Tips for Successfully Refinishing Kitchen Cabinets

Refinishing cabinets is a DIY project that requires plenty of time and elbow grease. The good news is, if you follow these steps your kitchen will look fabulous and you can restore the cabinets you have instead of spending big bucks replacing them.

But what if your kitchen cabinets are old, worn and not the greatest quality? You can strip and paint them. If your cabinets are in good shape and just need a little facelift, staining is probably the 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 door or drawer. Then place the doors on a drop cloth in a well-ventilated space.

Preparing the Surfaces

Surface prep is the most critical step in the process for the new finish to properly adhere to the wood. Before you get into refinishing, you will need to remove any existing varnish or paint from all visible surfaces. Begin by filling any dings or scratches with wood putty and let dry. If you want to change out your cabinets knobs and pulls for new ones, fill the old holes with wood filler at this time.

Sand the cabinet boxes and doors with progressively finer sandpaper to get the smoothest finish possible. Start with 100-grit then go to 180-grit and move to 220-grit. 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 grit with a vacuum and tack cloth to ensure a smooth, grain-free finish.

Choosing Your Stain/Paint
Wood stains and paints are available in both oil and water-based versions. Oil-based offer optimum durability and will most likely outlast a water-based finish. Oil-based paints and stains must be applied in an area with adequate air circulation and require mineral spirits for cleanup.

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

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

If you are painting your cabinets, sand the primer with 220-grit sandpaper to remove any brushstrokes and use a tack cloth to clean the surface. Use a new 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 any residue with a tack cloth.

Protecting Your Work
Now that you’ve refreshed your cabinets, you might consider applying a coat of polyurethane sealer. If your kitchen is heavily used, applying a coat of poly certainly won’t hurt. Most professional painters skip this step, so the decision is totally up to you.

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 replace the drawer faces. Installing the cabinet knobs and pulls is the finishing touch to this rewarding, albeit time consuming project.

Paul Schultz via flickr
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