Kitchen cabinets: Better to refinish or start anew?

Okay, Dopers. Interested in your kitchen and cabinet remodel insights here.

The kitchen cabinets in my house date to approximately the 1980s or possibly even 70s. They’re very cheap - I’m guessing about the cheapest on the market at the time - and in some places they are chipped - not just edges, but whole chunks and splinters of the crappy pine veneer. Almost without exception, the magnets that held the doors closed are beginning to fall off since the hardware within has excavated larger holes in the wood over the years (so you can’t just tighten a screw & have done). Many handles are loose from the same issue, in some cases so much that the handle won’t stay on at all.

In a perfect world, I’d just replace these clunkers with beautiful solid-wood cabinetry. Alas, realistically I have very little money and VERY few skills. With my dad’s help and supervision, I might be able to refinish them, although between my petite size and his heart-patient status, we couldn’t take them down, if that was necessary.

If you were presented with this problem, would you:

  1. Try to refinish or paint the cabinets in situ and update the hardware somehow;
  2. Call one of those ‘cabinet refacing’ firms and have them work with the existing cabinetry;
  3. Save up for unfinished cabinetry, finish THAT yourself, and have an installer put it up;
  4. Try to take out an home-improvement loan eventually to get decent cabinetry plus an installer to put it up.

Unfortunately state law prohibits my just tossing a match in the kitchen, setting it aflame, and calling it good. Thoughts on the project?

Are you suuuuuuuuuure state law forbids that? :slight_smile:

Option 1 is a non-starter. You’ll just be throwing good money after bad.

Option 2 is a possibility. Most of the time estimates are free. You can always see what it would actually cost.

Option 3 with a twist is a possibility - have any work mates or someone else you could feed some pizza and beer in order to secure their help? This is the cheapest, best option, and you might find that Joe at work just redid his cabinets himself last year and would be happy to help.

Option 4 I would also say is a non-starter unless you are planning to sell the house and this is just a renovation to make the sale happen.

What’s your budget, your location, and is there a possibility of just replacing the doors and leaving the rest?

Also, what’s with the magnets? I don’t think I’ve ever lived in a house that had magnets on the kitchen cabinets unless they were childproofing.

I would first find out what cabinet refacing costs, then find out what a new kitchen from IKEA, installed, costs (assuming you live within the delivery boundaries of one). In my area IKEA cabinets are about 1/3 the cost of hardwood cabinets elsewhere, come with nifty features like soft stops, and are rugged like a lumberjack. They’re absolutely worth it, if you can save up the money.

I’m in flyover country: central Illinois. Closest IKEA is 135 miles away. I’d love to put in IKEA cabinets but I don’t think any installers would be willing to come quite this far!

I will consider the pizza and beer idea, hmm… I don’t work with guys - all female office - but I will think about it carefully.

Yes, there’s the possibility of replacing the doors and leaving the rest. Can you just buy doors? :confused: I had no idea!

The magnets hold 'em shut; kind of a crappy latching system. Every one of the cabinets had them at one time, but they’ve worked their way loose from a good 33-50 percent of them now. As I said: these were SERIOUSLY cheap cabinets even on day one. :o

I do want to sell the house, but I’d rather the repair costs be minimal on this project so I can put money toward other, more serious problems the house has. I don’t have a budget per se since I have zero idea how much this would all cost (except that I know I can’t afford beautiful new wooden cabinets, installed).


What are the boxes (cabinets are just boxes, after all) made of? (Stop spinning, Mother!)
Are they worth salvaging?
As far as hardware: wood putty will fill holes which absolutely can’t be re-located (latches can go pretty much anywhere near the handle), and new latches are $2 at the big box, $1 if you buy a boxful.
If you have veneer peeling, there’s not much to do except cut off the peeling sections, use spackle to fill the holes, and paint.
If the boxes are real wood, reface is worth investigating. If they are cheap pressboard, putting lipstick on a pig…
Hanging cabinets is not difficult or complex - I attended a course (free) by a company which sold cabinets. I could show you how in about 15-30 minutes, but verbal is a lot of typing.
Remove shelves, drawers, doors Label doors - once off, they all look alike.
Find the highes point on the floor - that is where the first base cabby goes (it is much easier to raise a low cabby then to lower a high one)
Get a straight 1x4 and tack it on the wall where the wall cabbys go. place cabby on board, sink washer-head screw through nailing strip on back of cabby and into stud.
As the cabbys (wall and base) are installed, drill and counter-sink holes in frames and use the specialty screws to screw the frames together.
Use tapered shims to raise and level cabbys (especially base)
Use fillers (small strips which match the cabbys) next to walls so you don’t have drawers and doors scraping/banging walls. Also to make the base and wall line up and to flank the dishwasher.

That is 90% of hanging - make sure you have an experienced person review your layout to check for little things (where is the refer? Where do you set the grocery bags while filling the refer?

I meant “guys” in the generic sense, not that they have to have dangly genitals, although in fairness I know more guys that are comfortable hanging cabinets than I know girls. And “work” was also just a suggestion - any of your friends, someone in a social group, whatever civic organization you’re in… you get the idea.

Yea, that’s not all that uncommon. Replacing just the doors is pretty easy for a one person job.

I would really sit down and figure out what you are willing to spend before doing anything. If you’re thinking “oh, hmm, maybe $50”, well, that’s not even going to get close. If you’re thinking “hmm, 20 grand would be pushing it”, well, that’s a whole kitchen remodel.

I really think some estimates would be a good idea to give you a ballpark on what cabinetry costs.

Don’t waste your time and effort refinishing cheap cabinetry. The results will be disappointing.

Cheap cabinets can get new life with paint. Scuff them up with a medium grit sandpaper sponge (available at paint stores) Get the thin ones they are easier to hold and use. Sand thoroughly.

wipe off the dust with old towels.

prime with the best primer they sell. Wait 24 hours and Paint You’ll be surprised how much nicer and brighter the kitchen will be. At very little cost.

Tip, have the paint store tint the primer the same as your finish coat.

New door pulls are a easy and cheap update. Home Depot has at least two dozen styles to pick from.

You should remove door pulls before painting anyway. So, why not put back shiny new ones? The goal is a fresh, updated look on a budget.

you crafty? get stencils. add a border or other simple design on the doors.

some ideas for stenciling.

I really like that third pic with the brown, yellow paint, and blue stenciling. Imagine that kitchen with tired, brown stained cabinets.

Do not under-rate what a bunch of women can do. I knew someone in your basic situation and one of her female coworkers turned out to be a really sharp handyman. She helped fix what could be fixed and lead the gang of ladies who helped replace what needed replaced. It took brains more than brawn ----- but it worked out very well.

(And besides – some of those ladies you work with could have husbands who ---- just spitballing here)