Restoring your cabinets without the cost of replacement

Oct 28, 2021, 3:00 PM
(Shutterstock Photo)...
(Shutterstock Photo)
(Shutterstock Photo)

Can’t stand the look of your cabinets and don’t have the budget to replace them with brand new ones? Don’t fret. You have options.

DIY options

There are three options that you can do on your own that can perk up the appearance of the cabinets – painting, refinishing and refacing.

Painting: Using good-quality, enamel-based paint, you can choose any color you want.

It’s best to remove the cabinet doors and drawers and paint them separately. You can ensure a higher quality finish by applying the paint with a cup gun, HVLP (high volume, low pressure) sprayer, or similar system. For an added layer of protection and durability, apply three to four coats of an acrylic-based clear urethane to increase the resiliency of your finished product. There are several clear coat products available at your local paint and hardware stores.

Also, keep in mind that if you have glass doors, paint the interior to match the exterior. To antique or glaze the cabinets, use a small artist brush or glaze. Check out our e-store for painting supplies.

Refinishing: This option is often the most affordable and the quickest way to bring life back into dreary cabinets. The cabinets must be in good condition because refinishing includes stripping the existing finish, sanding, and staining or painting. Staining wooden cabinets can give the illusion of any type of wood you want. You can go from whitewashed to a deep cherry wood color. It is, however, hard to go from a very dark to very light.

Refacing: Refacing involves picking out new doors and drawer fronts to replace the ones you have. The existing cabinet boxes are covered with a veneer to match your new doors/drawers. There is a wide variety of colors and finishes to choose from, even wood finishes.

Someone’s got a screw loose

After years of pushing and pulling, the cabinetry’s hardware may be a little worse for wear.

Loose screws in the frame: If the screws in the cabinet frame are loose even after tightening them, try installing longer screws of the same design. The longer screw will pass the point where the wood has gone soft and grip tighter for a stronger hold.

If the screws in the doors are loose, do not install longer screws. This will cause problems with protrusion through the face of the cabinets and doesn’t leave much in the way of future maintenance or cabinet door repairs. Instead, pick up a can of Rock Hard Putty or Equal Putty at your local hardware store. Follow the directions on the back of the putty can. Once dried, pre-drill holes and reinsert the screw.

Tip: You may want to mark a spot on your drillbit slightly shorter than the length of the screw as a stopping point, so you don’t over drill into the door itself. Example: If the screw travels 1/4 inch into the door, make a mark on the drill bit at 3/16.

The doors are not square to the rest of the cabinet: Today, hinges are made with two screws that allow for adjustment when loosened. If the seam between the two cabinet doors is not even, or the two doors are not perfectly parallel to each other, adjust them.

Damaged hinge: If the hinge is bent, even slightly, it will cause problems. Make sure all plates are straight and there is no resistance while opening or closing the hinge. You may have to take the hinge off to test this. Take the defective hinge to a hardware store to match the replacement. If it needs a little WD-40, either tape the surrounding area to spray or just remove the hinge to spray.

Consider secondhand cabinets

Used cabinets are hard to find in a set. The Habitat for Humanity HabiStore in Tucson tells us they only pick up complete sets of cabinets, “no odds and ends.” Cabinets donated to Habitat must be a complete set, structurally sound, in good condition, no water stains, and the doors, drawers, and hardware attached. They prefer cabinets that are less than 10 years old. Painted cabinets are accepted if they are in good condition.

Another resource is Stardust Building Supplies, which sells reclaimed building materials, some of which are in excellent condition.

No free meals here

When we think of termites, we generally think about termites in the foundation or the wood structure of our home. But termites can make a meal out of our indoor cabinets, too.

Used cabinetry at a bargain price also carries the risk of infestation, especially if you don’t buy from a reputable source. If the second-hand cabinetry you bring home is infested, you are exposing your entire home to trouble.

The HabiStore tells us that their receiving team uses a device to scan for termites, insects, other critters, and damage.

If you notice mud tubes, swarms, termite droppings, discarded wings or buckled or warped wood in or around your “new” cabinets, they have or had termites.

Call an exterminator to inspect and treat your home. Depending on the amount of damage, you may need to replace them.

Whichever option you choose to refresh your cabinets, keep them clean and repair damage quickly to keep them looking pristine for many years.

Join Rosie on the House every Saturday morning from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on KTAR News 92.3 FM. If you’d like to send us questions or comments, email Follow us on Twitter and “Like” us on Facebook. For more do-it-yourself tips, go to An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert since 1988, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning Rosie on the House radio program. Call 888-767-4348 with questions and comments.

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Restoring your cabinets without the cost of replacement