How Cabinet Refacing Works

Wood Kitchen Cabinets

Alex Ansley/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

There are plenty of ways of improving your kitchen cabinets: removing and replacing them; restaining them; painting them; and refacing them.

The last one—cabinet refacing—is a viable option that many homeowners may not even know about. But judging from these before-and-after photos from a house in Phoenix, the results are impressive.

Before the cabinet refacing technician arrived, the cabinet boxes were in relatively good shape. The homeowner wanted to improve the cabinets' look and to replace warped and separating doors.

After the technician was done, new cabinet hardware, new doors and drawers, and re-skinned cabinet boxes combine to create a kitchen that looks practically brand-new. 

Everything else in the kitchen remains the same: counters, flooring, paint, and 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.

When you change the kitchen cabinets, you 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.

What Cabinet Refacing Is

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

This veneer comes in the following four forms:

  • PSA Veneer: Pressure-sensitive adhesive (PSA) wood veneer commonly known as "peel and stick."
  • Ordinary Veneer: Wood veneer, similar to PSA veneer, 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 to completely finish off the new look.

Cabinet Refacing Costs

Cabinet refacing is less than the cost of removing and replacing the cabinets. But it's still not inexpensive. The cost of cabinet refacing can run 40- to 50-percent less than that of a full cabinet replacement job.

DIY vs. Professional Cabinet Refacing

What about DIY cabinet refacing? Cabinet refacing doesn't produce fine furniture. But it's still woodworking, and woodworking is a skill that many homeowners don't have.

With some practice and trial and error, though, it's possible to do your own rudimentary DIY cabinet refacing.

Several companies specialize in offering veneers, doors, drawers, and hardware for homeowners who want to attempt cabinet refacing themselves. Even with DIY materials, you can expect the refacing to cost 30 to 40 percent of what new cabinets cost. 

Most homeowners choose to hire professionals to reface their cabinets. By the time the homeowner has learned the craft, the project is almost over.

Measuring Cabinets

Cabinet refacing begins with a measuring tape. The cabinet refacing company begins by arriving to take detailed measurements.

This is usually a fast job, with the technician coming and going in less than an hour. If it's a big cabinet refacing company, they'll probably staff a worker who only does measuring.

Man measuring cabinets

Judy Hedding

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're the best person for this. 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

Applying Veneer Skins to Cabinets

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

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

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

Adding Hardware to Doors and Drawers

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

Cleaning Kitchen

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.

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

Cabinet Refacing Results

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