Refinishing Cabinets

It is inevitable. Unless you do absolutely no frying in your kitchen, or never work with oils and butter, your kitchen cabinets will eventually take on a patina of fingerprints, frying residue and smoke from frying. Replacing cabinets that are sticky with frying residue and smudged with fingerprints can be expensive, especially in a large kitchen. So your best alternative is to refinish them. It is not a difficult task, and the beauty of doing so allows you to change the color coordinates and add detailing that wasn't originally there. This article focuses on refinishing cabinets - what you need, and how to do it.

Starting The Process

Your first task will be to decide what color to refinish with. Older cabinetry is often dark woods or laminates, and over a period of years, gains a patina of cooking residue and fingerprints. The best way to refurbish them is to paint. Chose a color that not only matches your décor, but will make the kitchen brighter and more inviting.

What You Need

Here is a list of materials:

  • Various screwdrivers
  • A bucket, hot water, sponge and dishwashing liquid
  • Deglosser or sandpaper
  • Oil based primer
  • Oil base paint in preferred color
  • Paint brush
  • Paint tray
  • Rubber gloves
  • Clean up materials - mineral spirits and clean rags

Let's Begin

This is the step by step process:

  1. Remove the doors from the cabinets.
  2. Remove all hardware
  3. Clean the doors and box thoroughly to remove all
    grease and fingerprints, using hot soapy water.
  4. Sand the finish to make it easier for the Paint
    to adhere. A better method is to use a deglosser,
    because then you don't have to deal with dust from
  5. After deglossing, allow the cabinet door to dry
    per manufacturer's instructions. If you used sandpaper
    now is the time to wipe everything down with a damp
    cloth to insure all sanding dust is removed.
  6. Once the cabinet doors are thoroughly dry, it
    is time to prime the doors. Always use an oil based
    primer, because it is more durable and adheres better.
  7. Brush the primer on in smooth, even strokes. A good
    tip is to lift the brush at the end of each stroke to
    insure there are no drips. Start painting in the middle
    of the panel. Get in the habit of doing
    this and half the trouble of painting is won.
  8. Allow the primer to dry. While the doors are
    drying, go ahead and prime the box. Use the same
    brush strokes here, insuring that no heavy overlaps
    or runs are present.

The doors and box are primed. You have chosen your color and are ready to apply. Let's go step by step.

  1. Lay the paint on in the same fashion as you did the
    primer. Work from the center out with equal pressure
    and lifting the brush at the end of the stroke.
  2. When you have finished painting, check for drips or
    runs and prepare as needed.
  3. Allow the door and box to dry, for at least 24 hours
    or per manufacturer's instructions.

The box and cabinet doors are now painted, and you have given them ample time to dry. Now, take a good look at your cabinet hardware. Is it old and tarnished, and outdated? If so, consider replacing them with something a bit more updated.

The Finishing Touches

Often, many cabinet doors have bas relief's carved into the surface. Now would be a good time to find a matching paint, and outline the bas relief for a good finishing touch. Use contrasting colors here for a visual effect.

If your doors still are not what you think they should be, then consider applying a stencil to them. This is easily accomplished with stencils that can be purchased or even found free online. Your local hardware where you purchased your supplies should also carry a wide array of stencils to fit any need. When applying, be careful that the stencil is tightly pressed against the cabinet door, and do not thin the paint used to a consistency that will cause runs. Again, use an oil based paint for this. It would be best to check with a local art store to find the proper paints and brushes for this project.

Colors and stencils are only limited by your imagination. If attempting this project, take your time. It is not something that can be accomplished in an afternoon. Follow these guidelines, and your project is sure to be a success.

Alden Smith is an award winning author and regular contributor to He writes on a variety of subjects, and excels in research.