Resurfacing Cabinets by Trial and Error

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What You'll Need
electric sander
paint remover
lemon oil

I recently decided that my kitchen needed a facelift, so I chose the focal point of the room and resurfaced the wood cabinets. There were layers of paint on the wood, and I had no idea what I would uncover once it was all removed. To my surprise, there was a beautiful oak underneath all of the paint. The project only took a weekend to complete, and there were a few things I learned along the way that I will keep in mind for the next time I decide to tackle this project again.

Preparation Is Key

Luckily, I have a garage where I could prepare for this project. If you have to do this outdoors, be sure that the forecast does not call for rain. I laid down a tarp to work on, and gathered my supplies so I knew I had everything I would need to get the project done without having to run out later to get something I forgot.

Step 1 - Remover Door and Drawers

I removed the cabinet doors and drawers, then used a screwdriver to take off the hinges and pulls. I put all of the hardware and screws in a small bucket to soak in soapy water while I started removing the layers of paint.

Step 2 - Stripping the Paint

I tried using an electric sander, but that was taking forever. What ended up being the easiest way to remove several layers of old paint was using paint remover I had on hand from refinishing a table.

There a new types available that are environmentally friendly, and they do a great job. I prefer this over the older types that are made of chemicals and emit toxic fumes. This was especially important for the cabinet facings since I was using it indoors. I simply applied the remover and allowed it to sit for 20 minutes, then scraped off the old paint. It literally peeled right off. I did have to apply it a couple of times in the areas where there are crevices, but it was a real time saver. After I removed all of the old paint, my beautiful oak cabinets were ready to refinish.

Step 3 - Applying the Finish

Since I found the oak beneath the paint, I decided to varnish the surface instead of covering it up again with paint. I purchased varnish that already has polyurethane added to speed up the process.

I applied the first coat to one of the doors and let it dry to see what result I was going to get. I made a huge mistake. I left the door sitting upright to dry, and there were runs in the finish when it dried. I had to remove the varnish and sand to do it again. Lesson learned – lay the cabinet doors and drawers down flat.

For the facings, I applied several very thin layers and let them dry in between and made certain I caught any drips immediately. I decided that I liked the look of three coats of varnish. When everything was done, it was time to concentrate on the hardware.

Step 4 - Cleaning the Hardware

All of the hardware had been sitting in soapy water for a day. When I removed it, I saw that there was still some paint on some of it because the cabinets had been painted with the hardware still on the cabinets. Remembering an old artist’s trick to remove old paint from paint brushes, I heated some vinegar on the stove and poured it over the hardware. I let it sit for about 30 minutes. Any paint that was left on the hardware wiped right off. After rinsing, I polished the hardware with lemon oil to give it a nice sheen, and to help protect it from kitchen grease. The hardware was ready to reattach.

Step 5 - Reassembly

All that was left to do was to hang the cabinet doors and insert the drawers. The transformation was astounding, and well worth the effort, in spite of a couple of snags that were overcome by trial and error.

It's not always possible to get something right on the first try, and that's okay. Just learn from the obstacles I faced when I was resurfacing my cabinets!