How to Reface Kitchen Cabinets

Renew your kitchen in one wallet-friendly weekend

Refacing Cabinets Tout
Photo by Kolin Smith

That sweet old woman you bought your house from is truly wonderful - really, she is - especially the way she gave out homemade cookies during the holidays. But we're sorry, that kitchen where she baked them - it's ugly. Avocado green from the 1970s may be "in" again, but not like that. And those grease-caked, kid-scratched cabinets have to go.

We're not saying you must gut and rebuild. Instead of spending, say, $5,000 on new cabinets, save some serious cash and reface the ones you have for under $1,000. It's amazing what a little veneer and some new doors can do to brighten an aging space. Both are available through woodworking companies, and some manufactures offer peel-and-stick veneer to make the task simpler. Just be sure to measure twice and cut once, as a friend of ours likes to say. Work carefully, and your kitchen will look brand-new when you're done.


Steps // How to Reface Kitchen Cabinets
1 ×

Rafacing Cabinets Overview

 
Step One // How to Reface Kitchen Cabinets

Rafacing Cabinets Overview

Refacing Cabinets Overview Illustration
Illustration by Gregory Nemec

Refacing cabinets is really just a matter of switching out the doors after covering all the exposed parts of the frame with veneer that matches the new finish. This technique works well with cabinets that have partial-overlay doors where the face frame is visible. But you can still reface cabinets with full-overlay doors, which have no face frame, and flush-inset doors, on which the face frame is on the same plane as the doors. In both cases, you have to be careful to order doors that match the size of the ones you're replacing, rather than just measuring the cabinet openings and adding an inch to create an overlap.

Self-stick veneer is easy to work with, since there's no contact cement to contend with. But its adhesive is still strong, making the veneer hard to remove and adjust once you've stuck it in place. So you have to be careful when measuring, cutting, and placing a strip on the cabinet face.

The hardest part of making a refacing job look neat is trimming the veneer with a utility knife once it's in place. It helps to work slowly, to keep your hand braced against the cabinets to steady it, and to always use a sharp blade. Once you've finished the frame and installed the doors, it will be hard to tell that you haven't installed a whole new set of cabinets.

 
2 ×

Glue plywood on exposed sides

 
Step Two // How to Reface Kitchen Cabinets

Glue plywood on exposed sides

Covering exposed sides of cabinet, using plywood and glue.
Photo by Kolin Smith

Remove all of the cabinet doors. Clean the faces and sides of the cabinets with TSP to remove grease (wear gloves). Let dry, then scuff all surfaces with 150-grit sandpaper. Wipe down with a tack cloth.

Squeeze carpenter's glue onto the plywood panel and apply it to the exposed end of the cabinet bank.

Secure the panel with 2d finish nails. Sink the heads with a nailset. Fill the holes with wood filler.

Tip: When working with paneled door designs, consider using a door instead of plywood to finish the exposed end.

 
3 ×

Cover the stiles

 
Step Three // How to Reface Kitchen Cabinets

Cover the stiles

Covering the stiles.
Photo by Kolin Smith

Measure all of the stiles (vertical-frame members) and rails (horizontal members).

Using a straightedge and a utility knife, cut the veneer into strips that are ½ inch wider and 2 inches longer than each stile and rail. Cut the veneer so that the wood grain always runs lengthwise.
Hold the first piece of veneer up to a stile and align it so that it overlaps at all edges. Peel away a corner of the self-stick backing and press the veneer in place. Continue down the stile, peeling away the backing as you go.

 
4 ×

Press down the veneer

 
Step Four // How to Reface Kitchen Cabinets

Press down the veneer

Pressing down the veneer.
Photo by Kolin Smith

Once the veneer is stuck to the stile, use a wood block to firmly press down on the full length of the veneer strip. This action will force out air bubbles and ensure complete adhesion.

Tip: For a more finished look, cover the inner edges of the cabinet opening with strips of veneer before covering the face.

 
5 ×

Refacing Cabinets

 
Step Five // How to Reface Kitchen Cabinets

Refacing Cabinets

Trimming the veneer.
Photo by Kolin Smith

Veneer the stile on the other side and trim as above. Use a utility knife to trim the excess veneer overlapping the cabinet opening. Run the knife along the inner edge of the frame as a guide. Trim the top, bottom, and outer edges. When trimming at the joint between two cabinets, use a straightedge as a guide.

Tip: Change your knife blade often to keep your cuts clean.

 
6 ×

Cover the rails

 
Step Six // How to Reface Kitchen Cabinets

Cover the rails

Covering the rails.
Photo by Kolin Smith

Apply the veneer to the rails of the cabinet so that it overlaps the stiles on both sides.
To make a perfect joint between the rail and stile, line up a try square so that the blade runs along the inner edge of the face frame and the stock is against the bottom of the cabinet. Using a utility knife with the square as your guide, cut through both layers of veneer.

 
7 ×

Remove veneer trimmings

 
Step Seven // How to Reface Kitchen Cabinets

Remove veneer trimmings

Removing the veneer trimmings.
Photo by Kolin Smith

Peel away the excess piece of the rail veneer that you've just cut off. Now lift the edge of the rail veneer to expose the cut piece of the stile underneath. Slide a razor under the edge of this piece to lift it off the face frame and remove it. Push the rail veneer back in place and smooth it down. Finish all of the face frames in this manner.

 
8 ×

Hang the doors

 
Step Eight // How to Reface Kitchen Cabinets

Hang the doors

Hanging the doors.
Photo by Kolin Smith

Screw the hinges to the door with a drill/driver. Align the door in the cabinet opening and temporarily screw it to the frame. Close the door and adjust it until it's positioned correctly. Carefully open the door and tighten the screws.

Tip: If you're having a hard time getting European hinges into the holes bored for them, gently tap them into place with a wood block and a hammer or with a rubber mallet.

 
9 ×

Attach knobs and pulls and finish the drawers

 
Step Nine // How to Reface Kitchen Cabinets

Attach knobs and pulls and finish the drawers

Attaching knobs and pulls and finishing the drawers.
Photo by Kolin Smith

Use a drill/driver to make holes for knobs on the doors and pulls on the drawer fronts. Screw the knobs and pulls in place. See illustration for instruction on attaching new drawer fronts. If the drawer has a front attached to a four-sided box, unscrew the old front and screw on the new one.

If the old front is attached to a three-sided box, use a handsaw to cut off the sides, top, and bottom of the front so that it's flush with the box. Then turn the drawer around and screw the new front to the back end of the drawer. Screw from the inside of the drawer. Remove the drawer-slide hardware and reattach it facing the other way.

Tip: When drilling knob and pull holes, make a jig out of plywood to keep the hole placement consistent.

 
 
 

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