kitchen cabinets

DIY Refacing (Not Replacing) Kitchen Cabinets

Do the words reparation and renovation stress you out a little? Do you roll your eyes just thinking about the cost and inconvenience of hiring a contractor for another home project? Who knows, maybe you’ll learn to like those outdated kitchen cabinets, right? Wrong. Do your kitchen a much-needed favor and do it yourself. It’s not hard and you’ll save money to put toward your next labor of love. By refacing (not replacing) those ugly cabinets yourself, you’ll get admirable results for a reasonable price AND some well-deserved handyman cred from friends and family. Not sure where to begin? Read on…

Supplies Needed:

  • Wood veneer of choice (amount based on cabinet measurements)
  • Stain of choice
  • Matching wood veneer tape
  • Medium grit sand paper
  • Wood glue
  • Wood putty to match stain
  • Water-based polyurethane
  • Nail gun with 5/8” brads or hammer and nails

  • Rag
  • Paintbrush
  • Razor knife
  • Block plane
  • Tack cloth
  • Screwdriver
  • Measuring tape
  • New hardware (or shine up the old)
  • Drill
sanding kitchen cabinets

Step 1 –

Remove all cabinet doors, drawers, and hardware. If you have flat-front doors, you’re in luck because it will be much easier to reface them. But if your cabinet has raised panels or any decorative details, you might consider buying new, unfinished doors and staining them yourself to match the rest of the cabinets. Otherwise, you’ll be sanding up a storm to remove the old paint or stain from the cracks and crevices, which is pretty time-consuming, but definitely doable. Still willing to work with the old ones? Read on…

Step 2 –

Sand all exterior surfaces of the old cabinets. There’s no need to sand off all the finish, just enough to scuff it up so the wood veneer will adhere to it. Then wipe everything down with a tack cloth to remove any pesky dust.

Step 3 –

Start on the side panels for practice where any goof-ups won’t be as noticeable until you get the hang of it. Then carefully measure the panels and cut the veneer. Measure twice and cut once is a smart rule to remember. And it’s always wise to leave a little room for overlap since you can easily trim it after. Next, apply a thin layer of wood glue to the side panels. Working from top to bottom to avoid unsightly bubbles in the middle of the pane, use a nail gun with 5/8” brads (or use cabinetry nails if you don’t have a nail gun) to secure the veneer. Be sure to sink them just below the surface and fill the tiny holes with wood putty that matches your stain-of-choice. Finally, use a block plane to trim the edges of the veneer.

Step 4 –

By now, you’re ready to move front and center. Again, carefully measure and cut. You’ll need a sharp razor knife to cut the veneer to size for the narrow, horizontal rails and the vertical stiles. Apply the thin layer of glue, secure your pre-cut veneer pieces, and trim all the edges flush with the sides.

Step 5 –

Reface the cabinet doors, following the same procedure. And don’t forget – measure twice, cut once AND work from top to bottom with the nails or brads. Once secure, an easy time-saver to consider is using matching wood veneer tape for the door edges. Just heat the tape with a clothes iron to get the pre-glued backing good and sticky and then adhere it the edges, pressing firmly to smooth it. Now your exterior should be looking ALMOST good as new!

Step 6 –

But don’t forget about the interior. Use a soft paintbrush or rag and apply a generous coat of your stain-of-choice and allow it to dry completely. Then add a second coat to even out any discoloration. Once it’s all completely dry, you can close the doors and finish the exterior facelift.

Step 7 –

Apply two coats of stain to the cabinet doors, drawer fronts, wood pieces, and moldings, allowing dry time between them. Don’t they look amazing? You’re almost done!

Step 8 

Finish the facelift with three coats of polyurethane. Your kitchen cabinets take a beating from heat, steam, and splatters so you want to be sure they’re thoroughly protected. Water-based polyurethane is the way to go because it’s odor-free and easier to spread than oil-based. And it dries faster, allowing you to finish all three coats in the same day. Be sure to always brush it on in the same direction as the wood grain and don’t slap it on too thick or you’ll get those unsightly air bubbles. Once the first coat is completely dry, lightly sand all surfaces, wipe off the dust with a tack cloth, and apply the second coat. Repeat the same steps for the third and final coat. LET IT DRY COMPLETELY.

Step 9 –

Put the doors back on and the drawers back in. And finally, drill some holes, and attach the hardware. You might want to treat yourself to brand-new, shiny hardware to really make the most of your fabulous facelift.

Step 10 –

You’re done! Grab a beer (or your beverage of choice). Enjoy the satisfaction of DIY success and savings!

The following links will also give you some helpful info: