Cabinets: Revamp Your Old Cabinets With A Fresh Paint Or Stain

Written by bprescottFebruary 11, 2012
A painter staining kitchen cabinets

Refinishing existing cabinets

If your old cabinets still seem to be solid but you’re just tired of their look, then consider changing the finish by either painting or staining them. This allows you to leave the cabinet bodies in place, so you don’t need to clear out the cabinets and live out of boxes for weeks. However, you will want to make sure that the items in your cabinets are back from the front edges of the cabinet faces when you paint or stain that area.


We painted the cabinets in our first home, mainly because our budget didn’t allow for new cabinets. Painting the old blonde wood cabinets a very light sky blue transformed the kitchen into a much more inviting place to work, talk, or just hang out.

Before you paint, be sure that all the surfaces to be painted are smooth and clean. Use a fine grit sandpaper (150-grit or higher) to smooth any rough areas and fill any nicks, digs, or other imperfections with a latex wood filler or wall filler before priming. Follow the directions on the filler label.

You’ll also want to apply a good-quality primer to cover the old finish. The primer ensures that the old stain and varnish is completely sealed, plus it provides a good surface for the new finish-coat. Use a good-quality oil-based primer. And, if possible, use the same brand primer that you use for the topcoat. Like-brands are formulated to work together.

Finally, apply a paint finish tough enough to stand up to the daily wear-and-tear, dirt, and grease every kitchen inflicts on cabinets. Go with a latex (water-based) semi-gloss (remember the old painter’s rule: latex over oil, but never oil over latex). The latex base makes it easy to apply and clean up. Besides, today’s generation of latex paints is just as durable as alkyd (oil-based) paints.

Painting will take a few days, primarily to allow for sufficient drying time between coats. Don’t rush the application between coats. If the first coat isn’t dry, the next won’t adhere properly and you’ll eventually have bubbles and blistering and a very unattractive finish. Remember, too, that you should paint only when you can provide adequate ventilation to remove fumes. Also be aware that the higher the humidity is, the longer paint takes to dry.


If you’re someone who just can’t stand painted wood or woodwork (and I know plenty of you are out there!), consider restaining the cabinets and doors. This involves more work than painting and takes longer, but when the job’s completed you have the rich color you want and the natural look and grain of the wood showing through.

To refinish your cabinets, first strip off the old stain and varnish. You have options when it comes to paint and finish strippers. Some are much more user-friendly and less smelly and can actually be used indoors. These latex-based strippers are especially nice when you’re stripping cabinets in the winter, when you can’t open the windows for ventilation. Follow the directions on the stripper container.

Don’t try to rush the process. Let the stripper work for as long as directed - if directions tell you to apply it and leave the stripper on for 24 hours, then do what they say!

After you strip the cabinets, select a stain. If you’re trying to match the existing trim, which often is the same color as the old cabinets, it helps to bring along a sample piece when you buy the stain. If you like the existing color stain and you want to match it or you’re just trying to reinvigorate the existing color, bring an unstripped door or drawer front panel. If you’re changing color, be sure to know what species of wood the cabinets are so that you’re looking at stain samples on the same species of wood as the cabinets. Different species can make stain lighter or darker, depending on the wood species.

When you start staining and varnishing, allow enough drying time between coats. Apply varnish to the doors in as dust-free an area as possible. Most kitchen doors will need two coats of varnish for best protection and endurance. Sand lightly after the first coat of varnish, usually with a 0000-grade steel wool, to remove any small blemishes. Use a tack cloth on the doors after sanding to remove all dust and sanding residue before applying the second coat. A tack cloth is a piece of wax-impregnated cheesecloth that grabs and holds even the finest dust particles. You’ll find tack cloths wherever paint products are sold.


From ‘Bathroom Remodeling For Dummies’
Copyright © 2003 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana
Used by arrangement with John Wiley & Sons, Inc.



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