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How to refinish kitchen cabinets

Updated: Dec 19, 2023

Refinishing your kitchen cabinets can be a great project, but it will take some old-fashioned elbow grease and a few safety precautions. Want to know how it's done? Here's your quick guide to a great DIY kitchen cabinet refinishing job.

What You’ll Need to Refinish Your Cabinets

A handyman painting kitchen cabinet with a paint brush
Kitchen Cabinet Refinishing

The following should be all you need to get started:

  • A well-ventilated work area

  • Floor Coverings (Tarp, Cardboard, or Plywood)

  • Sawhorses and/or workbenches

  • Fan

  • Scraper (Painter's Five-In-One Tool preferably)

  • Screwdriver

  • Rubber Gloves, Safety Glasses

  • Stripper

  • Sandpaper

  • Rags

  • 2" or 3" Paintbrush

  • Your Choice of New Finish 

The Kitchen Cabinet Prep Work

The first step to refacing your cabinets is to prepare for the stripping that's about to take place. Start by making sure that you have a large, ventilated area to work in and spread out your cabinet doors and drawers. If you are working over flooring that you don't want to be damaged, be sure to cover it with tarps, cardboard, or plywood. Thin plastic or plastic sheeting is not advised, because paint stripper and thinner can eat through to the floor below. Having access to a sawhorse or a workbench is another great way to go so that you're not working uncomfortably, on the ground.

Next, use your screwdriver to remove your cabinet doors and drawers and set them up on your sawhorses and/or workbenches. Be sure to save your screws and leave behind any hinges, trim or cabinet hardware such as knobs. You only want the wooden parts here. Now, put on your safety glasses and turn on a fan to help circulate the air in your work area, because you're about to get down and dirty.

Stripping the Finish Off Your Cabinets

Now that all prep work is completed, you're ready to tackle the next step of refacing your cabinets - stripping. Using your paintbrush, you'll want to coat each finished surface of your doors and drawers with stripper. This chemical is corrosive, and you should take precautions against breathing it into your lungs or allowing the chemical to touch your bare skin.  For this reason, a chemical mask if ventilation is inadequate, is highly recommended.

After about 15 minutes, the stripper will have "bubbled" the finished surface and released its hold on the original wood. The finish can now be scraped off with your scraper tool. If any additional finish remains after the first strip treatment, another coat of stripper can be applied to the problem area, and it should then release its grip and easily be scraped off.

Prep for Refinish

Once all the old finish has been removed, you can then give your cabinet doors and drawers a light sanding. After sanding, a good wipe-down with some wet rags will remove any remaining dirt and dust, and you can then apply your chosen new finish. Refinishing with paint is one popular option, while many professional cabinet refacing contractors choose to utilize stains, urethanes, and other varnish treatments.

Each approach requires its own step-by-step process. Once your drawers and doors are done, the process can be repeated on the actual cabinetry still up in the kitchen. The newly refinished kitchen cabinets will take one to two days to dry.  After this, you can then re-mount your doors and drawers and call it a job well done.

The process of refinishing kitchen cabinets is a somewhat involved one. The end reward, however, can be absolutely stunning. Prefer to leave it to the pros? We don't blame you, and most do! Give the pros at Ideal Home Improvement a call today for your free estimate and let them take care of the rest.

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