The amount of time required to refinish cabinets depends on the number of cabinets you must refinish, but other factors are equally important. The existing finish and degree to which you want to change the cabinets affects how much stripping and sanding the job entails, and the cabinet design itself determines how difficult these jobs will be. Ornate trim and windows add a difficulty factor that greatly increases the refinishing time.
Before you can even start refinishing, you must disassemble the cabinets or at least remove the doors, and mask areas that you don't want to paint. If you are finishing wall-hung cabinets, this includes the surrounding walls and countertops. You may also have to make some repairs or remove some trim to make sanding and painting easier. Another vital task is to label the doors so you don't lose track, and prepare a space to strip and sand them. For an average set of kitchen cabinets, plan on spending most of a day on these preparation tasks.
Assuming you are using the best quality stripper available, removing the old finish is an onerous job that you can't automate, and doing it thoroughly will help save sanding time. To be effective, strippers need time to work after you apply them. If you use water to clean the wood after scraping, the wood has to dry before you can sand. An average cabinet door with no trim takes about 30 minutes to strip, and each side of a cabinet may take a little longer. This time can double, depending on how the edges are trimmed.
Sanding is the most time-consuming process in cabinet refinishing, and the length of time you'll spend sanding depends on the type of wood you are sanding, whether or not it is stained and what new finish you plan to apply. A typical untrimmed oak cabinet door can take 15 to 45 minutes to smooth for restaining to a darker color, but add time if you want to clear off the old stain to apply a lighter stain. Furthermore, double the time you plan to spend on each door if it has ornate trim or windows because you'll spend more time hand sanding.
The two finishing operations are staining and spraying or painting the finish coat and, while neither is particularly time consuming, you must give the finish materials time to dry. Most stains dry quickly, and you can often begin painting as soon as you finish applying them. Finish coats, on the other hand, can take from 2 to 24 hours to dry, depending on what material you use. If you apply more than one finish coat, which is usually recommended, the drying time doubles. In most cases, give yourself two full days for the application of the finish.
Most cabinet refinishing jobs take about 3 to 5 days to complete, assuming no complications arise, such as plumbing or electrical work that needs to happen while the cabinets are disassembled. Stripping and sanding can proceed much more quickly on dismounted cabinets, especially if you have set up an efficient workspace with a work table or sawhorses. Plan to spend considerably more time sanding if you are changing the finish from opaque to clear and less time if you are doing the reverse.