Face Your Kitchen
Your Guide to Kitchen Cabinet Refacing

Cabinet refinishing: a new look without the hassle

by Karl Fendelander
Face Your Kitchen Columnist

Cabinets are a big part of any kitchen, which makes them a huge part of any kitchen remodel. If your cabinets are falling apart, poorly laid out, hideously designed or just plain dysfunctional, replacing or refacing them is the way to go--but what if they're just the wrong color? An oft-overlooked option for dealing with cabinetry is refinishing. It won't always work with metal, veneer or melamine cabinetry, but if you've got good, solid wood (or plywood) cabinets, you can make some pretty drastic changes to their appearance quickly, easily and economically.

Options for refinishing wooden cabinets

Once you've emptied your cupboards and drawers, removed doors and drawer fronts, taken off all of the hardware and thoroughly cleaned and sanded all the surfaces, you're ready to get started on one of these popular options:

  • Painting cabinets: This is a versatile option for refinishing your cabinets, allowing you to choose from a myriad of different designs, colors, accents and effects. You can simulate wood grain or give your cabinetry a distressed, antique look. You can use stencils for elaborate patterns on the doors or dry-brush certain parts of the doors and drawers for a rustic feel. The sky's the limit--and you can always repaint if you don't like it.
  • Staining cabinetry: When you paint, you can lose the beauty that comes along with natural wood. Re-staining your cabinets lets you keep the look and feel of real wood--and there are just as many color options as with paint. The reason this option isn't more popular is because of the nasty rumor going around that wood can only be stained darker than it already is. This is where bleaching comes in. Commercial wood bleaches can be found at hardware stores, or, if you're feeling industrious, you can use one part regular laundry bleach to ten parts water as your solution. Wipe it on, let it sit for a few minutes, wash it off with plenty of water and then dry it off completely, repeating the process as necessary. This should leave you with either the tone you desire or a great place to start from with a new stain.
  • The combo: Applying paint and wood stain--one at a time--can result in some truly unique looks. Try wiping off some of the paint as it dries, applying a dark stain and then wiping that off for a rustic look.

Whatever method you choose, be sure to wear gloves, cover the floors and counters, and be in a well-ventilated area. It's also a very, very good idea to test out your planned refinishing technique on a piece of scrap wood whenever possible. Once you're all refinished, consider adding new hardware--specifically drawer pulls and door handles--to complete your kitchen cabinetry's new look.

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