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 :)

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 The doors are quite heavy with outdated hardware (2) and are of composite construction of veneer over particle board.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


Anonymous said...

Hi! I saw your post on DIY and took a look at your pictures. Are you sure you don't want to paint cabinets? That way you could fill the old cabinet pull holes and update your hardware. Of course, I paint everything I can get my hands on - This might not be your thing.

Sounds like the kitchen will be great when finished!

Garden Gnome said...

Hi and thanks for visiting! If the kitchen didn't open onto the family room the way it does then painting the cabinets would have been my first option. I actually think they would look awesome painted a warm white. However the way the wood ceiling, wainscotting is along with the breakfast bar being the only divider between family room and kitchen the cabinets really need to be wood to keep the continuity. It's hard to get good pictures to show this.

I'm willing to live with the old handles but I am debating options. I could simply wash them well then use as is. The first is new handles that will cover the marks from the old. The second is spray painting them black which is what I will try first to see how they look. I could also try stripping off the antiquing to give just plain brass looking handles but really the kitchen has a very cottage feel so glitter doesn't work well here.

I'm insisting on easy to maintain surfaces because my kitchen gets a lot of heavy duty use. So I am using urethane as the finish coat and ceramic tile for the little wall space, foot deep window well and counters. I'll be sealing the grout lines with a few coats of sealant.

I am rather pleased with the way the door fronts are coming out so will be blogging about that today.