What does a Garden Gnome do when she is not gardening, in the kitchen or doing genealogy? Well the answer might just surprise you so read the entries to find out more. This blog focuses on everything we do to make our house a home. There will be a strong emphasis on home energy efficiency and do-it-yourself (DIY) projects. At the same time there will also be crafts, knitting and crocheting projects along with any other little tips we do to create that down to earth, I want to be here home. Please enjoy your visit :)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Starting to Stain

Refinishing kitchen cabinets or any other cabinet or piece of furniture is slow going. The end result always depends on the quality of the preparation work so this is one area where you should not skimp. So far I have 10 drawer fronts and 13 cabinet fronts to the completion of staining. That leaves me 10 cabinet fronts that have not been sanded yet and the cabinets themselves that have started to be sanded. I am rather pleased with the results even though it has been a lot of work. I'm hoping to have the rest of the cabinet fronts and cabinets stripped today. From there the timing becomes simply staining and finish coat time while allowing plenty of time for the stain to dry before applying the finish and allowing that to dry between coats. I hope to also have the handles spray painted today. We are replacing the hinges because some of the old ones are not really re-usable.

Composite cabinet doors are those made from particle board then covered with a thin veneer. Both aggressive cleaning with harsh chemical cleaners or neglect such as allowing water to remain on the door's bevelled edges can cause the doors to look unsightly. The problem is this tends to affect only door fronts in heavily used areas while the rest of the door fronts may look almost new. That means if you buy a new to you house you stand a good chance of running into this problem. Refinishing is likely the cheapest option for getting a renewed look but it is time consuming.

Resist the urge to try fixing just those damaged doors as it will be next to impossible to match the existing door fronts. Quite often these doors are heavy and still quite usable so your options become whether to stain (good option for wood finished) or paint (only real option for already painted doors). If staining do consider that you may have to use the same handles or find similar to hide any flaws from the old handles. Hinges likely should be replaced. On average, do not underestimate the amount of time this project will take. Allow for at least two weeks, start to finish.

Tips for Refinishing Composite Cabinet Doors
Note: Safety first! This project requires safety goggles and a dust mask along with proper ventilation.

  1. empty cabinets
  2. remove doors from cabinets
  3. remove all hardware
  4. wash well with TSP and allow to dry
  5. decide on whether painting or sanding down to wood veneer - either way you still have to do some sanding
  6. use a spray bomb for the finish coats if stained or the paint coats - be sure to apply in thin coats with doors laying flat
  7. keep the spray bomb in motion and not too close to the surface to avoid excess pooling or uneven surfaces
  8. Use a fine steel wool between coats and to smooth any raised edges in the raised particle board
  9. Allow ample time for stain drying, drying between paint coats or finish coats

Prepped for Staining

The garage has been taken over with door and drawer fronts sitting on bins. This is where I do the staining and finishing coats for a couple of reasons. The door fronts take up a lot of space because I am doing them flat. I was going to do them outside but weather can be fickle and I need at least a 24 hour dry time for the stain followed by another 24 hours for the finish coats, likely four. Recall that I am finishing both front and back of each door so that adds another day. Time wise just in this adds up to three days. The main reason for doing the staining and finish coats in the garage aside of being able to leave them undisturbed is to keep the odours out of the house as much as possible. Using a spray bomb in the garage won't be a problem either so I will get the nice finish I want without having to worry about over spray. As you can see, only a fraction of the door fronts are ready for staining.

The Stain

I am a fan of Flecto Varathane products and use them almost exclusively for any refinishing projects. The stain performs nicely without drying too fast for good blending and the urethane gives a nice, very durable and scrubable finish. I'm using traditional cherry (# 245). What I don't like is these products are not exactly environmentally friendly although the water based ones are better than the oil based.

Staining the door fronts is really quite easy. I use a pure bristle brush to apply a generous coat of stain then let it sit 5 minutes before wiping off the excess. This ensures the stain penetrates through-out the remaining veneer for an even application. This also eliminates having to apply a second coat. Once the excess stain is removed I allow the door fronts to sit undisturbed for 12 hours then turn over and repeat the process on the back (inside of door). It is imperative that the stain be fully dried before applying the spray finish coats.

I'm using Flecto Varathane Professional Clean Finish in semi-gloss. This finish is touch dry in minutes which helps to eliminate any dust or insects settling into the finish resulting in a nice smooth finish. Anything that does settle between coats is easily removed with a light sanding using fine steel wool.

A Peek Look

Here is a peek look at what the stained door fronts will look like. This picture was taken just after applying the stain and removing the excess stain. This is a good indication of how they will look with the finish coats applied although they will not be shiny as I'm using a satin finish. Note how the original stained sides are lightened just a bit with the new stain. Also note how the shape of the original handle still shows. This is more apparent on some of the doors than others. The veneer was to thin to sand away this problem so as already mentioned I am reusing the handles. Not only is this frugal since I don't mind the handles especially after being spray painted (see tomorrow's post) but environmentally re-using instead of replacing is a good thing. The stain is not near as yellowish after it dries as you will see in tomorrow's pictures.

I've already started spraying the handles and have to say they are coming out better than expected. I will post more about them tomorrow including a little cheater trick for cleaning them before painting. So please check back tomorrow as I get one day closer to finishing our kitchen renovations.

Garden Gnome
© 2007

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Refinishing Kitchen Cabinets

This will be my third time refinishing kitchen cabinets. On the previous occasions I swore up and down I would never refinish kitchen cabinets again. The problem is mainly the disruption rather than the actual work. It ends up being a good week of chaos. Well, out of frustration I bit the bullet again. This kitchen is presenting a few problems and totally replacing the cabinets is not an option (see problems following). We have had a couple of cabinet makers give estimates and have looked at the possibility of replacing all the doors from an online source. Actually the price was not bad and if we don't get the desired look with refinishing then we will end up doing that. However, my frugal side tells me refinishing will work nicely even though I am not up to the extra work but I am insisting the cabinets are finished before installing the ceramic tile that I keep stubbing my toes on!

The former owners put this kitchen in on the lower level (mostly under ground). The patio door open onto a covered patio with a lovely expanse of park like setting leading to the water. At the time they likely spent close to twenty thousand for the kitchen alone but it is obvious the family room, stairwell and rest of the lower level was completed at the same time. They did beautiful work with the exception of the actual design of the kitchen but that is something we can work with to keep the cottage feel.


One of the biggest problems with this kitchen make-over is the ceiling (1,4) and matching wainscoting. It is all tongue and groove with the kitchen flowing into the family room. The kitchen cabinets were put in to look like they are built-ins. Evidence indicates at some time there was a re-staining of at least the cabinets themselves but not the door fronts. The doors are quite heavy with outdated hardware (2) and are of composite construction of veneer over particle board. About 6 of them show quite a bit of signs of damage (3) while the rest look brand new. So for refinishing this presents a bit of a problem as it is impossible to fix just the damaged door fronts so they look like the undamaged ones due to factory finish and aging. That means I am sanding all the doors down, restaining and applying a few coats of urethane in a satin finish. The lovely green countertop and walls (5) will soon be sporting ceramic tile. I'm not sure whether I will put the hot sauce rack back up or not. A cookbook shelve would be nice there but it's over the stove so perhaps not.


When sanding composite doors you really have to be careful because that layer of veneer is quite thin. I'm using a Jobmate detail sander with orbital action at 13,000 OPM. It is imperative that the sander be in motion at all times when on the veneer and not be allowed to stop in one spot. With a constant motion and light touch, I basically removed the original finish from the raised and recessed flat portions. With the finish removed the doors look rather odd with the darker stain on the raised portions but restaining will tie everything together to make them look nice. A bit of hand sanding is required in the corners and a steak knife, a trick I learned long ago with refinishing furniture, helps clean out cracks.

What quickly became apparent is I am going to be forced into using the existing hardware. The veneer is too thin to get the marks out from the old handles. So what I'm going to do is clean the handles well and spray paint them black. Sanding will also not get every single variation or stain out. Luckily there is very little in the way of stains and the stain I chose will give a uniform look with a bit of character to match the house. In other words I don't want them to look exactly brand new but at the same time I want them to look a heck of a lot better than they do now.

One mistake folks often make when refinishing or painting cabinet doors is to not finish the inside. This is one of my pet peeves! So I am sanding the backs of each door and refinishing them as well. The inside of my cabinets are in pretty good condition so I will be painting the back walls only and leaving the shelves in the wood finish. I will also be attaching lace to the shelves to give a bit of country whimsy when the cabinet doors are open. Four door fronts over the breakfast bar are designed so the recessed portion can be replaced with glass so I think I may do that as it will allow more light into the family room.

Choosing a Stain

I used a door that had been removed when we put the stove in as my stain tester. The toss-up ended between traditional cherrywood (# 245) and light cherrywood (#239) in Varathane Preminum Wood Stain. I went with the traditional that was a slightly better match. A second coat of stain gave a nicer depth and when sprayed with clear satin urethane the match to the ceiling and wainscoting is quite acceptable.

Last night I was really down because not only was my kitchen being torn apart, the sanded doors really don't really give you a good idea of what they will look like finished. Seeing the sample with the stain then with top coat was a very uplifting. I know I'm on the right track and just know the cabinets are going to come out looking great.

Tomorrow I will post so of my tips for refinishing composite style cabinet doors along with a couple of progress pictures.

Garden Gnome
© 2007

Monday, May 26, 2008

Kitchen Reno Has Begun

First, my apologies for not having a graphic or photo for you today. I promise I will have some for you tomorrow. Our much awaited for kitchen renovations have begun somewhat out of frustration. We are just back from our vacation in Las Vegas so even though I am tired, I decided to take the bull by the horn. The ceramic tile for the countertops has been sitting in my way since before Christmas. The problem with tearing apart the kitchen is trying to get it back in order for entertaining. Then we had this little cabinet problem and after talking to several people I decided last night to haul out the sander and do it my self! This will be the third time I have refinished kitchen cabinets and each time I swore I would never do it again. But I'm frustrated and want the kitchen done, period. So I spent the afternoon and early evening sanding cabinet doors. Please check tomorrow as I will go into greater detail. At the moment, I'm exhausted and heading to bed.

Garden Gnome
© 2007

Monday, May 12, 2008

On Vacation

Dear Readers, when we go on vacation you are used to seeing the "'puter on vacation" image. This time I decided to do two things differently. Thanks to Blogger's new scheduling option, I've worked quite hard to give you a few scheduled posts here and on my other blogs for reading during my absence. That means I created these posts before leaving but have each scheduled to go online on different dates. By the time you read this post, we will be well on our way. I hope you enjoy them. The second difference is as a new owner of an iPod Touch I will be able to stay in touch with blog comments, emails and may even make a blog post while away. Although I won't be online much, this will be a nice change for when I want a little personal down time. The iPod Touch will be a lot easier to travel with than the laptop as well.

Garden Gnome
© 2007

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

Garden Gnome
© 2007