Face Your Kitchen
Your Guide to Kitchen Cabinet Refacing
 

Restore wood cabinets by stripping old paint

by Karl Fendelander
Face Your Kitchen Columnist

Whether it's because owners or renters were lazy, or because it was a crazy fad like covering gorgeous hardwood flooring with hideous linoleum, the cabinets in older homes are often paint-caked eyesores. Rather than adding your own layer of paint or ripping out antiques to install new kitchen cabinetry, you can bring your cabinetry's old glory back with some tools and elbow grease.

Before you start stripping

Be sure to test your method on a small section (on the inside of a door if possible) to make sure the wood underneath is worth saving and restoring. In an old house, chances are pretty good that it will be -- and if it is, you'll have that much more motivation to go full-steam ahead.

When you set things up to start stripping, make sure you're prepared for lead paint. This is not a project that will allow you to use your kitchen during the process, partially because of the lead paint possibilities (definitely not a good topper for cereal in the morning).

Techniques for stripping old paint from cabinets

Once you've determined that it's going to be worth the effort and removed all of the doors, drawers and hardware, it's time to get down to business. Here are some popular options:

  • Sanding. The most straightforward, brute-force technique for getting off old paint is a power sander. If the paint is too thick, you may end up just gumming up a lot of sandpaper, so it doesn't work for every occasion. If you use one of the other methods below to get things close, sanding (whether by hand or machine) makes the final stages of paint removal much easier.
  • Steaming. An old carpet steamer can work as a paint remover, and the process is easy on the wood. Retrofit the steam wand to form a reasonably tight seal when pressed up against the wood. Blast with steam, and work the softened paint with a scraper gently. This method is good for intricate work, when sanding just doesn't do the trick.
  • Chemicals. There are a variety of paint thinners and removers on the market that can be brushed or sprayed on to soften paint for removal. You may need to apply the remover many times to get through all of the paint. If you hit a layer of shellac, alcohol and steel wool should cut through without too much trouble.
  • Heating. A good number of heat guns are available for this purpose. Heat up the paint, and scrape while it's still warm.

Sand paper, scrapers and patience are required for all of these methods. Do a little at a time, so you don't get in over your head -- and good luck!





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