Remodeling: Refreshing Kitchen Cabinets




About: Why buy when you can DIY? Educated a Mechanical Engineer and trained as a classical cellist I consider myself a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, dabbling in projects from machine design to cooking, ice hockey to...

This is part two of my series on projects I encountered when remodeling my kitchen. All of the Instructables can be viewed in my Kitchen Remodeling Guide. (Coming Soon!)

In this part we give the kitchen a fresh new look by painting and replacing the hardware on the cupboards and cabinets.
(There are three parts, for lack of a better word, that we will be painting: the frames, the doors, and the drawers. The steps for each of these are essentially the same and basic instructions on each step apply to all of them. Exceptions and caveats for each part will be detailed below the main instructions.)

Step 1: Materials and Tools

  • Multipurpose Primer, 1 Gallon
  • Latex Paint, 1 Gallon - A more expensive but more durable option is an enamel paint which should list cabinets as an intended use. This is what we were told we were getting but they actually gave us a pretty basic paint. As far as gloss level goes I would suggest a semi-gloss at the very least. The less glossy the harder it is to clean the surface.
  • Knobs/Handles/Pulls; eBay - An easy way to change the style of your kitchen. We used straight, clean bar pulls on everything to modernize the look. eBay is a great place to find quality hardware for $1-2 less per item. That adds up over 30-40 items.
  • Hinges - You may just want to reuse the old ones, which is easy, but again you can use new hinges, especially if you need to match finishes with the the pulls. The invisible no-bore hinges we used are available from D. Lawless Hardware and are $1.44/each.
  • Small Wood Blocks - These are only necessary for installing frameless hinges on full framed cabinets. Scrap wood of the proper size (See Step 6) is fine.
  • Wood Screws - Only necessary if you switch to a different style of hinge.
  • General Purpose Adhesive - Only necessary if you want to use a through bolt drawer pull in a place where you can't bolt through (See Step 6).
  • Screwdriver & bits - Drill and driver bits.
  • Sandpaper
  • Sanding block or palm sander - You don't want to sand all of this by hand unless you have time to kill.
  • Damp cloth - To remove the dust after sanding.
  • Saw horses -  Or something else to support the pieces as you paint and prep.
  • Masking tape, stirrer, & other painting supplies
  • High density foam rollers and brushes - High density foam gives the smoothest coat.
  • Paint sprayer - Not required but it will save you a lot of time on the doors and drawers.
  • Board and nails - To build a lifter to so you can paint both sides of the doors much quicker.
  • Dust mask
  • Drop cloths - We are replacing the floors (Part 3 coming soon) so we didn't really protect the floors but you should unless yours are coming out too.
  • Center Punch
  • Hack Saw - See General Purpose Adhesive above.

Step 2: Remove Everything

Go to town with your screwdriver and remove all the cabinet and cupboard doors as well as the drawers. Don't forget about the built in cutting board if you have one. You also need to remove everything from the cabinets and cupboards.

Step 3: Prep

Each surface to be painted needs to first be prepped. First sand the surfaces to remove any grime and to rough up smooth, shiny, surfaces. When the sanding is done use a damp cloth or paper towel to remove the dust. Mask off any edges and appliances and cover the counters and floors if they are not being replaced later. Once the surfaces are dry they are ready to paint.

Doors & Drawers: Remove all the hardware (hinges, handles, etc) before sanding. Using an electric palm sander will speed up this process but do it outside as it creates much more dust than doing it by hand.

Step 4: Prime

A local paint store recommended just using a basic latex multipurpose primer. If the surfaces you are painting are in relatively good condition then this should be fine. If you want something more forgiving and durable go with an epoxy primer. We went from a very dark brown faux wood laminate to white and one coat of primer was plenty.

Frames: Apply with high density foam rollers and brushes.

Doors: Prime/Paint with a paint sprayer if available. To speed up the process take a couple of scrap wood planks and drive a number small nails through them. Place these, nails up, on whatever you are using to hold the piece you are painting. Prime/Paint the back first then once it id dry to the touch you can carefully place the the primed side down on the nails. The combination of the small points on the nails and fact that it is the back of the piece will mean there are no noticeable blemishes but you don't have to wait until the next day to prime/paint both sides.

Drawers: Prime/Paint with a paint sprayer if available. You can use a high density foam brush to get to hard to reach areas.

Step 5: Paint

Similar to the prime step. I would suggest getting the slightly more expensive epoxy paint, it should say it is specifically for cabinets and such, as it will give you peace of mind regarding the durability of the top coat. The thicker each coat the smoother the final surface will be. All the specifics from priming step apply in this step as well.

Step 6: Installing Hardware

We installed two new types of hardware: handles and hinges. The hinges are pretty straight forward if you stick with the same style, the new hinges should match the old ones so you can just mount everything back in it's original position. We couldn't find new replacement hinges so we switched styles to a no-bore (non-mortise) concealed hinge. If your old doors had pulls before painting then you will need to use those again or find pulls with the same screw spacing. If you are adding pulls for the first time then choose whatever ones tickle your fancy.

Door/Drawer Pulls
To install the pulls you should first create a template so they all end up in the same place across all the doors. Start by attaching a piece of cardboard to the first door, over the area the pull will be. Make sure that you will be able to repeat the placement on all the doors (line up two of the cardboard's edges with edges on the door). Decide where exactly you want the pull and then mark the locations where bolts will pass through on the cardboard. At this point you can just drill through the cardboard on each door but I prefer to use the the template to mark each door and then drill. While taking a little longer this method is a little more accurate because when you drill though the cardboard it tends to move slightly and the holes slowly open up and get less precise. It's also a good idea to drill a test set in a scrap piece of wood and make sure the template works. Drill the holes one size larger than the bolts. Just make sure you don't open the hole bigger than the post(s) on the pull. With the holes drilled simply bolt the pulls in place. You will need a different template for doors and drawers and for different pull lengths.

Our cabinets have a face frame which presents a problem trying to use concealed hinges, doubly so when using the non-mortise style that you don't have to bore out the doors for. They do make them, they are just 2-4 times as expensive and the work around to use the more common frameless style is cheap and easy. To use frameless hinges on a face frame you simply use a block behind the frame, where the hinge attaches, to widen the frame and give the hinge a proper mounting point. Just secure the block to the inside of the cabinet and then the hinge attaches to the block. No modification is necessary on the doors and depending on the hole layout on the hinge flanges the blocks may not even be necessary, I didn't end up using them.
There is probably a template included with the hinges to aid in mounting. If it is paper consider transferring it to cardboard for durability. I strongly suggest running a test using a scrap piece of wood as a door to assure the template works properly and make any adjustments.

Step 7: Rehang and Enjoy

The final step is to rehang the cabinet/cupboard doors, which should be simple given that there should already be holes to attach the hinges, and put the cabinet drawers back in. Actually that's a lie, the real final step is putting back all the stuff you just took out. Use this as a chance to better organize.

Thanks for reading and be sure to check out the rest of the series, out now or coming soon!
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    11 Discussions


    I did the same thing except i used an Alkyd enamel from HD (high gloss white) I found the high gloss to be the whitest of the bunch and the alkyd enamel is so durable that you can scrub it with an SOS pad. I liked it so much that I painted all of my trim with it. Just my $.02


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Very cool! Thank you for such detailed directions. Very helpful for a newbie like me! For the primer, would something like Kilz 2 be okay? Thank you again!

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Thank you. I suspect it would be fine. I just used a general purpose primer and from what I briefly read about Kilz 2 I imagine it will perform as expected.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Really super Instructable. You've inspired me (via my wife) to get this done to our aging kitchen. I just question the use of jumper cables on your computer in the one shot ! :-) I like you flooring tips too.

    1 reply

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! I hope to bang out the last few parts in the next month or so so check back for those, if any apply to your project.
    Ah, my messy garage. Where spare electronics and automotive tools go to mingle. :D
    Good luck on your kitchen, although what you'll really need is patience and time, but that's just DIY.

    Marcaine Art

    6 years ago on Introduction

    This looks incredible! My kitchen is in dire need of a makeover and I will be doing it myself so thank you for posting this. I have one comment that has nothing to do with your work, when I try to download the PDF of this I get a 0kb pdf that won't open. Not sure if there is a busted link somewhere.

    1 reply
    bwrussellMarcaine Art

    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks, you're to kind but it has made a huge difference in the feel. As for the PDF, I'm guessing that if you try again in a few days it will work. It can take a day or two for new posts to be fully accessible on the site. In the meantime try downloading an older project. If that doesn't work then either post in the forum or email the staff, the service address is at the bottom of the page.
    Good luck on your project!


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks, wish I had more before pics, it was definitely a 70's kitchen with all the dark "wood". Still a little cluttered since the island isn't done yet.