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Refinishing Kitchen Cabinets: Costs, Pros & Cons

If you’d like to update your home with new kitchen cabinets, refinishing can create fresh new looks without breaking your budget.

Where to Start

To refinish kitchen cabinets, you’ll need a few tools and basic handyman skills. Refinishing cabinets involves removing all the cabinet doors, hinges and hardware, stripping the old paint or varnish from the doors and cabinet boxes, sanding and prepping the bare surfaces, reapplying paint or stain, and rehanging the doors.

Gather everything you'll need before you begin. Having to make several unexpected trips to the hardware store will crunch your budget and slow your progress. Don’t try to cut corners by buying cheap brushes, stains or paints. High-quality tools and materials will make doing the job easier and improve the look of the finished product.

You’ll need:
  • A vibrating sander and sanding block
  • Fine- and medium-grit sandpaper
  • Paint, primer, varnish or stain
  • Brushes in various sizes
  • Cloth or plastic sheeting
  • Painting tape
  • A dust mask and safety glasses

Thoroughly clean and degrease all cabinet surfaces. Remove the doors and label them for easy replacement or work in stages, sanding and refinishing a single set of doors at a time.

Refinishing the cabinet boxes in place will be messy. Hang sheeting over the doors to prevent dust from migrating throughout the house. Attachments are available to link a hand sander to a wet/dry vacuum to reduce dust. Paint or stain the back of the boxes first. Open all the windows and use a fan for extra ventilation while painting or staining inside the house.

Pros and Cons

Like most DIY home improvement projects, refinishing kitchen cabinets has both positives and negatives. You’ll want to examine both sides before making a final decision.

Pros:
  • By eliminating outside labor costs and working with existing materials, do-it-yourself cabinet refinishing is usually the least expensive way to update the look of your kitchen.
  • Instead of waiting to take delivery of new cabinets, you can work on your schedule and at your own pace.
  • You’ll have some flexibility about changing the look of your cabinets with different paints and stains. You may also be able to place a few additional cabinets and stain them to match your redesign.
Cons :
  • The material your cabinets are made of will largely determine the success of your kitchen cabinet refinish project. Particleboard tends to swell when exposed to moisture. Very thin veneers will peel if chemically stripped, and it can be difficult to sand lightly enough to remove the finish without damaging the veneers.
  • Refinishing kitchen cabinets is a time-consuming and messy job that may take as long as several weeks to accomplish, especially if you’re only able to devote time to the project on weekends. In contrast, installing new assembled cabinets takes only a few days.
  • Cabinet refinishing is a purely cosmetic option. In most cases, you’ll simply be changing the appearance of your current cabinet layout. Your choice of hinges and hardware may be limited by the pre-drilled holes.
Expected Costs

Kitchen cabinet refinishing costs will depend on the size of your kitchen and the materials you plan to use. If you’re painting your kitchen cabinets, oil-based paints usually create a more durable, longer wearing finish, but they often require primers and are more expensive than water-based paints. When staining or varnishing hardwood or plywood cabinets, it’s a basic rule that you can’t go lighter than your existing shade without bleaching the cabinets, and that also adds to the cost.

A simple sand-and-stain refinish job in a basic 10-foot plywood galley kitchen can run as low as $200.

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If you choose a professional to do your kitchen cabinet refinishing, always get at least three estimates from licensed and insured contractors. Check their references before making a decision.

Design Ideas

One of the hottest trends in kitchen design is refinishing kitchen cabinet doors and boxes using two tones to add contrast and depth. Finish doors in one shade and stain the cabinet boxes one or two shades darker, or use two complementary paint colors for a distinctive, modern look.

Crackling is a technique that gives painted cabinet surfaces an aged and antique yet elegant appearance. Different color combinations can be used for the basecoat and the cracks. Faux wood graining adds interest to plain birch or medium-density fiberboard cabinet doors.

Get the look of a warm and weathered country kitchen with distressed cabinets. Lightly sand painted or stained surfaces in the spots where wear would naturally occur. Finish distressed cabinets with a clear topcoat for durability.

Mix it up with new hardware. Hardware in an interesting finish or shape can dramatically change the look of a kitchen. If you’re planning on using hardware with a different drill pattern, fill and sand the existing holes before refinishing.



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