By Fran J. Donegan (Special to Freddie Mac)
Spring has sprung – a time when most homeowners across the nation begin to tackle home improvement projects. One that tops the list: Kitchen cabinets.
Refinishing kitchen cabinets, rather than replacing them, can help make a kitchen look like new at a fraction of the cost of a full-scale remodeling. Refinishing works best for homeowners who are satisfied with the layout of the cabinets, and whose cabinets are structurally sound and in good condition. The following is the refinishing process for solid–wood cabinets.
Talking the Talk
People are sometimes confused by the terms used for refinishing kitchen cabinets. Let's break down the vocabulary.
- Refinishing. This is the process of sanding and painting existing cabinetry. Homeowners usually undertake this project themselves.
- Refacing. This generally means removing cabinet doors and drawer fronts and replacing them with new ones. It is possible for a homeowner to undertake this, but in most cases this is a job best suited to a company that specializes in this type of project. Some companies will sand and paint the rest of the cabinet to match the new doors. Others apply a veneer to the exposed parts of the cabinet that matches the doors.
While refinishing kitchen cabinets is a popular DIY project, it is not necessarily an easy one. It takes time and attention to detail. Here's what's involved.
- Empty the cabinets and remove the cabinet doors and drawers. It is easier to do a good job on the doors when they are laid flat. Remove the knobs and pulls from the doors and drawers. Label everything so that you know where they go at the end of the job. Many people like to install new knobs and pulls as part of the project.
- Mask off any areas you do not want painted. Cover counters, sinks and appliances with drop cloths. Some people skip painting the inside of the cabinet, but you must paint all sections of the face frame that are visible.
- Clean everything thoroughly to remove grease and grime. Repair any damaged areas with wood filler, following the directions on the container.
- Use a random orbital sander to sand the flat surfaces. Use a sanding block or pieces of sandpaper to take care of curved areas. This may be the most important step in the process. The goal here is to scuff up the surface so that the paint has something to grab. Use a fine sandpaper or sanding discs, about 220–grit. Vacuum all surfaces to remove sanding dust, and wipe the cabinets down with a tack cloth.
- Apply a primer/sealer. When priming and painting the doors, paint one side and the edges and wait until dry to paint the other side. Prime the exposed portions of the cabinet frames. When dry, sand lightly and wipe down using a tack cloth.
- Using the best quality paint and brushes you can find, apply the first coat of paint. You will get good results using a quality waterborne paint. Apply a thin, even coat. Allow the paint to dry thoroughly, then sand lightly and wipe down with a tack cloth. Apply a second coat. If you are having trouble with brush marks, combine the paint with a paint additive, such as Floetrol. Among other things, these additives increase the drying time slightly and help level out the paint when it is applied to a surface, reducing the appearance of brush marks.
- When dry, reinstall the cabinet doors and drawers.
Although the project can take some time, the results will revitalize the look of your kitchen.
Fran Doneganwrites home– and garden–related content for numerous digital and print publications. He is the author of the books Pools and Spas and Paint Your Home. You can learn more about the kinds of techniques and tools needed for a project like this at The Home Depot, which carries a wide selection of sanders and other tools.
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