How to Refinish
Kitchen Cabinets

For not much money and some elbow grease, you can refinish kitchen cabinets yourself - and get a whole new look!

Are your cabinets looking tired, worn out, past their prime? Here you'll learn how to refinish yours - wood or laminate!

This kitchen is a great example of painting laminate cabinets. See more on Color Story of a Kitchen.


You can hire a company to redo the face frames and replace the doors and drawer fronts (cabinet refacing), not the cheapest solution but less than all new cabinets. OR...you can transform your old cabinets yourself!

NOTE: All the instructions here to refinish kitchen cabinets are for doors, drawer fronts and face frames only. Most cabinet interiors can be left as they are, though you may want to go whole hog and do them too.

Refinish kitchen cabinets - Wood

To refinish kitchen cabinets made of wood is quite a bit of work, but the results can be truly beautiful!

You can strip the lacquer off doors, drawer fronts and face frames and re-stain or paint them.

Strip

Remove doors and drawer fronts and lay them flat, preferably outdoors. Strippers like Strip-Eze work well on flat surfaces.

For the vertical face frames, you'll have to keep applying stripper because it'll want to run off. Stripper needs to sit on a surface in order to do its job.

WARNING: Most strippers have nasty fumes!

Clean

Before painting, clean surfaces first with TSP (trisodium phosphate). It not only cleans, it helps paint adhere.

Sand

If you're going to paint, give the wood a light sanding with 150 grit sandpaper.

If you're going for a wood finish, start with 100 grit, then go over it with 150 grit, and again with 220 grit to remove all sanding marks.

Sanding tips:

ALWAYS sand with the grain of the wood.

To make sure you've removed all sanding marks, dab a little mineral spirits here and there. You'll be able to detect any marks that still need to be sanded out.

Raised detail on your doors and drawer fronts can make sanding a tedious job, plus you have to take care not to sand off the detail! In these areas you might want to consider using liquid sandpaper, a stripping agent.

Stain or paint

You won't be able to get all the old stain color off, so it's best to use stain close to or darker than the original color.

The best paint finish is a primer coat, a light sanding, then several thin coats of paint with a light sanding (fine grit sandpaper) between each.

NOTE: If you refinish kitchen cabinets with paint over wood, you can use the amazing Cabinet Rescue - a primer and paint combo - and then seal over it at the end for a glossier finish. (See info on Cabinet Rescue below.)

Seal

Wood finishes need a good sealant that won't yellow. Do 2 coats and sand lightly with fine (150 grit) sandpaper or steel wool between coats.


Refinish kitchen cabinets - Laminate

Who knew? In days gone by, there was no way to refinish kitchen cabinets covered with laminate...you just replaced them. Not anymore!

This is one of the easiest DIY projects (easier than refinishing wood!)...thanks to products like Cabinet Rescue!

This product works miracles for kitchen cabinets - or anything else, for that matter!

Cabinet Rescue can be tinted to whites, pastels or light mid-tone colors so it acts as a primer and a paint.

The low-luster finish looks like new laminate. Do two coats with a light sanding in between. Finish with a semi-gloss sealant for more shine.

Clean

Clean doors and drawer fronts (remove them if you can), as well as face frames.

Sand

Use 220 grit sandpaper. Sand in one direction only.

Wipe

Wipe down to remove sanding dust.

Paint

Roller on Cabinet Rescue. Sand lightly and do a second coat.

Pop the cork on the wine - you're done!

(If you want a darker color, like the photo at the top of this page, use Cabinet Rescue as a primer and then roller on coats of paint in your preferred shade.)


Redoing the doors

Turn outdated modern into today's modern!

Old and outdated doors and drawer fronts ruin the look of a kitchen...

...a little paint goes a long way!

Here I used Cabinet Rescue as a primer...and then painted over it, using Valspar semi-gloss paint "Drizzling Mist" (#4006-1C). Prep included sanding the wooden inset handle.

Another option...Give it personality! Add style AND color to give a typical laminate cabinet new life.

I glued on - using wood glue and clamps - some pieces of fancy trim to both "insets" on the top and bottom of the door.

Then I primed with Cabinet Rescue, painted with Valspar semi-gloss paint "Drumskin" (#7003-10), and added hardware.

AVOID STICKY PROBLEMS!

  • Latex paint can seem to take forever to dry. Oh yeah, it's dry to the touch, but stuff can stick to latex months after you've painted! And it can peel off in steamy areas like over the stove.You might want to consider an oil based paint, which cures much faster. Yes, the clean-up is more of a mess, but the durability and faster cure time may make it worth it.
  • One trick I use on latex-painted shelves:Give your shelves plenty of time to dry (at least 48 hours), then cover with a sheet of wax paper before loading with dishes, etc. Keeps stuff from sticking to the paint so you can use your shelves sooner.
  • Keep doors and drawers slightly open for a few days. Some sources recommend (though I've never tried this) applying a light coat of cooking oil (once the paint's dry) on edges wherever doors, drawers and face frames touch to avoid sticking.

Don't forget to...

NUMBER YOUR DOORS AND DRAWER FRONTS SO YOU REMEMBER WHERE THEY GO! Even you geniuses need to do this. This is the VERY FIRST STEP when you refinish kitchen cabinets.

  • Mark numbers on the tops of wall cabinet doors with pencil.
  • Stick a piece of masking tape inside the corresponding cabinet with the same number.
  • Base cab doors mark on the bottom.
  • Drawer fronts mark on the back.
  • Take care not to paint over the numbers...the marked areas are ones that won't show when done.
  • OR - if you're not painting the backs, just stick numbered pieces of masking tape there.

You can also refinish your cabinet hardware while it's off...unless you're going to replace it or add some where there wasn't any before. I'm a huge fan of Rustoleum paints - many of their products work great for metal.


Refacing cabinets yourself

If you, your mate or someone you know and trust has woodworking skills, you can create new doors and drawer fronts for your old cabinets.

That's what this homeowner did. She hired a woodworker friend to help her reface her old laminate cabs...

...to create a fresh new look for her kitchen! (For more on this kitchen see Eclectic Kitchen Design.

Laminate doors and drawer fronts were replaced with custom wood ones, including uppers with ribbed glass.

She coated the laminate with B-I-N primer (made by Zinsser), then painted with an oil-based paint.

B-I-N is another great primer for laminate - though you'll need good ventilation when using it!

One of the best rewards about kitchen cabinet makeovers...

...people will think you got all new cabinets!

That's what people say when they see how these cabinets were transformed.

Refinish and replace?

Go half and half...

You might refinish kitchen cabinets by doing base cabinets only. Then replace your wall cabinets!

Nothing has to match these days, and complementary cabinet styles and colors are a big part of today's style trends.

Wall cabs could be inexpensive ones (see Cheap Cabinets page for ideas).

OR - do open shelving! One long deep shelf that wraps around the room can have a simplistic, open effect...and everything's within reach!

Move Your Cabinets

Cheap Cabinets

Tiling Countertops

Cheap Floors

Kitchen Lighting Ideas


Back to Cheap Kitchen Makeovers

Return to Home Page from Refinish Kitchen Cabinets


Thinking of remodeling?

Keep a notebook or scrapbook of notes, clippings and ideas.

Kitchen magazines are expensive - look through them in the grocery checkout line. If you see pix of a kitchen you really like, buy that magazine.

Stop in at home centers and pick up any free cabinet manufacturers' catalogs.

Deciding on kitchen cabinet colors?

Visit our page to learn the pros & cons of cabinet colors!