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How to refinish your cabinets…

It might seem like a hopeless task, but you can make your cabinets look brand new and modern without having to pay anyone a truckload of money. Refinishing your cabinets can make your kitchen look brand new and with a bit of effort you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish on a small budget. Do you have to replace everything? No, not at all, and you don’t even have to tear out your old cabinets in the process.

You can repaint your existing cabinets and install new doors, and by doing so, end up with a whole new, fresh look for your kitchen. You can simply take off your old doors, paint the cabinet frames with the finish you prefer, and then hang some new doors with beautiful hinges. You can also replace or refinish your drawer pulls.

Depending on your existing kitchen design, you might opt for a more modern look or you may choose a traditional style so it fits in. Either way, you’ll have new durable painted finishes, new doors, and without the cost of professional installation.

If you’re looking to sell your home or just want a fresh look, refinishing your cabinets yourself is a great option. Your money will go toward high-quality materials instead of installation, and you’ll be able to save at least half, if not more than you would if you had new cabinets installed.


It isn’t as involved as you may think. But, it is a bit of an undertaking, so make sure you have enough time allotted for the project. We suggest at least a full week, which can be broken down into three to four weekends.

Do you have to be a carpenter? No, but you will have to plan and measure things carefully to ensure a proper installation of doors. Painting is something we’ve all done, so most of the real demanding work involved is the cleaning and sanding. Spackling, too.

What kind of tools will you need? Make sure to have a handsaw, drill, glue gun, and for cleanup, make sure you’ve got a good vacuum cleaner with attachments. Of course, you’ll need all the painting supplies, too. We’ll get into all of that soon.

So what will you need to purchase? You’ll need new cabinet doors and drawer fronts, along with hinges if you choose not to refinish your old doors. You’ll also need bin pulls and knobs, which you can get creative with (these are optional, if desired). You’ll be saving at least half of the normal cost of cabinet replacement by doing it yourself, if not more.

Again, while it might seem like a daunting task, once you break it down you’ll find it’s something very doable.


Do you like the look of your existing cabinets? If not, then just order the same size but with an updated style. If you want to use concealed hinges, then you can drill holes in the back.

For a contemporary look, you should order larger doors that cover more of the face frame. Also, look into getting a cup hinge for the back of your new doors. This hinge will be connected to the face frame (cabinet front) with a mounting plate. You’ll find mounting plates in numerous sizes depending on how much you want the door to overlap.

A terrific way to measure is to use masking tape to represent the space between your drawers and doors. Install the tape carefully to approximate your new doors and drawers and you’ll be able to visualize it.

Spacing between doors is important for design and practicality. You may want to give yourself some “wiggle room” though, so typically a 1/2″ spacing is the way to go.

Once your doors and drawers are removed, you can begin to paint the frames and fill any nail holes or seams.

After you’re done measuring, you can order from a reputable cabinetmaker. Kitchen cabinet doors are plentiful online, but do your research to make sure you’re ordering from a reputable source. Another option is going local, and finding a good firm and going in to see their showroom.

Cabinet firms will also bore the holes you need for your 35mm hinges. This is optional and comes at additional cost to you, but it’s worth the charge. You can also order doors that accept glass panels if you want to install your own.

Oak is an excellent choice of beautiful and durable wood type, but cherry is also beautiful but more expensive as its rarer.


Before you get to work, make sure your workspace is well ventilated and open enough. Get some sawhorses, newspaper or drop cloths, and have your vacuum handy so you can work in a dust free environment.

Make sure to mask the surfaces around your cabinet boxes with painter’s tape and put those drop clothes on the floor.

What painting tools should you have on hand? Make sure to have a putty knife, rubber sanding block, paint strainers, good quality brushes, and mineral spirits.

We recommend an oil paint if you are looking for a nice, smooth and durable finish. Get a quality one as it will be worth it in the long run (and you’re still saving a load of money by doing it yourself – it’s always good to know what to invest in and when).

If your oil paint is a bit thick, you can thin it with paint conditioner (mix 6 oz. per quart) until it flows nice and smooth. Make sure, of course, that there is plenty of ventilation when doing this or when working with any type of solvent.

What about chips and holes? You’ll want a good wood-filler to clean things up. Make sure to get one that hardens quickly and won’t shrink.

Clean and sand your cabinets well to make sure there is a good bond between the paint and surface. 150-grit sandpaper is an excellent choice for this job.

When you’re done sanding, make sure to clean up well. This is where your vacuum cleaner and its attachments come in. You want a dust-free environment when you paint so everything is flawless.

Choose a shellac for your primer (it clings well to all finishes). Painting the cabinets something other than white? Ask your paint professional to tint your primer to match the top coat of your choice.

Is it finally time to paint? Yes! When you begin you’ll want to start at the top of the face frame and work your down. Make sure to lay your paint on quickly with light strokes. To avoid brushing over partially dried paint: practice a bit first if you need to so your paint strokes are quick, light, and long enough.

If a bit of paints drips onto a dry area you won’t get to for a while, make sure to wipe it away with some mineral spirits (clean any mineral spirits that drop on the ground, too). What about a hair or speck of dust? Don’t worry about it. Let that area dry and sand it down then.

Let everything dry for a day and then grab some 220-grit sandpaper. You’ll want to sand everything and then vacuum and wipe the surfaces gently with a cloth before applying the second coat.


Now it’s time to stain and seal your new cabinet doors and drawer fronts. Make sure to use a pre-stain conditioner on wood that needs it (cherry, birch, pine, etc.). Sand with a fine-grit sponge between your coats of sealer and vacuum away any dust. Brush side to side (horizontally) first and then up and down (vertically).

You can purchase prefinished doors but you can also finish your own with a coat of pre-stain conditioner, oil stain, and a couple coats of varnish.

You can then install your hinges and hang the doors. Everything should fit as planned because you measured carefully before!

If you’re drilling new holes, then you’ll want a jig, which is a template to make sure the holes are evenly placed.

Single doors aren’t much of a problem, but pairs can be a bit tricky. If there is too much of a gap you can always adjust the mounting plates. Ordering a few extra mounting plates can come in handy in this instance: the next larger plate and a smaller overlay will help in making these adjustments.

The doors can be adjusted up and down by moving the mounting plates. Loosening the adjusting screws will allow for sideways movement.

You can then install your new door handles and drawer pulls – and now it’s looking pretty good!


So, there you go! You did it. Whether you’re reselling or updating your home’s look just for you and your family, refinishing cabinets yourself is a rewarding project. Cutting costs on installation saves you a lot of money and finding cost-cutting measures during the process can also help you save.


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