How Cabinet Refacing Works: The Basic Process

Cabinet Refacing - Before and After

© Judy Hedding; By Permission

It's the number one question from any homeowner considering cabinet refacing for a kitchen remodel: "But does cabinet refacing look any good in the end?"

Judging from these before-and-after photos from a house in Phoenix, AZ, the results seem impressive. In the "before" photo, we can see that the cabinet boxes were in relatively good shape. This homeowner wanted to improve the cabinets' look and replace warped/separating doors.

The "after" photo shows a kitchen where new cabinet hardware, new doors and drawers, and re-skinned cabinet boxes combine to create a kitchen that looks practically brand-new. If you look closely, though, you'll see that the homeowner kept the same counters, flooring, paint—even the clock. But because cabinets have such a powerful influence on a kitchen's overall visual aesthetic, it looks like a whole new kitchen. That's because cabinets can occupy 75 percent or more of a kitchen's wall space.

Change cabinets, change the look of your kitchen. Cabinet refacing is an effective, economical middle ground between merely painting the cabinets and full-blown (and very expensive) cabinet replacement

Basics: What Is Cabinet Refacing?

Cabinets consist of boxes, doors, drawers, and hardware. In cabinet refacing, a wood or laminate "skin" is applied to the outside of the boxes.

This skin comes in the following four forms:

  • PSA veneer: a pressure-sensitive adhesive (PSA) wood veneer commonly known as "peel and stick."
  • Ordinary veneer: wood veneer, same as above, but without the pre-applied adhesive. This veneer is applied to the cabinets with solvent-based or water-based contact cement.
  • Veneer core plywood: 1/8-inch or 1/4-inch veneer plywood through-and-through.
  • MDF core plywood: 1/8-inch or 1/4-inch MDF topped with decorative veneer.

It's likely the refacing company will use sheets of veneer core plywood (#3) but check with them to make sure.

In addition to applying new "skins," doors and drawer fronts (or the entire drawers) are completely replaced. You can re-use existing hardware (meaning knobs, handles, and such), but most homeowners choose to install new hardware.

Costs and DIY Possibilities

Cabinet refacing isn't cheap—a point that the Arizona homeowner wanted to stress. One cabinet refacing company, Kitchen Magic, tells us that that cost of cabinet refacing can run 40 to 50 percent less than that of a full cabinet replacement job.

What about DIY cabinet refacing? Certainly, cabinet refacing doesn't produce Thomas Chippendale-type results. But it's still woodworking, and it is possible to do your own DIY cabinet refacing. Several companies specialize in offering veneers, doors, drawers, and hardware for homeowners who want to attempt cabinet refacing themselves. However, even with DIY materials, you can expect the refacing to cost 30 to 40 percent of what new cabinets cost. 


Cabinet refacing begins with a measuring tape. The cabinet refacing company begins by arriving to take detailed measurements. In this example, the homeowner reported that this was a painless process, in and out in 30 minutes. If it's a big cabinet refacing company, they'll probably staff a worker who only does measuring.

Man measuring cabinets
© Judy Hedding; By Perrmission

Removing Doors and Drawers

Next, a technician from the installation company will arrive to remove the cabinet doors and drawers, a process that usually takes only an hour or two. 

If possible, donate the doors and drawers to recycling hubs that accept home remodeling materials. Habitat For Humanity ReStores do a great job of keeping tons of unwanted materials out of land-fills by cycling it back to other homes.

Who removes the contents of the cabinets? You. Give yourself time for this work—you'll be surprised at how much stuff you have in your cabinets.

Man removing cabinet doors
© Judy Hedding; By Perrmission

Applying Veneer Skins

The next step is for the refacing crew to install the new veneer skins to the cabinet box sides and face frames. This is arguably the most difficult and time-consuming step in the process, and you can expect a crew of two to four people to be in your kitchen for the better part of a day or two as they carefully cut and apply veneer pieces to every exposed surface of the cabinets. 

Some veneers use a peel-and-stick application, while others are applied with contact cement or other adhesives. Rollers are used to affix the new skin to cabinets (note the roller on the floor). Cabinet refacing is an exacting process with little room for error.

Man working in kitchen
© Judy Hedding; By Perrmission

Assembling Drawers

Once the new veneer skins cover the cabinet carcasses and face frames, the crew will assemble and install the drawers. In some cases, this will mean installing new drawer fronts on the existing drawer boxes, but if the old drawers are in bad shape, the crew may install all-new drawers. 

Man assembling cabinets
© Judy Hedding; By Perrmission

Installing New Cabinet Doors

The refacing team will now mount new doors on the frames of the cabinets. In rare instances, such as with Euro-style slab doors in good shape, it may be possible to re-skin the doors with new veneer. More often, though, all-new doors are installed—usually with new hinges, as well. 

Man installing new cabinet doors
© Judy Hedding; By Perrmission

Adding Hardware

The final refacing step is to install the door handles and drawer pulls. While you can buy your own hardware elsewhere (or refuse the old cabinet hardware), this homeowner decided to use hardware provided by the refacing company. There is often a discount on the cost of new hardware when you buy it as part of the overall package. 

Man installing cabinet hardware
© Judy Hedding; By Perrmission

Cleaning Up

Cabinet refacing produces lots of dust. The company you choose should do a thorough job of cleaning up with an industrial vacuum cleaner equipped with a dust filter.

  • Tip: To ensure a cleaner kitchen, provide the refacing company with a separate work area. This homeowner allocated space in her three-car garage for the installer to work. This provided the installer with plenty of flat surfaces and electrical outlets, and the homeowner was rewarded with less mess in the kitchen area. 
Man cleaning inside of kitchen cabinets
© Judy Hedding; By Perrmission

The Result

With refacing complete, the homeowner is rewarded with a kitchen that looks brand-new but which cost about half that of installing all-new cabinets. 

Kitchen with new cabinet fronts
© Judy Hedding; By Perrmission