Kitchen Cabinets: Refacing, Replacing or Refinishing?

Man remodeling a kitchen

When it comes to kitchen remodeling projects, new appliances may be pricey and flooring costs may floor you, but kitchen cabinets can be the single biggest expense of all. That’s why it literally pays to take a close look at what you’ve already got and consider the options carefully.

Depending on the configuration and construction of your cabinets, you can replace, reface or refinish them on the way to your kitchen redo. Following is a rundown of each approach to strengthening the bones of your kitchen.

Kitchen Cabinet Replacement

If your kitchen remodel involves a new footprint and additional storage needs, partial or complete replacement of kitchen cabinets is the way to go. Just remember that this approach involves major demolition and consideration of such critical elements as plumbing and appliance placement.

refacing kitchen cabinets

There are three levels of cabinet customization:

  • Stock cabinets: The least expensive, stock cabinetry is produced en masse and available through your local home improvement center and cabinet dealers. What you see is what you get, with few chances for modifications or specialized specs. Manufacturers offer such wide variety, however, that stock cabinets can be a perfect solution that saves considerably on costs.
  • Semi-custom cabinets: The middle ground between stock and custom, this variety allows for slight modifications (usually height, width, and depth) at the time of production. There is a wider array of associated moldings, trims and finishes available, and of course, the price goes up accordingly.
  • Custom cabinets: Created especially for you and your kitchen, with pricing determined by complexity of design and materials used. Aficionados of fine wood craftsmanship find it hard to consider any other option.

Kitchen Cabinet Refacing

fixing kitchen cabinets

Kitchen cabinet refacing involves replacing the doors and veneers on existing laminate or wood boxes. It’s not a job for the novice, but also understand that if you hire a pro to do the job, your satisfaction with the results will be directly proportional to their skill and level of craftsmanship. Quality of existing cabinetry and the new materials applied also impact the end product.

Kitchen Cabinet Refinishing

If you like the style and configuration of the kitchen cabinets you have, and they happen to be made of wood or laminate, refinishing them is the clearest route to remodeling cost control. Most older cabinetry is well built, so preserving it is usually worthwhile just be sure to examine the construction carefully before pulling out the sander, because if paper-thin veneers cover every surface but the solid fronts, you’ll need to rethink your refinishing plans. Veneers can’t be sanded or stained, so painting will be the only option if they’re involved. Whether painting or staining, choose an oil-based finish, which is far more durable and forgiving of everyday kitchen grime than latex finish.

Checked your kitchen cabinets and they’re clear for approach? Great!  Here are the steps to a fabulous new finish:

  • Working in a well-ventilated area, begin with a thorough cleaning, removing all dirt and grime from cabinets; allow surfaces to dry.
  • Apply a paint/finish remover, and scrape away finish with a putty knife, followed by a wire brush. Continue this cycle until a clean wood surface is revealed.
  • Sand cabinets with fine-grit sandpaper, and remove resulting dust and debris with a tack cloth. You may also consider using a liquid sanding agent, which can be very effective in application to fine woodworking details and other hard-to-sand areas (it also helps with the grime-removal step of refinishing).
  • Apply the new finish according to the manufacturer’s instructions (preceded by the appropriate primer if you’re painting the cabinets), allowing surfaces to dry thoroughly between coats.
  • When finish applications are complete, apply a protective top coat to protect cabinets from moisture, grease, and surface oil.

Finally, before completing your kitchen cabinet refacing or refinishing makeover, don’t forget to update all those knobs and pulls.  New hardware is the bling that brings personality and freshness to a kitchen!

4 thoughts on “Kitchen Cabinets: Refacing, Replacing or Refinishing?

  1. Your article was helpful – thank you. One question yet…I want to use white paint on my kitchen cabinets. In my experience, using polyurethane on white paint tends to yellow. Is there a clear finish I can use to protect the cabinets that won’t yellow?

  2. Identifying the storage challenges in the kitchen before purchasing cabinets or refurbishing the existing ones can be very helpful in minimizing possible expenses. Being in the storage  industry, we know that organizing the items and clutter is another step in order to clear certain areas, leaving more space for other pertinent kitchen belongings that can be of use. After then will you be able to see what repairs are needed or what type of storage units you will be requiring in the kitchen.

  3. The energy star rating is the thing for me that trumps all other decision making options. As you rightly pointed out an efficient refrigerator may cost more initially, but the long term energy savings more than make up for the outlay. And besides, buying anything less than the most ecologically minded appliance you can afford is just ecologically irresponsible.

    Kitchen Remodeling

  4. For updating purposes, I would like to paint my cabinets and replace cupboard doors…can they be replaced easily? And drawers? What if the drawers have broken tracts, and thus sag? Is there a way to fix that (without purchasing new cabinets w/drawers)?

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