How to Remodel Kitchen Cabinets

smiling couple remodeling kitchen cabinets
  • 8-20 hours
  • Beginner
  • 50-200
What You'll Need
Paint stripper
Hot air gun
Wood putty knife
Wood putty
Wood conditioner
What You'll Need
Paint stripper
Hot air gun
Wood putty knife
Wood putty
Wood conditioner

Instead of replacing old cabinets during a remodel, which can become quite expensive, it may make sense to simply remodel kitchen cabinets by fixing them up or refurbishing them. Refurbishing old cabinets restores their look and saves you the time and expense of replacing the cabinets.

Modifying old kitchen cabinets can be a relatively easy, albeit labor-intensive activity. All refurbishing requires is stain, paint, and some labor. This task can be accomplished alone or with another person if you want to save time. Here are a few steps to take when undertaking this project.

Considerations for a Kitchen Cabinet Remodel

As you decide to remodel your kitchen, think about what type of work your kitchen needs and how much you are willing to spend. If your kitchen is in good shape, then you can opt to reface or refinish your cabinets. This will cost less than replacing them.

Refacing isn't always an option. If your cabinets are falling apart, mounted unevenly, or have rusting metal elements, you might have to replace them instead. If you decide to go with refinishing, remember it is just a cosmetic makeover and that not all cabinets and countertops can be refinished.

If you're trying to sell your house, the condition of a kitchen can influence a buyer's decision. Before investing in your kitchen remodeling project, check with a local real estate agent on what type of investments to make and how much the value of your house might improve.

If you're planning to sell your house, this is a good project. Fresh cabinet faces can boost property value significantly since home buyers pay special attention to kitchen quality.

Here's how to execute the project step by step.

man installing kitchen cabinets

Step 1 - Plan Your Cabinet Remodeling

A home improvement center or kitchen and bath décor showroom are good places to explore ideas for your cabinets. Before you begin the modification of the cabinets, review different design options and have a computer model created.

This will give you a visual representation of different ideas and allow you to choose the best style for your modification. From these different design ideas, choose the one that best fits your décor.

Step 2 - Remove the Cabinet Doors

hand drilling cabinet door

Before you remove the doors, use masking tape to number the cabinet doors so that they can be matched with their proper cabinets later on. Use a screwdriver to remove the cabinet doors and hardware from the front of the cabinet.

Pull all drawers out and place the doors and drawers to the side for refinishing work. Use the vacuum to clean up any loose material or debris that is found around the cabinet frames. The working area should be as clean as possible.

You will also need to remove and clean the hardware. To do so, remove the hardware from the cabinet door fronts and soak them with detergent and water to remove any built-up dirt and grime. Wash the cabinet doors with detergent and dry them thoroughly.

Step 3 - Inspect the Cabinet Frames

Inspect the hanging and installed cabinets to determine if there is any damage that needs to be repaired. Any dents or holes can be patched with wood putty.

Damaged pieces should be replaced with new pieces of wood or removed if badly damaged. You should also check for any water damage caused by plumbing and rotting of the wood due to age.

Step 4 - Remove Paint and Stain from Cabinet

hand cleaning cabinet wall

Sand the doors lightly to remove any blemishes or marks that are on the door. You can then use a wood oil or soap to bring out the luster in the wood and restore it. If you choose to alter the doors, you can perform this task at the end.

Use a hot air gun or a commercial paint stripper to remove any old paint or stain on the cabinets. You can also sand the cabinets to remove the old stain. This step is necessary to prepare the cabinet to be re-stained or painted.

Wipe the cabinets completely to remove any excess debris or paint once you have completed this process. Use the same procedure for removing the paint or stain from the cabinet doors and drawer fronts. The hardware can be soaked with detergent if you choose to reuse them.

Step 5 - Apply New Stain or Paint to the Cabinets

hand painting cabinet wood

Stain the cabinets, doors, and drawers using the wood stain that you selected for the project. Rub the stain into the wood using a rag, applying light pressure and working with the grain of the wood.

Allow the stain to dry before applying a second coat of stain. When the second coat dries, apply a polyurethane sealer to protect the wood further and seal the stain finish.

If you choose to paint the cabinets, use a natural bristle brush and apply the paint in even strokes. It is not necessary to apply a polyurethane sealer once the paint dries.

Step 6 - Attach the Cabinet Doors

Reattach the cabinet doors and place the cabinet drawers back into position.

Step 7 - Reinstall Hardware and Doors

hand installing cabinet door handle

Use the screwdriver to reattach all of the hardware for the cabinet doors and drawers. If necessary, purchase replacement hardware to further change the look of your drawers.

Kitchen Cabinet Remodel Ideas

Those basic steps apply to any cabinet remodel. Vintage cabinets require a bit more care to refresh. If you're looking for something a little different, check out our recommendations for variations below.

Vintage Cabinets

The style of vintage kitchen cabinets is very different from modern cabinets and can look wonderful in a restored kitchen. Finding vintage cabinets can be difficult and expensive, however. Even after you find them, they often need to be restored, although that can be part of the fun.

Before you do any work on your own on an older piece of wood furniture that you own, including cabinets, have it appraised by a professional. Some antiques are more valuable with their antique patina than when they've been restored through refinishing or repainting.

Plan to take a bit more time on vintage surfaces to improve them carefully. The results will be worth the investment as your kitchen will look like a perfect period piece.

Start by cleaning and sanding the vintage cabinets. Put on your rubber gloves before you start to protect your skin.

To clean the cabinets, use soap and water with a scrub brush on the wood. A good liquid soap will help eliminate the grease from the surface. Clean the countertops, too, if you are using vintage ones. In most vintage cabinets, the countertops will be covered with tile. Make sure you clean this properly.

Allow the cabinets to dry fully before moving on. Then you’ll need to remove the cover of varnish from the wood. Do this with a fine-grit sandpaper. Rub lightly; all you need to do is remove the varnish, although if there are flaws in the wood, you’ll need to remove those, too.

For drawers and doors, remove them from the cabinets to sand properly. After you’ve finished sanding, use a tack cloth or damp rag to remove all the dust and leave the cabinets ready for new varnish.

When you’re certain you’ve removed all the dust, you need to use varnish or a good polyurethane finish on the wood. Varnish is the traditional finish, although polyurethane will give a tougher finish.

Don’t try to apply a single thick coat of finish over the wood. It’s much better to apply two or three thin coats. Paint the finish onto the wood and leave it to dry before applying a second coat. You probably won’t need more than two coats of finish on the wood, but you can add a final coat if you wish to have the extra protection.

Do not apply heavy coats of paint to your vintage cabinets—it will ruin not only their appeal but also their value.

While you're refinishing, check for any hardware that might be missing from the wood pieces. Replacement parts can be purchased from a local antique shop. Yard sales and thrift shops are also good places to find these items.

If there are any wooden parts that are damaged or missing and that can't be replaced, you might have to bring your woodworking skills into play (or find a skilled carpenter who could match the style and detail of your cabinet).

Once you have restored your antique piece to its original luster, you can have the professional appraiser return to provide you with a second estimate on the value of the cabinets.


If you want to update the look of your cabinets without restoring the cabinets, you can try stenciling. Stenciling your cabinets also provides an opportunity to apply some creative flair to your living space.

Stencils can either be store purchased or made yourself by using cut pieces of cardboard or tracing paper. Either method offers a cost-effective alternative to replacing your entire cabinet.

Self-Adhesive Veneers

Self-adhesive veneers are a simple alternative to completely refacing your kitchen cupboards. Serving as a cheap alternative to real wood, these stylish and modern veneer coverings have a realistic wood-effect appearance and are simple to fit.

Kitchen cabinet remodeling can be as simple as applying a layer of thin plywood to existing surfaces to accommodate repairs and cutting the veneer to size before adhering it to the outer framework. This method doesn’t require the use of any specialist tools and helps to keep the costs down.

Self-Adhesive Plastic Coverings

One of the simplest methods of covering tired cupboards is to use a self-adhesive plastic covering, which can be bought in rolls from any good hardware store. This inexpensive option for recovering can offer a multitude of finishes, from glossy colors to real wood effects.

This style of remodeling involves spreading a section of colored or patterned plastic onto the cupboard surfaces and flattening it down evenly while avoiding the build-up of air bubbles. It can be a tricky procedure to get right, but with patience, the effect can really be worth the effort.

Paint and Grain

This is a painting method designed to produce a wood grain effect on cabinet surfaces. It is created by covering the primed surface of the cabinet with a light color of wood paint as a base coat.

The grain effect is made by dipping a specially designed comb or graining tool into a darker feature color and dragging it in a rocking motion down the wood. This process should be repeated in sections, all in one direction, and the ultimate finished look is similar to a piece of paneled wood.

Super Gloss Spray Paints

One of the quickest ways of implementing your cabinet remodeling ideas is by using a touch of spray paint. These cans come in a wide variety of colors and textures, and as long as the working surface is clean and dry, they will provide a fast, effective covering for most wooden surfaces.


If you are satisfied with your existing layout but want a new style, then consider refacing your kitchen. This is a good idea if your existing cabinets are in good structural condition and you have enough storage and counter space.

Refacing is a remodeling job that gives you that custom looks at an affordable price. It consists of covering the exterior surfaces of your cabinets with new laminate. The doors and drawer fronts are replaced, and the front and side panels are treated with fresh paint or a new veneer.

When you reface cabinets, there is less mess, no damage to your walls and floors, and hardly any disruption of your kitchen use. Most refacing jobs take a few days, but it can take longer depending on how big the project is.