by Kevin Stevens, proprietor of KMS Woodworks
If your cabinets are dated, but still sound, cabinet re-facing may be the answer to a new look. Cabinet re-facing is the process in which a new skin of wood veneer or some other coverings like RTF (Rigid Thermo Foil) is applied to the cabinets. These covering may be pre-finished or unfinished wood in many species, or a man-made material. Drawer fronts and new cabinet doors are often paired with the re-facing project to complete the look. The drawer fronts and doors pictured here are examples of inset panels with additional moldings.
Hardware and Cabinet Basics
The decision to reface rather than replace may lie in the hardware and quality of your cabinets. If your drawer slides are creaky, loose or wobbly, or if your cabinets are no longer square and true, complete new cabinets may be needed. I have seen dozens of cabinets that were made from simple particle board, and once wet due to some old leak, have been reduced to crumbling ruins of sawdust. Spending money to re-face cabinets of this quality may not be the best choice.
Types of Veneer
Veneer is a thin layer of wood, how thin depends on the application. Many DIY’ers and commercial re-facing outfits use PSA (Pressure Sensitive Adhesive) veneers. These are very thin and often are backed with paper for added strength. PSA veneers are the easiest for most people to use as they are thin enough to cut with scissors, the peel and stick nature of the PSA adds additional simplicity. Another thin veneer uses heat activated glue, and is sometimes called “iron on” veneer. This type is often used as edge banding for plywood products and can be applied to the edges of face-frame cabinets. Solid wood veneers are thicker and are glued or nailed in place. These thicker pieces, about 1/8” compared to the 10 mil. for standard veneers, typically run a bit more money. Cutting this thicker material requires more conventional woodworking tools like a table saw and chop saw and can be a bit more complex in their installation. Pictured here are some samples of normal wood veneer in a few species, and a coil of PSA veneer in birch.
Drawer Fronts or New Drawers
Many cabinet drawers fronts are often added to a drawer “box” and can be easily replaced, other drawer fronts are integral to the drawer assembly. If your drawers fall into the latter category, replacing the whole drawer is normally the route to take. Cabinet door manufactures often do drawers as well, sticking with the some company can ensure a uniform look. Obviously new drawers will cost more than just fronts, but this is a great opportunity to upgrade into a more robust design if you choose. Dovetailed boxes not only look great, but they are a time tested method to strong construction. Pictured here is drawer box made with dovetails, the drawer front in this case is separate from the “box” and could be replaced.
Sand and Refinish, or Replace?
Slab or panel doors can be covered with veneer, and the edges too. But sometimes it is more cost, or time effective to replace the doors. As a cabinetmaker, I have rebuilt doors from scratch, repaired doors, and refinished doors. For some projects, when my schedule has been tight, I have even ordered doors from commercial cabinet and door companies. Replacement doors vary greatly in price depending on style, material and finish. I have seen them from less than $30 for some smaller simple sizes to over $100 for large raised panel with added moldings. Design choices here can really impact your budget. Years ago I refinished the doors in my kitchen, and lightened up the room. The simple task of removing the doors and working on them one at a time in the shop kept the mess out of the kitchen. As time and money permit I will be progressing with the mahogany cabinets, like my pantry cabinet, I finished last year. But for now the lighter doors look fine. If the two tone look appeals to you simple door replacements can be a great start.