Refinishing Kitchen Cabinets

kitchen cabinets

If you are thinking about a kitchen remodel but don’t want the expense and mess of ripping out your old cabinets, refinishing kitchen cabinets might be the way to go. If your cabinets are fairly new, and the hardware still runs smoothly, a refinish option is a great way to save some money.

Beyond Painting

Painting will give you a fresh look and is an option, but there are some alternatives to basic painting when it comes to refinishing kitchen cabinets.

Go Darker

If your cabinets are fairly light in color and you are looking to darken them, you have a couple of nice options. A darker stain or glaze can be applied without too much trouble, and it will add some depth and richness to a tired or dull finish. Another option is Minwax’s Polyshades, which is a polyurethane finish with the color blended in.

As with painting, the doors and cabinets will need to be cleaned, and a thorough use of a degreaser is required. For most applications, a light sanding with some fine sandpaper (320 grit) will allow the glaze or stain to adhere better to the existing finish. To make your project easier, the doors should be removed from the cabinets, and all hardware needs to be removed from the doors and drawers as well.

Go Lighter

If you want to switch to a lighter color when refinishing your kitchen cabinets, you are in for some more work, but it is still within the scope for most skilled DIYers. Here we have a few options as well. The age-old method of sanding away the old finish to bare wood is an option, but this tends to be quite a challenge on some door styles doors with intricate profiles will require the most work. When I first moved into my home, close to 20 years ago, I sanded just the cabinet doors and drawer fronts; I then applied a light stain and clear coat to them. The face frames of the cabinets remain the dark walnut color that the doors had, but now the doors and drawer fronts are a rich golden oak color. This two-toned look is distinctive, and the effect of a much brighter kitchen was achieved with an easy door-by-door method.

Get a Facelift

Another popular choice when refinishing kitchen cabinets is refacing. Here, a thin veneer of wood is applied to the face frames, and then finished by conventional methods. Special side panels are also available for the ends of your cabinets, if needed. With cabinet refacing, most people replace the doors and drawer fronts, so the expense is greater than just a refinish option; but the completed project is the next best thing to all-new cabinetry.

One thing to check for when refacing kitchen cabinets is that the drawer fronts can be removed easily from the drawer body. If they cannot, then you will need to get completely new drawers. New drawers will add even more cost to your project, so it’s a good idea to price out the entire project before you get started.

The greatest advantage to refacing and door replacement is you can change the overall look your kitchen by selecting a different type of wood or door style. Cherry veneer can be applied over oak or any other wood, and with new cherry doors, you can have a new cherry kitchen. There are a number of refacing suppliers that offer many wood choices, so in addition to cherry you have oak, ash, maple, hickory, walnut, mahogany and many others to choose from. For those looking for exotics, these can also be found from some suppliers, but at a price premium.

To change the look of your kitchen, consider redoing the look of your cabinets. Less costly than entirely new cabinets, refinishing kitchen cabinets is an affordable and relatively simple way to achieve a new atmosphere in your kitchen.

Author Kevin Stevens moved to Colorado from Michigan in 1991. He has been a woodworker for over 30 years, and has also worked as a biotechnology engineer. Kevin now runs a remodeling business where he practices green technology and sustainability. 

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