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How to Strip and Refinish Kitchen Cabinets

Antiquing kitchen cabinets has become all the rage for a reason – it’s easy! Not only that, it’s very attractive and creates what is called a Country French look. For anyone on a budget (and now days, who isn’t?) who wants to redecorate their kitchen or bathroom, this is a highly effective way to change your cabinets without spending a fortune.

I know of what I speak. A couple of years ago my husband and I decided to refinish our kitchen cabinets. Sure, we would have loved to rip out the cabinets and have new ones installed, but that just wasn’t in the cards for us. Besides, we hope someday to do some massive renovations in our kitchen, and it wouldn’t be smart to invest in new cabinets when we may be removing a wall in the not too distant future!

We had heard that there are companies who will come to your home, remove your cabinet doors, refinish the body of your cabinets, and replace the doors with what you want. However, when we looked into that option we learned it was beyond our budget.

So what we did turned out to be fairly simple. Here is what we did:

First we removed the cabinet doors.

Second, we lightly sanded the cabinets. Now, before you get hysterical, keep the emphasis on “lightly sanded”. All you need to do is sand enough to get the gloss off and make the paint stick. You don’t need to remove all of the finish.

Third, we painted the cabinets white. Use a good quality latex paint. You will need at least two coats. However, there is some debate among people as to whether you want some of the old finish to show through. I say “no.” Seeing the old finish is not the same as seeing the glaze (see next step.). In my opinion, seeing the old finish show through will look like you’ve done a poor job. But then, some people think it looks like part of the antiquing, so it is a matter of opinion. With our cabinets, we touched up a third coat where the old finish showed through.

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Some people want to be ultra meticulous when painting while others slop their paint on. I advocate something in the middle of the two. Remember, this is an antique type look, so it doesn’t have to be perfect. Granted, you don’t want there to be streaks of paint and dribbles everywhere, but you don’t have to make a career out of it, especially when you’re going to be covering the white paint with a glaze. That’s one of the things that makes this such a great approach; you don’t have to watch every little brush mark.

Don’t forget to do the inside of the doors. Your cabinets will look very odd when you open them if you don’t. You can get away with not refinishing the inside of the cabinets themselves, but you must do the inside of the doors.

Fourth, after the paint is completely dry, you add the glaze. Now let’s talk glaze! There are lots of glazes you can use. Some people just use some a brownish stain. Some people make their glaze with brown paint and floetrol. My husband and I did neither. What we did is what I believe everyone should do – we went to a professional paint store and had them make our stain. It was not very expensive (not any more expensive than buying a can of good quality paint) and I was certain I had it right.

Furthermore, I didn’t want brown glaze! I wanted my glaze to be gray, not brown. To me, brown stain will just make your cabinet look dirty. Besides, gray stain is much more Country French.

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So how do you apply the stain? It is quite easy. The stain is rather thin, so make sure you have plenty of drop cloths, newspapers, etc., laid out. Then just use a brush and apply. Glaze is rather thin, so it will be messy and it will “slop on” to a certain extent. Just make sure it doesn’t run because you don’t want run marks. Wait a few moments, and wipe off, making sure that you’ve allowed stain to remain in the cracks and crevices. If you wipe off too much, wait till what you’ve put on has dried before reapplying. You will find that you will probably want to go around and do a spot here and there, so don’t remove all of the drop cloths right away.

The last thing to do once everything is dry is to add new hardware. You can spend a fortune on new hardware if you’re not careful. There are some wonderful places online selling hardware for a good price, but read the fine print. Many of them have an exorbitant restocking fee for returns. There are some other reputable mail order companies that have been around for years that do not have these fees. All have wonderful selections. While your local home improvement stores typical don’t have as good selections, you are more likely to catch a close-out deal locally.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a digital picture of the “before” look of our cabinets, but they were the typical light colored wood that didn’t look like wood. They looked more like press board even though they weren’t. To me, they looked like they were made out of the same material the cheapest computer tables are made out of.

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However, I think you will be able to see a little bit of the “before” from the pictures I do have. I knew we hadn’t done above the stove when we were putting the cabinet doors and hardware up. We were planning on putting an oven hood up there, so we didn’t feel the need to do the extra work. But it wasn’t until we took these pictures that we realized we’d missed the spot up by the refrigerator. However, that ended up being a good thing because now you have something to use for contrast. You can see at least a little of what our cabinets used to look like, and you can see a lot of what our cabinets look like now. A big difference, don’t you think?

And, in my opinion, a big improvement. It has made the room look so much bigger because it isn’t so dark. It is much more cheerful. All it cost us was the paint, the stain, the sand paper, and the new hardware. We can live with this for many years until we can afford to totally renovate our kitchen.