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