A Detailed Guide to Kitchen Cabinet Refinishing
6 Detailed Steps to Kitchen Cabinet Refinishing
When it comes to interior renovations, cabinet painting & refinishing can be labor-intensive. Cabinet refinishing not only requires a lot of time. To refinish cabinets professionally also demands skill and product knowledge. On the other hand, refinishing cabinets is extremely rewarding and can transform a kitchen or bathroom in a way that is customizable and unique to your preference.
Cabinet refinishing is also less expensive than quality cabinet replacements.
Kitchen Cabinet Refinishing Setup
Most cabinets are found in either kitchens or bathrooms. Either way, having these areas occupied for any amount of time can be a pain.
So, when you are starting a cabinet refinishing project, you want to make sure you are doing all that you can, keeping the area clean while working.
Since the project will likely take several days, go the extra mile to mask the flooring with paper, plastic, and painters tape instead of a drop cloth. Doing so will enable easier cleanup during each step. It will also keep the flooring and other items clean throughout the entire process.
Additionally, in many cases, dropcloths shift and move around, allowing dust and other contaminants to get trapped under the drop cloth.
Step 1 (Sanding Cabinets)
Most stained wood cabinets are top-coated with polyurethane or other urethane enamels. Woodgrain orientation and the amount of polyurethane (or other enamels) will determine how much sanding is needed. Typically, oak has a deeper grain orientation and requires more sanding.
If the cabinets are worn due to age, you should find lightly sanding the polyurethane to be relatively easy.
If you want to change the stain to a darker or lighter colored stain, it will require additional heavier sanding. During this process, 120-grit paper is suggested. Having an orbital and mouse detail sander will expedite the process.
Step 2 (Priming Cabinets)
Proper priming is by far the most important step of the entire process. A premium primer is applied to bond the first coat of paint, lacquer, or polyurethane to the surface.
If this step isn’t conducted correctly, all other coats applied afterward will easily chip and peel off. You can either spray or brush household paints, but lacquers and other coatings will require spraying. We recommend spraying for a more uniform and professional look.
However, the most important part of this step is what most painting contractors get wrong. The primer used should always be an oil-based, shellac-based, lacquer-primer, or oil hybrid bonding primer. Oil primers will dry slower and need more time to cure properly.
Some oil primers require 3-5 days of cure time. Shellac primers will dry much faster. Either primer you decide on has to be completely cured prior to any additional applications or processes. Assuring adequate dry time will enable proper bonding.
The process of waiting is often overlooked and rushed by most painting contractors. In most instances, either the wrong product is used, or inexperienced contractors don’t allow proper dry times.
Step 3 (Re-Sanding)
After the primer coat has been cured, this step is considered to be a detailed sanding process. It’s not meant to be an aggressive process.
We suggest using 300-grit sandpaper or higher. Keep in mind one or two passes by hand is all that is needed during this process.
Don’t remove the primer coat by sanding too much during this process.
Step 4 (Caulking)
This is the most controversial part of the process. The controversy derives from the conversation arguing the pros and cons of caulking cabinet doors.
Caulking the faces of each door makes the overall aesthetics appear more desirable – ridding doors of visible cracks.
Cabinet doors are made in sections often referred to as panels. However, the most overlooked fact is to reduce checking/cracking – panel doors are designed to allow slight movement. Typically, the flat center-facing section of a cabinet door (panel) is separate from the outside structure of the cabinet door.
If the corners are caulked where the panels meet, the caulking can crack and even be pushed out from shifting due to expansion and contraction. Temperature and moisture variation will induce the movement of the panels.
We suggest caulking all other cracks and leaving the panel to move freely.
Step 5 Putty & Wood Fillers
Another important part of the process – putty and wood fillers will smooth nail holes, dents, and minor open wood knots.
If the grain orientation of the wood is still undesirably visible, this process can be the most subjective and time-consuming. In many cases, a special filler will have to be applied to reduce undesired visible wood grain.
Most cabinet professionals use wood fillers and spackles.
Step 6 (Detailed Sanding)
This step is the final step before the paint application. This step is specific to sanding wood-filled, puttied, or caulked areas. Run your hand over the surface. Make sure there are no rough or uneven areas.
Here 600 grit sandpaper or more is highly recommended.
Cabinet Paint Selections
Assuming that you have already purchased all materials – it’s time to make sure the paint selected is an enamel that is self-leveling, resists yellowing, and has low odor.
Most homeowners opt for applying waterborne alkyds or acrylic enamels specific to cabinet applications to control cost. High-quality household oil paints are also available. If you desire interior oil-based paint, we recommend Benjamin Moore Satin Impervo low-luster enamel.
Lacquer and polyurethane paint products are the most durable and provide the absolute most premium finish but also cost the most.
Cabinet Paint Application
Now it’s time to apply the finish coats. For premium top-coat applications spraying cabinets is best. In most cases, two coats will be needed for almost all applications.
Remember, two light coats will offer a better finish than one heavy coat. Applying interior paint too heavily can cause the paint to contain heavy stipples and could cause the paint to drip or run.
Simply put, heavy applications will create unwanted texture, which is counterintuitive – since we spent so much time sanding to make sure the surface is smooth.
Final Product & Usage
If you have had the cabinets painted using household paint, you should wait a few days before rehanging. Another benefit to using lacquer is quicker dry times. With lacquer, you can literally hang the doors on the same day.
Allow 2 weeks before cleaning or wiping the cabinets. No abrasive chemicals can be used until after 1 – 3 months. After 3 months, enjoy those cabinets.
Yes, it was a process. However, you were able to personalize and salvage your pre-existing cabinets at a fraction of the price it would have cost to replace them.
If you are in the market to refinish your interior kitchen cabinets, bookshelves, or bathroom vanity or transition your stained interior trim to paint – we can get the job done correctly and warranty the results. Call us today at 919-426-4928.