DIY Kitchen Cabinet Refinishing

The avatar of Rachel Polant

Rachel Polant

Aug 17

How to do a DIY Kitchen Cabinet Refinishing

Cabinets have a huge impact on a kitchen’s overall décor. It’s usually the first thing a guest notices in your kitchen. Unfortunately, over time, peeling paint, nicks and scratches, or a dull and dirty finish can detract from the look of kitchen cabinets, but adding on a fresh coat of paint can give them new life. Refinishing your kitchen cabinets is the best way to revamp your kitchen without the expense, hassle, and mess of a full kitchen remodel.

Repainting rather than replacing also saves a sizable sum of money, which can easily cost several thousands of dollars. Depending on the condition of your cabinets, the job might only call for a thorough cleaning to renew the existing color.

Refinishing your own cabinets is a fairly straightforward procedure that requires you to remove the hardware and doors and secure a dust-free location for painting and drying the doors; the body can be painted in place. To change a cabinet’s color, or for any heavily worn, stained, or water-damaged cabinets, the best practice is to sand and strip off all the paint and damaged surface to reveal the original wood. Complete removal of the old cabinet finish will guarantee a good bond for the new paint.


In order to refinish your cabinets, you’ll need to prepare them first. Unscrew all the hinges, handles, and knobs to remove the cabinet’s doors and drawers. If you plan on reusing the old hardware, store all loose components and fasteners safely while you paint. Label the doors with painter’s tape to identify the location for replacement. Fill any scratches or dents in the wood with non-shrinking putty. If you plan on using any new hardware on different fastener locations, fill the old screw holes with putty, let dry, and sand smooth. Set up a work area with a large, flat surface to work on the doors. Use drop cloths to cover and protect anything you don’t want to be exposed to wood dust or paint stripper (some paint strippers require open-air ventilation).


Once you’ve dismantled your cabinets, you’ll need to remove the old paint. Fortunately, there are multiple ways to do this.


Paint strippers vary in formula, so get the right one. Brush on a coat according to the manufacturer’s instructions. After a short time, the surface should discolor as the finish dissolves. Scrape it away using a putty knife or furniture scraper, and discard it into a plastic bag. Stripping brushes work well to remove material from contoured edges. This is a messy job, so use drop cloths and rubber gloves, and keep plenty of rags for cleanup.


Clamp the door to the work surface and use a random orbit sander with a medium-grit sandpaper to get to the bare wood. Stock plenty of replacement abrasive discs. This is a messy job, so work outdoors or use a sander with a dust-collection system.


Thicker, gel-like strippers stick to vertical cabinet surfaces, but using a power sander in an upright position can be exhausting. Place doors on a workbench for comfortable sanding.


Once the original finish is all removed, Sand the wood to achieve a very smooth surface. Start with 150-grit sandpaper, then use 180-grit. The fully prepped surface should be clean, dry, dull, and smooth. Remove all wood dust with a tack cloth (don’t use water).


With proper application and cure time, either oil- or latex-based paint will achieve a quality finish. If you opt for latex paint, make sure to use 100-percent acrylic formulation, which is much more durable than vinyl acrylic paints. A sprayed-on finish will achieve the smoothest finish coat. To avoid spraying indoors, you may want to brush-paint the casing and then spraypaint the doors outside with an HVLP (High Volume/Low Pressure) sprayer. Otherwise, you can paint the doors by using a smooth foam roller.


Begin with a coat of oil-based primer, covering all surfaces completely to ensure the adhesion of your paint coats.


After the primer has dried out, lightly sand it with 180-grit sandpaper to remove any imperfections before applying your topcoats. Use a tack cloth to wipe down the surface after you finish sanding.


Apply two coats of paint to the doors, drawer, and casing, allowing the paint to dry overnight between coats.


Once you’ve finished with your repainting, it’s time to put your cabinets back together. Replace all the old hardware, or install new hardware. To avoid splitting the wood, keep knobs and pulls at least an inch from any edge of the door. A general rule of thumb is to locate hardware within one-third the height of the cabinet.


Use a combination square to keep the location of all handles, hinges, or other hardware consistently spaced from door to door.


Drill pilot holes for all screws, then fasten all hardware securely.


The doors must be installed level and plumb. Ensure that your doors cover up their respective openings evenly, as any door offset to the right or left will be noticeable and will likely interfere with installing the next door.

Once all the doors are back in place, you’ll have the look of new cabinets at a fraction of the price!

Even though refinishing your cabinets isn’t nearly the size and scope of a full kitchen remodel, it does have its challenges. Many people may find it too difficult of a DIY job. Or, they may not want to deal with the undertaking of all the mess and cleanup that is required.

If you want some help getting your kitchen cabinets spruced up but don’t want the responsibility of doing the work yourself, hire a cabinet installation and refinishing pro.

You won’t save any money in the end if you mess up your cabinets and have to start over, or, worse yet, you do real damage to your cabinets. It might be a better choice to spend a little more money on hiring a professional, and get it done right the first time.

If you’re interested in talking to a pro about kitchen cabinet refinishing or new kitchen cabinet installation, connect with to find and hire the best cabinet refacing pros near you!


The avatar of Rachel Polant

Rachel Polant

Aug 17