How to Refinish Your Cabinets on a Budget

by Hometalk ExpertsJuly 28, 2014

How can I give my kitchen or bathroom cabinets a facelift on a budget?

The quickest and easiest dress ups for any cabinetry include updates to cabinet hardware or trim. Adding crown molding definitely gives you a big bang for your buck. What is cabinet trim, you ask? Crown for un-soffited wall cabinets (those that are flush with the ceiling), corbels, light rail and any number of other trim details can be added for a major “wow” effect, all for minimal effort. For more in-depth cabinetry facelifts, think about refacing or simply painting.
refinishing cabinets

Which is better or more cost effective: repainting the cabinets or replacing the doors?

Refacing (replacing) cabinets includes addressing doors, and while DIYable, is often better left to a pro/specialist. It’s typically accepted that refacing usually costs about a 1/3 of replacing the same cabinets. That said, painting or repainting is likely the most cost-effective method, and completely DIYable. Be warned, however: do not assume this task is any less of a labor intensive job!

What factors determine if I should replace or repaint cabinets?

Surprisingly, replacing is NOT always the best option. If you have cabinets with a solid wood construction (that is, the “box”), good sidewall, overall sturdy materials like solid wood or of a high quality ply (birch, maple, etc.), it may make a whole lot of sense to keep what you have and just refinish or paint. What refinishing (refacing) or painting can’t do is fix inherent problems with layout or design. Replacing cabinets will often times allow for needed updates in old systems like electrical, plumbing, etc., also.

What supplies and tools do I need for repainting cabinets?

For painting, you’ll need the standard painting tools: a quality brush or two in various sizes, low-streak foam rollers or a sprayer. You’ll also need appropriate masking supplies like paper, plastic, and tape. You should definitely be prepared with ample floor and counter protection. To some extent, the supplies and tools you’ll need will depend on how committed you are to the preparation process. In an ideal situation, all cabinet hardware, including hinges, glides, cabinet doors and drawers, are removed, as well as the actual counter, light fixtures and electrical outlets. All of those dismantling projects require their own set of tools.

What are the major steps for repainting cabinets?

As with most projects, prep is a big part of the battle. Begin by removing hardware, doors, drawers and be sure to label them in some way before you set them aside. Mask the whole work area: walls, floors, fixtures, and counters.

Start the paint work with a deglossing product. This is of vital importance, and in essence, acts to break the existing finish and prepares the wood for new paint. If your cabinets have been repainted before, you’ll need to sand and possibly strip the paint before this step. The most important thing is to prime first, and then paint. Do your research; select both a primer and paint that is appropriate to the exact conditions you have. Your paint should be of high quality from a premium line/brand. Consider what type of sheen you desire – usually eggshell or better is the best choice for cabinets. Water-soluble products are ideal for this task – consider a paint additive like Flood’s Floetrol for maximum workability and for minimizing brush strokes. Make sure to provide yourself sufficient ventilation (doors and drawers will likely be painted elsewhere, maybe in a shop, garage, or shed area) and follow all dry time recommendations for the products you choose.

Lastly, consider a clear coat like lacquer to help finalize your project and give your new paint added protection. To finish, remove masking and reinstall doors, drawers and hardware. With new cabinets, it’s also good to update counters, fixtures and appliances, if your budget allows. Check out Shelley Smith’s, from The House of Smiths blog, 10 Steps for Painting Cabinets article.

What are the best “use this instead of that” tricks to keep this project under budget?

RustOleum and other leading brands have a cabinet refinishing package that’s definitely easy to use. This product bundles all of the required products into a “system,” including needed instructions and a support video. With a nice array of colors available, for many, this may be the perfect option.

Some other smart, budget-friendly updates to consider in the kitchen and bath include new hardware like drawer glides, soft close hinges, and cabinet inserts. It’s also beneficial to add useful accessories like lazy Susans, wine racks, pull-out trash bins, flip-out drawer fronts, and pull-out shelves. Backsplash, counter refreshes and new light fixtures are classic kitchen updates that are also great complements to new cabinets.

One-time pro handyman and serial fixer upper, JB Bartkowiak is the publisher of the do it together home improvement website, BuildingMoxie.com.

Looking for even more great, budget-friendly ways to improve your home? Check out all the great DIY tutorials for home improvement and repairs on Hometalk!

About The Author
Hometalk Experts
Hometalk Experts are standouts in their industry and provide trusted advice on home improvement and gardening projects. Experts include reputable interior designers, painters, contractors, craftsmen and real estate professionals. Hometalk Experts are an active part of Hometalk's community, answering individual questions and providing inspiration through their own completed projects.
2 Comments
  • Lucy Gwendolen
    January 7, 2015 at 2:23 am

    Refinishing worn-out cabinets is undeniably one of the best ways to improve a house’s look and functionality. Homeowners who are interested in doing this in the kitchen should learn about their options so they can make informed decisions and keep costs to a minimum

  • March 1, 2015 at 10:28 pm

    Polish it or repaint it.

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