How to refinish kitchen cabinets by adding trim and paint
Oregon summers are perfect.
I think the season is so much better here mostly because we have to wait so long for it to come. People get restless from hiding inside during the long rainy season. Eventually though, the weather gets warmer and the grass gets greener.
Excitement builds and builds, then July finally comes. It’s hot and sunny with low humidity. All of a sudden, you see people outside walking everywhere along the streets and filling the parks with giant smiles on their faces. Their seasonal affective disorder tucked in until winter.
The energy is palpable.
Outdoor destinations can be found in every direction.
We like to spend at least a few summer weekends bouncing between camping at a lake in the forest, renting a house at the beach, or hanging out at a cabin in Central Oregon near the Deschutes.
But this summer feels sort of wasted.
It’s August and my stuff is still in storage. I’m in the middle of a two-week “vacation” from work and there’s a lot more that needs to get done before moving into our house.
Today, I’m working on the kitchen cabinets.
These are shaker-style doors on the built-ins in my dining room. Just a recessed pane with simple trim. Designed based on principles from the Shakers, an 18th century religious sect that shunned fancy designs. They were America’s original minimalists. Their hallmark furniture was strong yet unassuming, but God damn, I love their doors.
These are the cabinets in my kitchen. They would fit nicely in a mid-century modern, but they don’t really seem right in my home. However, replacing them with new cabinets would be a mistake. Boring as they may be, they’re constructed with quality wood. All that’s needed is a little trim and paint to match the built-ins.
Number, then remove doors and drawers
To start, I’ll rip out the countertop with my ever-loyal flat pry bars (I swear, if I had to choose just one tool… God, I love these things.). It’s going to be replaced with a quartz surface.
Next, I remove all the doors, pull out all the drawers, and set up shop in the garage. Before doing so, don’t forget to number everything so you can put them back in the same spot they came from. There may be slight size differences between each piece and the hinge holes won’t match if you mix them up.
Slightly shitting my pants thinking about how much work I’ve got myself into
Sand every surface that will be painted
They have a lacquer finish that first needs to be sanded off in order for them to take paint.
The lady wizard releasing aggression
We used a random orbit palm sander and an oscillating multi-tool with a sand paper attachment for the edges.
Go Team Yellow!
Sanded drawers awaiting more punishment
The cabinet frames were sanded as well.
Thinking forward, I plan to add an apron-front sink and also would like a niche so the microwave and toaster don’t have to take up counter space. To accommodate, I cut the tops off of the below-sink cabinet doors, then I cut the bottoms off another set of doors to make room for the niche.
I found the right size trim at Home Depot. Eight-foot 1” x ¼” boards. Maple, I believe. Not as tough as I’d like (kitchen cabinets can take a beating), but an oil paint will harden as it dries, toughening them up a bit.
Measure each door edge then make a miter cut using a miter saw.
Attach the trim with a line of wood glue and seal the deal with a brad nailer. Fill in the brad divots with wood filler.
A dressed up drawer feeling fancy
Keep going! I have 15 drawers and 25 doors.
Always use primer before painting bare wood. Primer molecules are smaller than paint molecules and will penetrate deeper into the wood, creating a stronger hold. Oil primers penetrate better than water-based ones. Trust me, it’s science.
I used Kilz oil primer, but Zinsser BIN is another good choice.
I own a Graco airless sprayer purchased a few years back when I painted my old house. It made quick work of applying the primer. Lightly sand after it dries to create an even smoother finish.
Choose a quality paint
Sherwin Williams ProClassic. This stuff is wicked. It’s an acrylic-alkyd (oil-water hybrid) that cleans up easy like a water-based paint yet lays flat and hardens like and oil. I really love this paint, but this best of both worlds will cost you about $70 a gallon. I did two coats using the sprayer.
The existing hinges will do just fine and I salvaged some cool latches from the condemned house. They were all made to look new again with some black Rustoleum. The other pulls are brand-spanking-new.
I considered getting some new hinges, but it seems that would be more headache than it’s worth – the holes would likely be slightly off and have you ever tried to drive a screw right next to an existing hole? Yea, it sucks ass because the screw will always keep drifting back into the old hole. No thank you!
Summer is passing me by but at least I’ve got another project in the bag. These cabinets are done! Next up is the apron sink I need to install before getting some new countertops.
This is a little peek into the future that shows how the redone cabinets fit into my completed DIY kitchen renovation. Stay tuned for more details on how I got here!
Update: three years later…
Yes, the truth is we’ve lived in this house for a few years now and I’m only recently getting around to writing about my projects.
For the most part, the ProClassic has held up nicely. It’s endured chocolate milk splatter, maple syrup, and toothpaste spit from my uncoordinated kids. It wipes clean every time, even if we don’t get around to cleaning the mess for weeks (We’re busy, okay? Also, there’s usually a bigger shit-storm to address).
The cabinets still look great. There were recently a couple spots behind the pulls of the most commonly used doors that had small flakes of paint come off. Looks new again after a quick touch up.
Warning: If you are considering adding trim like I have, be aware the extra edges are dust magnets and are a slight bitch to clean. Good luck!
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