How to Restore Vintage Kitchen Cabinets

  • 5-10 hours
  • Intermediate
  • 0-100
What You'll Need
Scrub brush
Grout Cleaner
Drop cloth

The style of vintage kitchen cabinets is very different from modern cabinets and can look wonderful in a restored kitchen. Finding vintage kitchen cabinets can be difficult and expensive, however. Even after you find them, they still need to be restored, although that is part of the fun. Take time over the restoration of the vintage kitchen cabinets to do it correctly. The results will be worth the investment as your kitchen will look like a perfect period piece.

Step 1 - Cleaning

After you buy the vintage kitchen cabinets you’ll need to clean them before you can restore them. They may contain years of accumulated dirt and grease. This job is best done outdoors.

Use soap and water with a scrub brush to clean the wood and the countertop. A good liquid soap will help eliminate the grease from the surface. Clean the countertop, too. In most vintage kitchen cabinets the countertops will be covered with tile. Make sure you clean this properly.

Step 2 - Sanding

Allow the cabinets to dry fully before moving on. Then you’ll need to remove the cover of varnish from the wood. Do this with fine grit sandpaper. Rub lightly; all you need to do is remove the varnish, although if there are flaws in the wood you’ll need to remove those, too.

For drawers and doors, remove them from the cabinets to sand properly. After you’ve finished sanding, use a tack cloth or damp rag to remove all the dust and leave the cabinets ready for new varnish.

Step 3 - Varnish

When you’re certain you’ve removed all the dust from the vintage kitchen cabinets, you need to use varnish or a good polyurethane finish on the wood. Varnish is the traditional finish, although polyurethane will give a tougher finish.

Don’t try to apply a single thick coat of finish over the wood. It’s much better to apply 2 or 3 thin coats. Paint the finish onto the wood and leave to dry before applying a second coat. You probably won’t need more than 2 coats of finish on the wood, but add a final coat if you wish to have the extra protection.

Step 4 - Countertop

With vintage kitchen cabinets, it’s very likely that the grout on the tile countertop will need to be replaced. After sitting for years it will have crumbled. At the very least it will look bad.

Start by using grout cleaner on the grout of the vintage kitchen cabinets. This will let you see the state of the grout. The simplest solution in most cases will be to replace all the grout, either using white or a color that contrasts with the tiles. Use an epoxy grout on the vintage kitchen cabinets and use grout sealer on the countertop every year. This is necessary as there will be plenty of liquid on the countertops.