Cabinets Refinish

Plan the project so that all materials and tools can be assembled before beginning.

If you live near a home improvement center like Lowes or Home Depot, you might expect to be able to pick up last minute supplies on short notice, but time spent shopping will decrease productivity nonetheless.


Step 1

• Empty the cabinets completely. It is much easier to work inside them and remove them without loose stuff rattling around inside.

Step 2

• Hand tools such as scrapers, screw drivers, sanding blocks, paint brushes and the like are essential.
• Painter’s tape (or masking tape).
• Newspapers, a drop cloth, or other material to protect adjacent surfaces while working.
• Paint stripper if desired.
• Quality paint brushes or a sprayer suitable for the finish you plan to use.

Step 3
• Remove the cabinet doors and shelves.
• Most shelves simply lift off of pegs or supports; some may need to be unscrewed or pried off their supports.
• Label all the cabinet doors and shelves to remember where they go.

Step 4

• Clean the cabinets thoroughly. Any grease remaining on the surfaces will interfere with refinishing. Then lightly sand any rough areas of bubbled or peeling paint or varnish. Wipe the wood with a damp cloth (to remove all dust particles) and let dry. If the finish you are working with is an oil base product, you may dampen a cloth with mineral spirits or paint thinner, rather than water, which will allow it to dry much more rapidly.

Step 5

• Remove the old finish (optional). If you want to apply a clear varnish or polyurethane finish or stain previously painted cabinets, you will have to strip all the paint off the cabinets using strong chemicals, followed by sanding. This is a much bigger project and will take more than a long weekend. Choose an obscure spot on the cabinets to put a few drops of the following substances:

• Lacquer thinner dissolves a lacquer, polyurethane, or shellac finish.

Step 6

• Fill dents, chips and nicks with wood putty. Sand the putty smooth after it dries. Wipe the wood with a damp cloth (to remove all dust particles) and let dry.

Step 7

• Prime the cabinet surfaces if you plan to use paint to refinish your cabinets.

Step 8

• Use a bonding agent, following manufacturer directions. Because bonding agents usually have time limits (active for 45 minutes), doing a little at a time is better; i.e. 5-6 doors at a time, one section of cabinet frames, etc.

Step 9

• Clean the cabinet hardware. Unless you’re replacing the hardware, cleaning it will help give your cabinets a fresher look. Soak the hardware in a soapy water solution for 30 minutes, scrub lightly with a soft brush, rinse, let dry, and apply polish.