending big bucks replacing them.

What if your kitchen cabinets are dated, worn and not great quality? You can strip and paint them and they'll probably last a couple of years until you can afford installing new cabinets. If your cabinets are in decent shape and just need a little facelift staining is probably the best way to go.

Getting Organized

Stripping and refinishing doors while they are in place may seem like the simple route but that can lead to missed spots, drips and a big mess. In order to avoid the inevitable it is best to empty the cabinets of their contents, mask off countertops and remove the cabinet doors, drawers and hardware.

Stick a small piece of painter’s tape on the back of the doors to indicate their placement. Place the hinges, knobs and pulls in zippered snack bags and devise a system that matches the hardware to the correct doors and drawers.

Start by remove doors, hardware and mask off countertops.
Start by remove doors, hardware and mask off countertops. | Source

Preparing the Surfaces

Surface prep is the most critical step in the process once the new finish properly adheres to the surface. Before start refinishing remove existing varnish or paint. Begin by filling any scratches with wood putty and let it dry. If you want to change out cabinet knobs and pulls to replace new ones fill the original holes with wood filler.

Sand the cabinet boxes and doors to get the smoothest finish possible. Start with 100-grit then 180 and move on to 220. Once the old finish is removed use a wood conditioner to ensure the new stain takes evenly or apply a coat of primer if you plan to paint the cabinets. Remove sanding residue with a vacuum and tack cloth to ensure a clean, dust-free finish.

Using an orbital sander will cut down prep time.
Using an orbital sander will cut down prep time. | Source

Choosing Paint or Stain

Wood stains and paints are available in both oil and water-based versions. Oil-based offers optimum durability and will most likely outlast a water-based finish. Oil-based paints and stains must be applied in a well-ventilated area and requires mineral spirits for cleanup.

Water-based stains and paints come in a wider variety of fashion colors than oil-based counterparts. Water-based stains and paints dry relatively fast which gives you less time to work but produce fewer harmful fumes. Cleanup with soap and water is a snap.

Choose from dozens of wood tones and trendy colors in oil, water-based or gel stains.
Choose from dozens of wood tones and trendy colors in oil, water-based or gel stains. | Source

Applying the Finish

You can apply stain using a soft cotton cloth, a brush or a combination of both. Try out the stain application technique on a test board to make sure you get the right coverage and color consistency. If the stain seems too dark simply remove the excess with a cloth. If the stain is too light apply an additional coat when the first one has dried. When the stain is completely dried rub the cabinet surfaces down with super fine grade steel wood and remove the dust with a tack cloth.

If you decide to paint your cabinets sand the primer with 220-grit sandpaper to remove any brushstrokes and use a tack cloth to clean the surface. Use a fresh paintbrush to apply a thin coat your preferred paint color. Start with the back of the doors and drawer fronts by brushing the paint with the grain.

Paint inner panels first then the rails and stiles, keeping them flat to ensure even coverage. Next, paint the cabinet boxes and frames. Once the doors and drawers are dry to the touch paint the reverse sides. If possible, let them dry overnight before applying the next coat. Sand lightly between coats and remove the residue with a tack rag.

You can do it by hand or rent a sprayer to paint your kitchen cabinets.
You can do it by hand or rent a sprayer to paint your kitchen cabinets. | Source

Protecting Your Work

Now that you’ve refreshed your cabinets you might consider applying a topcoat of polyurethane sealer. If your kitchen cabinet drawer fronts are heavily used, applying a coat of poly will protect the finish. Many professional painters often skip this step so the decision is totally up to you.

Once the paint has dried hard, do a final light sanding before applying a protective sealer.
Once the paint has dried hard, do a final light sanding before applying a protective sealer. | Source

Reinstalling Doors, Drawers and Hardware

Once the cabinet boxes, doors and drawers have completely cured over several days, reinstall the hinges, hang the doors and reinsert the drawers. Installing updated cabinet knobs and pulls add the finishing touch to this rewarding DIY project.

After you reinstall the doors and drawers and the finishing touch with new cabinet knobs and pulls.
After you reinstall the doors and drawers and the finishing touch with new cabinet knobs and pulls. | Source

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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    © 2019 Linda Chechar

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