Jimmie's Guide to Refacing Cabinets

If you have a kitchen that is either worn-out or that has colors and styles that you just don't like, the phrase "kitchen remodel" comes up. You start to browse kitchen cabinet catalogs or check out Pinterest or other sites and find alluring, opulent (and staged) images of spectactular cooking areas.
 Then up comes the subject of Collateral Damage (to your wallet). "Operation Kitchen Remodel" is an undertaking that starts at $20,000 and goes up from there.
 Sigh. . .
 But it doesn't have to involve calling out your retirement account troops. The main part of your kitchen (other than appliances) is the cabinets. And you don't have to replace the cabinets. You simply "reface" them. If the cabinet "boxes" (the interior portions) are in good shape, you can update the cabinets by replacing the doors and also the drawer fronts.
 In my case, the total cost to reface all the cabinets in the entire house was about $5,500! And this included a premium species of wood, along with a newly-introduced stain.
 So, how easy is this? while non-trivial, it's actually not too bad, especially if the "overlap" is such that not much of the front frame shows between the doors and drawers (explained below). In this case, you can simply stain (or even paint) the front frame.

NOTE: Wood Veneer:
 Many sites that discuss cabinet refacing suggest using Wood Veneer to cover the original doors or drawers, and sometimes the front frame (the "Face Frame"). Wood veneer is simply sheets of very thin wood. You cut this material and glue it onto the existing surface.
 In my opinion, this would likely be quite difficult. For the doors and drawers, the veneer won't bend around any curved edges. And if the doors have insets or raised panels, you would still have to refinish the (intricate) borders around the panels. And trying to cover the doors, drawers, or Face Frame with strips of veneer requires a MUCH higher skill level than sanding and staining/painting.

Let's Start with the "Before" and the "After"

 These are the original cabinets that came with the house. They were "shaker" style with a dark red cherry stain, and simple chrome rounded knobs.
 These cabinets actually didn't look too bad. As a matter of fact, in some of the cabinet catalogs, cherry was shown as the high end stuff for use in fancy offices with matching desks and crown moulding, in addition to the offerings for kitchens.
 But they actually were more worn than they look here. I had just cleaned them with Murphy's Oil soap, followed with a wipe-down with "Restore-A-Finish" mahogany tint.
 P.S.: This picture was taken with an iPhone 6!


 And this is the result of replacing the door and drawer fronts. These are Kraftmaid "Dillon" style with "Transluscent Monument Grey" stain (a new offering as of 2020).
 The knobs are Amerock "Forgings Wrought Iron" collection. (I will provide a close-up later.)
 P.S.: This picture was taken with an iPhone 12!
 P.P.S.: The flooring is Calypso "Cardigan", by Lamett Flooring.


Planning the Cabinet Reface, and ordering material

First of all, inspect the cabinets you currently have. The interior of most cabinets is "MDF" (Medium Density Fiberboard). This is essentially wood particles that has been glued together into panels that are about 1/2 inch thick. This material has no tolerance for moisture, so check that your "boxes" are still in good shape. The bottom section under the sink may be deformed from prior leaks. But if it's not too bad, you can cover it with rubber material or something similar.
 Some cabinet boxes are actually made with plywood. This is much better for wear and resistance to moisture.

Are the cabinets "Full Overlay" or close to it? This term means the door and drawer edges are almost touching. So you see almost none of the front frame (called the "Face Frame"). Most of the time, the Face Frame is solid pieces of whatever wood species the current doors and drawer fronts are made of. It will typically be painted or stained to match the doors and drawers. If your cabinets are "Partial Overlay", with more than 1 inch between adjacent doors and drawers, you might have to do more work with the Face Frame if you change to a different wood species or color. In other words, you will have to more carefully match the Face Frame to the new doors/drawers.
 Take a look at the "Before" picture above. Note that the space between the door/drawer edges is about 1/2 inch. This is great for a reface project, since the underlying face frame is essentially not seen when the doors are closed. It's in the shadows between the doors/drawers. So in essence, you don't actually have to match the color/appearance of the new doors and drawers.
 "But why can't I just order wider (and taller) doors and drawers?" you might ask. You can order them slightly bigger (1/8 or 1/4 inch perhaps). But check the available hinges before considering much more than that. My cabinets use "1 1/4 inch Overlay" hinges. This means the edge of the door overlaps the face frame 1 1/4 inches. In searching for "Overlay" style hinges, I found a range of 1/2 inch to 1 1/2 Overlay.

Find a dealer that you can work with. I used Home Depot for my project. This makes the remodel much easier, since the sales consultant can work with you on cabinet choices and can navigate the somewhat complex process of ordering the correct materials, including the correct hinges.

You can then go visit them and get some catalogs showing each vendor's offerings. For example, I came home with a Kraftmaid and a Thomasville catalog.

 Want to know a bit about wood species and their characteristics? Here's Kraftmaid's article:

Wood Species

1 If you have a piece of your flooring, take it with you to the dealer. They will have door samples for each of their suppliers, and you can see what they might look like against your floor. (Take a picture of your floor if you don't have an extra piece.) This is Kraftmaid's "Cannon Grey" on Oak.

2 This is Thomasville's Rustic Hickory (stain color unknown) and "Graphite" on Hickory.

cabinet sample cabinet sample

3 In my case, I was also shopping for a new countertop for the bathrooms. So here I am comparing the Rustic Hickory with "Shadow Concrete" - a color offered in LG "HiMacs" material.

4 The dealer will usually let you check out an actual door sample. Here I am holding it up against the kitchen countertop and range. Most cabinet vendors will also sell door samples for $40 or $50 bucks.
 This door is Kraftsmaid's "Dillon" series, with wood species "Rustic Hickory", and stain "Transluscent Monument Grey". This is the one I chose.

cabinet sample cabinet sample

5 An important note: Grey colors will git 'ya! When you are looking at a door sample, it is essential to make sure it's in the type of lighting you will be actually using! (This applies to grey tints in room paint as well.) If you think you might increase the wattage of the light bulbs you are currently using, or especially if you are thinking from switching from "Warm White" bulbs to "Cool White", be sure to do it before looking at any samples.
 For example, here are two of the new cabinet doors. They're both "Transluscent Monument Grey". But the one on the right is partially illuminated by the dining room window. The light from the window is "Daylight color temperature", being, well, daylight. But the door on the left is illuminated by the kitchen light - "Cool White color temperature"

6 Here's the same two doors side by side, illuminated by the kitchen light only - I closed the blind on the dining room window.

cabinet doors cabinet doors

When you have decided on your wood species and stain/paint colors, you can measure all your cabinet doors and drawer fronts and go back to the sales consultant. (They prefer that you make an appointment). Some Notes:

Kraftmaid wants their measurements Height x Width. (I had mine reversed - Width X Height).

You can decide whether to get your drawer fronts as "slab" (single piece of wood) or "5 piece" - a thinner slice of wood with a frame around it. I prefer slab. It's easier to work with, and you will get more of the wood pattern, including knots and irregularities, with "Rustic" choices.

You will need to buy several types of matching moulding. I have pictures and information just below this list.

You can buy some of the matching stain through the cabinet supplier, for use in staining your face frame. But I was unable to get the cabinet supplier to ship it in advance. So I used another stain, and it worked fine. As noted above, most of the face frame can't be seen when the doors and drawers are closed.

You will likely have end sections that show, on some of your cabinets. For example, the sides and back of islands, or the sides in bathrooms. I discuss some options on this, with pictures, just below this list. (Hint: It's usually cheap veneer or plastic coated thin plywood. The cabinet supplier had some which was not cheap, but it still looked just like plastic coated plywood!
 However, the cabinet supplier also had two excellent alternatives! I discuss below.

Don't get the hinges through the cabinet supplier! Mine would have been $11 each. The sales rep took me to the hinges/hardware section of the store, where I bought packages of 10 for $4 per hinge.

And, don't get unrelated accessories through the cabinet supplier. I wanted to buy 4 "corbels" (shelf supports) to match the cabinets. They would have been $260 each. She took me to the wood products area of the store, and I bought them for $41 each.

7 Here are 4 types of moulding/trim from the cabinet supplier. They are solid hickory, stained to match the doors and drawer fronts, and usually come in 8 foot lengths. (Yours will be in the wood species that you have selected.)
 The leftmost one is "Angled Wood Edge - AWE8". (These are Kraftmaid's part numbers.) I used it in place of the standard issue "crown moulding" to put on top of the cabinets (see the "Before" and "After" pictures above, and sections 31 and 33 below). Why not use crown moulding? Because crown moulding looks great against the ceiling, but on cabinets crown moulding looks like it's trying to support an imaginary surface.
 The 2nd from the left is "Mission Batten Moulding - MBM8". I bought 1 piece, but never actually used it.
 The 2nd from the right is the standard issue corner moulding, ("Outside Corner - OSC8"), typically used on the edge of islands. I didn't end up using this moulding, since I've always felt that it looks like something that would be used to cover up sloppy edge work.
 And the strip on the right is "Scribe Moulding - SM8", used extensively where cabinets meet the wall. See sections 17 and 27 below for samples. Yep. it's used to cover up sloppy edges, too. (But they're much harder to avoid.)

8 Here's another picture of the same four pieces.

trim trim

9 As mentioned above, you might want to avoid the standard end cap material. In this case, the cabinet supplier apparently went cheap on me. This was 1/8 inch plywood covered with an artificial-looking veneer or plastic. The cabinet supplier refers to it as "Wood Skin". Here is a piece placed next to one of the nice Hickory drawer fronts (Hickory drawer on the left, chinzy-looking veneer panel on the right). It was supplied in 3 each of 4 x 4 foot sections, totaling $460!

10 I returned 2 of the pieces and went with 3/8 inch "V-grooved" paneling. This is a picture from the cabinet maker's site. See sections 30A and 30B for pictures of this V-grooved paneling installed. BUT: also see section #27 ("Mounting the end caps") for a really nice alternate - an end cap that matches the doors!)

end cap end cap

11 You will also need some paint or stain to change the color of your Face Frame, if it is different from the new doors/drawers. The can with the "Mohawk" brand is from the cabinet supplier. (Yes, it arrived bent!) Since I couldn't get it in advance, I used the "Old Masters" gel stain in "Weathered Wood" - a light grey. I found the gel type stain to be very easy to apply, MUCH easier than the liquid type stains.
 The Old Masters stain dries to a tough finish that already has some gloss, and doesn't seem to require an additional coat of any type of polyurethane or similar compound. Thus I actually did not use the Miniwax "Wipe-On Poly", though I might add it on the shelf pull-outs at a later date.
  You will need the appropriate hinge. (The sales consultant can help you with this.) In my case, the "1 1/4 in Overlay" was the right one - the next pix shows one. The term "1 1/4 in" means the edge of the doors overlaps the face frame by about 1 1/4 inches.

12 Here is a close-up of one of the hinges. This particular hinge has adjustments for Left - Right, depth, and Up - Down, explained below.
 Also, it is "soft close"! The amount can be adjusted, and I will provide more information below.

end cap end cap

The stain is hard to find in stores! Here's a link for buying it online.
 As always, purchasing these items from Amazon helps support your Wracklineblog!

Old Masters "Weathered Wood" stain:


And this is a compound that you apply to screws to make them much easier to drive. It's discussed in #26 below. You might be able to get it at some auto supply stores. But online beats hunting in stores!

"Door Ease" lubricant.

Door Ease

Preparing Your Face Frame and Installing the Pieces

Important Note:
When your cabinet pieces arrive (and this may be several months, given the shipping problems of late), don't put them out in the cold damp garage! While the cabinet maker has (hopefully) dried and cured all the wood, it's still important to keep it in a dry area. Also, store them on the same floor as the room where they will be installed, so there won't be any big temperature changes when they are removed from the boxes and installed.
 This is even more important for flooring as well. Wood and wood products expand and contract with changes in temperature or humidity.

13 Prior to the arrival of your cabinet pieces, you can prepare the Face Frame. Consider doing it in sections, so your entire kitchen won't be torn up at once. I have already sanded off the original cherry stain. More detail on prep work in Section #15 ("Removing the old stain")

14 Here's the Face Frame in the master bath. I have sanded most of the cherry stain off here.
 A note on drawer removal: Drawers with "Partial Extension" drawer slides usually lift up and out. With most "Full Extension" drawer slides (shown here), there are black pieces of nylon on each side. Pull the drawer partially out, and lift one up and the opposite one down to remove the drawer.
 NOTE: Most homes come with partial extension. It's quite irritating because the drawer stops with about 8 inches of the back side unavailable. I replaced all the partial extension slides with full extension slides. But I would not call this a "trivial" project!

ttt ttt

15 Removing the old stain:

Remove the drawer front(s) and the door(s), as well as the contents.

You can sand by hand, but it does take quite a bit more time.

Otherwise, a small corner-type sander works fine. 220 grit sandpaper seems to work well. It easily removes the old stain yet leaves the surface smooth enough so you can immediately apply paint or stain. Note that I also sanded the front of the pull out shelf in the middle. It was originally a light-colored maple. You should probably lay old towels or a paint tarp down on the floor - sanding creates lots of dust. Definitely wear a face mask.

Note that the side next to the wall has some of the old stain. That's what the "SM8" moulding is for!

16 Applying the stain.
 Since I did not get the factory match stain until the cabinet pieces arrived, I used the Old Masters "Weathered Wood" stain shown in section #11 above.

Wipe off all the excess dust.

Apply the stain with an old (but clean) rag. Then wipe the excess off with a dry rag. This allows the original grain of the wood to show through slightly. I also stained the front of the pull out shelf. I might have allowed the stain to remain on that piece of wood a bit longer before wiping off the excess.

For a more durable finish, apply a coat of the "Wipe-On Poly", or similiar product.

face frame face frame

17 This seemed to be a good point to show the finished result. Note the "SM8" moulding on the left provides a clean appearance and a perfect joint next to the painted wall.
 NOTE: Locktite "Power Grab" adhesive - available in a squeeze tube - works great for glueing the moulding to the cabinet. Hold it in place for about an hour with blue painter's tape. Masking tape might work, but it tends to tear when you try to remove it. Hold the moulding in place when removing the tape!
 As you can see, the only part of the Face Frame that shows when the door is closed is the small bit between the moulding and the door.

18 Mounting the doors

Attach the hinges to the door.

Support the door with a stack of wood or other scraps. A couple of paint sticks on top of a stack of old Ikea cabinet pieces provided just the right amount to orient the door where I wanted it.

While holding the door, drill a hole for the mounting screw. Drill a hole a bit less than the length of the screw. This allows the screw to hold tighter. The section of the hinge through which the screw passes is an elongated slot. This gives you a chance to move the door up or down slightly for alignment. Note that this picture is a bit misleading, because it shows the drill bit at the bottom of the slot. You want to try to drill in the center of the slot, so that you have adjustment up or down.
 NOTE: Cabinet pieces, including the Face Frame, are usually made of hardwood. It's very helpful to lubricate screws before trying to insert and tighten them. See section #26 for information on two products that are used for wood screw lubricants.

Door didn't end up where you needed it, even with the adjustment? Then loosen the top screw a bit and drill the bottom hinge hole accordingly. For example, if the door is too high and you have run out of adjustment on the top hinge, drill the lower hole at the bottom of the lower hinge slot. Then you have the full length of the slot to move it down further. At this point, remove the top screw and allow the door to move down further. Then drill another hole for the top hinge.

finished mounting

19 Available hinge adjustments
This style of hinge allows for adjustment after you have mounted the door. (For any home improvement project, having some "slop" is priceless!)
 This screw allows for moving the door a bit to the left or right. NOTE: I found this mechanism to be very tight on these hinges. The screw was very hard to turn. So I applied a couple drops of WD-40 on the mechanism before mounting the hinges, and this helped.

20 And this screw allows for a slight forward movement. You can move the door away from the face frame slightly.

adjusting adjusting

21 This allows for moving the door up and down. It's the screw you used to mount the hinge. the hinge has an elongated slot for this purpose.

22 And this small piece of nylon has three positions and adjusts the "softness" of the door close. The factory default is maximum amount. The door will start slowing down about 6 inches away from fully closed. The next position will cause it to slow down about 2 - 3 inches away, and the third position disables the soft close.
 It would probably be a bit safer to use a plastic tool or a small piece of wood instead of the screwdriver.

adjusting adjusting

23 Mounting drawer fronts.
Usually you can just lay the old drawer front on top of the new one and drill a small hole (just big enough for the knob screw) through it. Be sure you have the old drawer front AND the new drawer front facing upward (or downward) and the top facing in the same direction.

24 Place the new drawer front over the knob screw and check the centering of the drawer front. We see here that the drawer front is a bit too far to the right.
 So now you drill a larger hole through the new drawer front. (but not so big that it won't be covered by the knob shaft). This gives you the magic SLOP. Now you can move the drawer to the left before you tighten it.

drawer drawer

25 Here we see that the drawer is nicely lined up with the side of the door below. Make sure the drawer is lined up with the adjacent doors or drawers, and then tighten the screw holding the cabinet knob. Now you can add the additional screws that stabilize the drawer. You can see the extra holes in the drawer body in pictures 15 and 16 above, where the old drawer front has been removed. Carefully pass a drill bit through the holes from the back and drill into the new drawer, but check out the tips on the next panel first. . .

26 To help make sure you won't drill through your brand new drawer front, mark the depth on the drill bit. Do this by holding the screw against the drill bit and applying a piece of tape about 1/4 inch less than the length of the screw. This prevents you from drilling through your new drawer!! (Why 1/4 inch less than the screw length? So the tip of the screw will penetrate further than the drilled pilot hole. This makes for a tighter fitting.)
 While on the subject of driving screws into wood in general (and hardwood like cherry and hickory in particular), consider one of the two products shown below. One of these is Bees wax, available usually at the big box stores. My favorite is "Door Ease", an automotive product, available online. Just drag the screw threads through either compound to coat them.
 A link to order some is above, just before #13.

drawer fastener tip

27 Mounting the end caps
Once you have mounted all your doors and drawer fronts, you are ready for the end pieces. As discussed in sections #9 and #10, you can get the traditional plastic coated veneer, or perhaps "V-groove" material. But Kraftmaid offers an option to order an end cap that matches the doors! Here it is on my island. It's essentially a really big door.
 Note that I used a strip of the small "SM8" trim on the right side of the end cap so I could position the end cap toward the back side of the island a bit. In other words, I wanted to shift it to the left slightly, as shown in this picture. This makes the back side of the end cap flush with the back of the island.

28 I will use the V-grooved panel on the back of the island. So here's the left side of the end cap. We see the back side of the island, with the original cherry veneer. Note that the new end cap is flush with the edge. I can now position the V-grooved material either next to, or overlapping, the end cap - thus avoiding the need for the corner moulding.
 Remember, in any Home Improvement project, it pays to do stuff that makes it look like you know what you're doing!

end cap end cap

29 Here is the side of the bathroom cabinet, ready for some kind of "End Cap". Although the original cherry looks good, it's actually just plastic coating on thin plywood.
 Looking under the cutout, you can see the end of a piece of "Montana Ghostwood" 1x4 that I used for floor moulding. I used this moulding throughout the house - you can see it in the "After" picture at the top of this page. It's wood from trees that were attacked by the Pine Bark Beetle in Montana and other forests.

30 I tried a piece of the "Wood Skin" veneer material as the End Cap. Note that I simply covered the edge of the "Ghostwood" 1x4 floor moulding which was shown in the previous picture.
 I replaced this Wood Skin end cap when I received the V-groove material. But note that, for whatever material you use, if you can make a clean straight cut (or use the factory edge for that side!), you really don't need any "SM8" or other moulding against the wall - or even the floor, for that matter.

end piece end piece

30A The V-groove material arrived, and I installed it on the back side of the kitchen island. So, as promised, I am providing a picture of it. I cut a piece to fit, and simply rounded the edge and applied a bit of stain. This made a good-looking corner without the need for any "corner moulding" (which, as I have previously suggested, makes a cabinet job look a bit amateurish).

30B And here's the V-grooved end cap on the bathroom, replacing the "Wood Skin" material (Figure 30) and making for a classier look.
 NOTE: In both of these pictures, the V-groove material looks different in color compared to the cabinet doors. As discussed above, grays change color depending on the lighting - or even the angle of the lighting!
 Actually, neither the Wood Skin product nor the V-grooved product exactly matched the doors and drawer fronts. Both products were lighter in color than the doors/drawer fronts. This is a good argument for using an actual "door" as an end cap, as shown in Figure 27 above.

v-groove v-groove

31 Here is the side of the laundry room cabinet. I used some more of the "Wood Skin" product. Again, no moulding needed against the wall.
 At the top of the cabinet, you can see the "Angled Wood Edge - AWE8" that I used in place of crown moulding. The same moulding is shown on top of the kitchen cabinets in the "After" picture above.

32 To mount the AWE8 moulding without using fasteners that would show, simply add an angled bracket on the back side every 2 or 3 feet. That way you can screw the bracket to the cabinet top behind the moulding. The slotted type of bracket also helps give you some "Magic Slop" in positioning the moulding (to move it forward or backward)! If you need to raise the moulding a bit, simply put a few washers under the bracket.

laundry end piece top bracket

And finally. . . some pix of the completed project

33 Here is the laundry room cabinet with its "AWE8" cap on top.

34 And here is the upstairs bath.

The countertop is LG "Hi-Macs" in "Shadow Concrete". I had the countertop installed - also through Home Depot.

The lavatory is a Kohler "Memoirs" in "Thunder Grey".

And the faucet is a Delta "Flynn" model, in stainless.
 I did do all the plumbing myself.

laundry bathroom

35 And here is the master bath, with a pair of Kohler Memoirs lavs. Note that this is how "Thunder Grey" really looks like, unlike picture #34 above - more lighting anomolies!


36 And here is the kitchen sink area. You can just barely see it, but I painted the HVAC outlet (near the floor under the cabinet) a Hammered Grey color - no more "Builder White"! The countertop is the original one that came with the house.


Copyright © 2021 J.A.