How to Reface Your Own Cabinets

Man installing kitchen cabinets

 

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Cabinet refacing has become more popular in the last few years due to the explosion of companies that specialize in refacing kitchen and bath cabinets.

Cabinet refacing is sometimes done as part of a larger bathroom remodeling or kitchen remodeling project. Other times, a homeowner may decide that the cabinets are the only thing that they want to be rehabbed, yet they don't want to spend the high cost of installing all-new cabinets.

Painting the cabinets is one traditional way to improve the look of existing cabinets. While painting cabinets is less expensive than replacing or refacing cabinets, it can take more time than expected since the surfaces must be perfectly clean for the paint to adhere.

Cabinet refacing is a newer alternative to tearing out and replacing cabinets.

Can You Reface Cabinets by Yourself?

Given the high cost, it is tempting to try to reface your own cabinets. Veneering is a tricky, exacting process—not a job to take on lightly. With enough patience and willingness to learn a new craft, you can reface your own kitchen or bathroom cabinets. Before plunging into this project, consider a few aspects:

  • Cost of Materials: When you make a mistake with drywall or laminate floor, replacement materials are cheap and easy to obtain with your next home improvement store run. But when you make a mistake with wood veneer, replacement materials are expensive and require another online order.
  • Cabinet Structure: If the cabinets are not structurally sound, they cannot be refaced. Repairing cabinets can be difficult for homeowners who do not have proper woodworking tools or skills. If the cabinet boxes are not sound, you should replace the cabinets.

Instructions

Order Supplies, Doors, and Drawer Fronts

Order new cabinet doors and drawer fronts from a supplier. Many online companies let you order the right size, as well as the desired finish and wood species. All products will arrive sized to fit your cabinets.

Remove Cabinet Contents

Take everything out of the cabinets such as plates, bowls, knick-knacks, shelves, etc. All items must go. Remove cabinet paper. Box up all items.

Remove Cabinet Doors and Fronts

Take off all existing cabinet doors and drawer fronts by unscrewing them with the cordless drill. Bag up the screws and tape them to the respective doors and drawer fronts.

Remove Cabinet Door and Drawer Pulls and Handles

With the cordless drill, remove hardware from doors and drawer fronts, if you intend to keep this hardware. If not, don't worry about removal at this point.

Disposal

Properly dispose of old doors, drawer fronts, and hardware. Avoid landfilling cabinet pieces as much as possible. Architectural salvage yards often will buy unique building elements. Or you can donate the items to a cause such as Habitat For Humanity's Re-Stores or some Goodwill stores.

Sand the Surfaces

Lightly sand down surfaces that will receive the veneer with fine-grit sandpaper. Use an oscillating sander for large sections such as the sides of cabinets. For smaller areas, hold the sandpaper by hand or use a foam sanding block.

Clean the Cabinets

Clean all surfaces that will be refaced with a tack cloth. Thoroughly wipe down all cabinet boxes (frames and all) with TSP mixed into warm water. Frequently change out the water and add new TSP. Rinse with cool, clean water. When you can rub a white cloth on the surface and the cloth comes up clean, you are done.

Veneer All Outer Cabinet Surfaces

Apply wood veneer to the cabinet boxes. Apply the veneer only to exposed areas; the insides of the cabinets will not be veneered. Edge banding can be applied to the thin front-facing edges of the cabinets. Large veneer sheets can be applied to the sides.

Cabinet outer bottoms are usually not veneered. Cabinet tops usually are veneered, even if they will not be seen.

Some online suppliers sell pressure-sensitive wood veneer sheets as well as wood veneer edge banding.

Install Cabinet Doors and Drawers

Install new cabinet doors and drawer fronts. Doors and drawers are usually purchased new rather than refaced. Refacing small elements like drawer and door front is tricky, and the veneer can fail over time, no matter how well it is applied.

Add Cabinet and Drawer Hardware

Install cabinet hardware. Unless the old hardware is especially valuable or of personal significance, most cabinet refacing projects include the installation of all-new hardware. This allows you to have a fresh look in your kitchen at a low cost.

Drill holes for the hardware. Insert the hardware fasteners from the back, through the holes. Thread the fasteners into the hardware by hand. Follow up by tightening with a manual or cordless screwdriver.