How to Resurface Your Kitchen Cabinets


A kitchen cabinet face-lift costs much less than buying new cabinetry. It can bring an entirely new look to your kitchen, making it seem as if you purchased new cabinets, but at a reduced cost. The process involves resurfacing cabinets with wood veneer that covers the old cabinetry with new surfaces, and buying new hardware, drawer fronts and cabinet doors. Once you’ve finished resurfacing, simply stain and varnish or paint your cabinets for a new-to-you kitchen.

Tools and Supplies

  • Gather the tools for the project: tape measure, mallet and hammer, try square and razor, straightedge, utility knife, power drill or driver and a handsaw. For the cabinets themselves, you’ll need new doors, self-adhesive veneer, wood filler, 150-grit sandpaper, a strong degreaser, putty knife, tack cloth, 2-by-4 block of wood, wood glue, 2d finish nails, plywood panels, new knobs, hinges and pulls and drawer fronts.

Take Measurements

  • Create a crude drawing of your cabinets and letter or number them so you know which dimensions fit each cabinet. Measure the dimensions of existing doors and write them down next to their corresponding letter or number. Measure the exposed sides and tops of the cabinets you will fit with plywood panels. Measure the face frames. The face frames represent the front of the cabinet with the doors removed. Measure the stiles, the vertical side width from opening to exterior edge and the length from top to bottom. Between the stiles at the top and bottom of the cabinet, measure the horizontal rail width and length.

Adhere Plywood Panels

  • After thoroughly cleaning the cabinets with a degreasing agent, rinsing and drying them, sand the exposed surfaces with 150-grit sandpaper to give them a tooth to help the adhesive stick better. Remove the dust with a tack cloth. Cut the plywood panels to fit the exact dimensions and lightly sand the rough edges to remove burrs; apply carpenter’s or wood glue to the back of the plywood panel and press it onto the exposed side. Secure the panel to the cabinet with the finish nails, slightly countersinking the nails and covering them with wood filler.

Add Face-Frame Stiles

  • Cut the individual stiles and rails for the front of the cabinet faces 2 inches longer and 1/2 inch wider than your measurements, using the utility knife and the straightedge. Cut the veneer so that its wood grain runs the length of the stile or rail. Set the cut veneer strip on the stile, aligning it so that 1/4 inch hangs beyond each edge of the width and 1 inch overhangs the top and bottom. Peel the backing off the veneer as you secure it to the face frame from top to bottom. Press the veneer into place using a cut block of 2-by-4 wood that fits your hand to remove bubbles beneath the veneer and make it smooth. Cut the excess veneer from the open areas only, such as inside the door and the exterior, using a utility knife. Repeat for all the stiles.

Secure Horizontal Rails

  • Repeat the installation steps used for the stiles to install the horizontal rails, allowing them to overlay the stile edge by 1 inch and the inside and outside edges by 1/4 inch. Cut the stile-rail seam using the try square aligned to the inner edge of the face frame and the bottom edge of the cabinet. Once you have the try square in place, cut the tail off using the utility knife for a perfect seam. Cut away the 1/4 inch edge on the inner edge of the face frame and exterior edge of the cabinet. Lift the edge that covers the stile to remove the bit of veneer cut from the stile and press the rail back in place. Run the block of wood over the veneer to smooth it in place and remove the bubbles. Repeat the installation steps for all stiles and rails.

Install Cabinet Fronts, Doors and Hardware

  • Secure the doors to the cabinetry with the new hinges and add pulls or hardware. For four-sided drawers, remove the old front and replace it with the new. For three-sided drawers, remove the old face frame flush from the drawer with the saw, turn it around and install the new face frame to the open back, screwing from inside the drawer so the face frame has no fasteners showing. The process works the same regardless if the cabinets are wood, veneer or laminate. But you can only reface cabinets that don’t have water damage or uneven surfaces; otherwise, you’ll need to repair the cabinetry first.

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