Kitchen Cabinet Refacing and Refinishing

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There's always a lot of interest in refinishing kitchen cabinets, so I thought it would make a useful topic here. Even if you have no plans to refinish your own kitchen cabinets (lucky you!), you may find that a lot of this info still applies to a smaller finishing or refinishing project of your own.

What's the difference between kitchen cabinets and any of the projects that were demonstrated on the videos? Mostly just a matter of degree.

- Kitchens are a large project, and will take more of everything than a single project or cabinet would. That includes time and patience, and did I say, time?

- Oftentimes you must partially use these while working on them. Eating out three times a day is not an option for most folks.

- (Existing) kitchen cabinets usually start out with a higher degree of crud on them that must be removed before any other steps.

- Except for countertops, nothing else takes a beating like these cabinets; steam, grease, water, wiping, scrubbing. The final finish must be sturdy!

- And finally, the interior surfaces are more visible (and used) than most other projects, and so may need a fair bit of attention (and did I say time?) paid to them.

So why would you want to refinish what you've got instead of ordering new?

Well mostly the money, of course. New, standard modular cabinets are around $100 per linear foot. You can double that for semi-custom cabinetry, and that's with a standard finish option. You want a Smallbone-type (lovely, high- end English cabinets with hand-painted finishes) kitchen? It can be as much as tripled again. Big bucks...

Which leads us to the other reason you might want to refinish the cabinets you've already got: a custom, hand painted look that is unique, and (presumably) matches perfectly with the rest of your kitchen and your style. This can provide the excitement that keeps you going during some of the less glamorous phases of this project.

Now I'm not going to be much help here for WHAT you do to your cabinets; I would suggest magazines, visits to kitchen centers, and friends (assuming you've got some you trust!) for ideas. Hopefully you feel the videos were good for giving you all the techniques you need, but the possibilities for ideas are endless. Keep in mind that you may not be able to reasonably have some of the looks you might want. If your existing cabinetry is dark walnut and you were hoping for pickled pine, forget it. You may be able to modify the color of wood from light toward darker. Any painted look will work fine.

So after much ado, a few tips:

Take it apart as far as possible. Take all the doors down and remove the hinges and pulls. Many drawers have separate fronts that are attached to the box of the drawer, sometimes with just the screws that hold the drawer pull or knob. Remove these if you can, and you may not have to empty out each drawer (if its interior surfaces are okay), a big time saver.

Scrub the dickens out of 'em. You can substitute another word for "dickens" if you feel the need, but make sure they're darned clean with TSP or citrus cleaner and at least one solvent-based product like mineral spirits. There WILL be grease, wax, silicone (the worst) and dirt on them which will conspire to keep any other applied paints, stains, or varnishes from sticking. If you're planning on using water-based products (which are especially nice for their reduced smell for the parts of the kitchen you can't remove to another location), be even more thorough; they just aren't as forgiving for sticking to contaminants.

Do the cleaning before any sanding, which can just embed the gunk further into the old finish. Otherwise keep in mind the advice on the tapes for where you can use chemical etching versus sanding. Sanding is better for the high abuse areas (which is most everywhere in the kitchen).

If you are time-challenged, or one of those people who are long on ideas but short on patience, consider a compromise. Hire some pro's to come in and do the prep and base coat of color (if you'll be painting). Particularly if you have dark cabinet interiors that you want to be light or white, their spray gun coverage will go much more quickly than your roller and brush. Now you'll have a smooth, clean base upon which to exercise your talent and your labor on the parts that will show the most. Otherwise you risk the same problem that I see sometimes with people who build their own furniture: by the time they're finished building it, they are tired of the project, and rush the most visible part, the final finish.

And finally, my broken record section: make samples! More than anywhere else, they are so important. You will be looking at a lot of this (your chosen finish) for a long time, you will have lots of hours in its execution, and you won't be able to move it to the guest room if you change your mind. Do a complete finish schedule on a sample and put it in your kitchen for a week or a month to see how you like it. This project is a large undertaking, but can save you thousands of dollars as well as giving you a one-of-a-kind look!

- Dave


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