5 Simple Steps to Restoring Your Cabinets

There are plenty of situations when restoring your cabinets may be the best option instead of purchasing new ones.  You could’ve just purchased a new home that needs a kitchen update, or maybe you’ve received a family heirloom that definitely needs some touching up.

Whatever the case is, we can restore your cabinets  at Great Lakes Kitchen and Bath.  We have all of the tools to complete a cabinet restoration in a speedy, efficient manner.  Below is our five-step process on restoring your own cabinetry at home.

Tools Needed 

Your kitchen is one of the most used rooms in the house, and if you have children, the wear-and-tear will probably more than double.  There’s no point in throwing out something you’ve invested your hard-earned cash into when you can easily fix it yourself.  Once your family has grown and your kitchen has grown along with it, a simple strip and restore job could be the best solution for you.

Restoring cabinetry only requires a few  simple hand-tools.  You’ll need:

Step 1:  Strip Previous Finish

The first step is to strip the previous finish off the existing cabinetry.  It’s important that the finish is entirely stripped so that the fresh wood beneath has the ability to soak up the new finish evenly.  

A paint stripper can be tricky to operate; it’s almost like a hand-held planer with less control.  If you’re not careful, you could permanently damage your cabinet.  Here are some tips on avoiding issues while stripping paint or varnish:

How to Restore Cabinets Paint Stripper

  • Use two hands, placing your dominant hand flat on the head while your other hand pulls.  This will keep the stripper level and help you avoid gouging the cabinet face.
  • Use clamps to hold down the cabinet part your working on.  Place blocks of flat wood in between the cabinet part and the clamp to avoid leaving an imprint.
  • If coat of paint or varnish is extremely heavy, consider using a belt or orbital-sander to strip it.  A belt-sander creates a large amount of sawdust, so make sure it has a bag attached to it.  If you decide to use an orbital, purchase a high-powered electric one so you won’t need an air compressor to operate it.  These options are much faster than using just a paint stripper.

Step 2:  Fill Cracks and Damages

Next, you’ll use wood putty to fill in any cracks, marks, or discrepancies in the board.  If there is a mark very large and broad, you may need to use an orbital sander to even out the surface.  It’s pretty hard to screw this step up; just make sure every crack and hole is filled with the putty and let it dry (usually about 5 minutes).

Step 3:  Sand Surface 

Next, you’ll sand the entire surface with 100 grit sand paper, then 180 grit, and finally 220 grit.  Make sure sand in the direction of the wood grain to avoid scratching the surface.  Sometimes, a large, rectangular shaped block with a soft surface wrapped around it (such as carpet) helps you cover broader surfaces and makes the sanding process easier.

If you’re taking on a larger project, such as all of your kitchen doors, you may want to use consider using an orbital-sander.  It works just as well as hand-sanding and cuts your time ten-fold.  Be careful when using an orbital though; it’s easy to catch edges and dull the sharpness of the corners.  Make sure to keep it flat at all times and move in the direction of the wood grain.

Step 4:  Stain (optional)

Restoring Cabinets StainingThis step is optional, but may provide a nice change of scenery for your updated cabinet.  Picking a stain isn’t always easy, so it’s good to look at where your cabinet lies and make a choice based on how it will work with the cohesiveness of the room.

Mix up the stain extremely well, use some rubber gloves and a rag, and cover the entire cabinet surface.  The longer the stain sits on a cabinet, the more it will soak up, and the darker the final appearance.  Since this cabinetry has already been sealed, it will soak up less stain then normal, so it’s good practice to leave it on the face a little longer than you normally would (about 2-3 minutes).

You should let the cabinet sit for a couple of hours and dry after this process so that the stain doesn’t run when you brush on your initial sealer coat of varnish.

Step 5:  Seal (Finish)

This is the final process, and is probably the most meticulous.  You can use a paint brush or foam brush to apply the varnish or paint to your cabinet.  If painting them, it’s important to apply a sealer coat initially.

Restoring Cabinets Varnishing

After applying your first coat, you must let the cabinet dry for at least 12 hours.  Then, use 220 sand paper to lightly “scuff” the surface up.  Make sure you carefully scuff the surface evenly, and get every single corner.  Scuffing sponges are good for this and form evenly around rounded edges and get into tight corners.

If you have an air compressor with an air-hose attachment, blowing all of the varnish or paint dust off the cabinet part is ideal, followed by a wipe down with a sticky tack cloth to collect all dust.  You then apply your second coat of paint or varnish and repeat this process as needed.

Once you’re finished, clean the brush with water and then soak in lacquer thinner.  This will prevent the bristle from hardening and ruining the brush.