How to Sand Your Kitchen Cabinets

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Sanding by hand gives you more control.
Sanding by hand gives you more control. (Image: Joseph Abbott/iStock/Getty Images)

Sanding is often one of the first steps in renovating kitchen cabinets, whether you plan to paint or stain the wood to brighten and restore it. Sanding creates a smooth cabinet surface, gets rid of minor scratches and prepares the wood to better absorb the new finish. Proper sanding is necessary to get a smooth final coat of paint or stain.

Gather Supplies and Set Up Work Area

Gather your supplies before you start to make the sanding process easier. You'll need:

  • Dropcloth
  • Painter's tape
  • Screwdriver
  • Pencil
  • Plastic bags
  • Mineral spirits
  • Trisodium Phosphate
  • Rag
  • Wood putty
  • Putty knife
  • 100-grit sandpaper
  • 220-grit sandpaper
  • Sanding block (optional)
  • Orbital or palm sander (optional)
  • Vacuum with bristle attachment
  • Tack cloth

Open windows or use a ventilation system that vents to the outside to provide ventilation in the work area. A dropcloth underneath the work area helps collect some of the dust generated from sanding. Place painter's tape along any painted areas around the cabinetry to avoid sanding them.

Prepare Cabinets

Unscrew the hinges to remove the doors from the cabinets. Number or letter each door with the pencil so you remember where the doors go when finished. Take off all hardware, including the hinge pieces and the pulls or handles. Place the pieces for each door in a separate labeled plastic bag if you plan to reuse them. Clean the doors by wiping them with a rag dampened with mineral spirits or TSP to remove grease and grime.

Fill in deep gouges or old holes for hardware with wood putty. If the new hardware fits the old hardware holes, don't fill them in. After the putty dries, sand away the excess.

Sand the Doors

Sand the cabinets by hand to prevent gouges and to better reach the nooks in the doors. An orbital or palm sander works on flat surfaces, but use it with caution to avoid damaging the wood. Start with a medium sandpaper -- around 100-grit -- either a sheet of sandpaper or a sanding block. This helps remove scratches or rough spots. Sand with the grain so you don't scratch the wood. Vacuum the dust off the cabinet doors. Go back over the cabinets and doors with a fine 220-grit sandpaper. The second sanding smooths out the wood even more for a better finish.

Clean Up

Once you achieve a smooth, even surface on the cabinets, clean up all the dust. Any dust left behind gets trapped in the stain or paint, leaving a bumpy finish. A vacuum with a bristle attachment works best for cleaning up the dust because it removes it from the area completely. Brushing or blowing the dust off still leaves it in the work area where it can get back on the cabinets. Wipe down the door with a tack cloth to remove any leftover dust that the vacuum doesn't get.

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