Give your kitchen cabinets a makeover with new veneer, hinges, drawers, and doors.


The first impulse when considering kitchen remodeling is to replace all the old cabinets. That idea often lasts only until you get the cost estimates.

While recovering from sticker shock, you can consider other options, such as refacing. Unless you want to shuffle the location of the appliances or change the kitchen layout, there's no compelling reason to replace cabinets that are structurally sound. An application of plywood and veneer will give the ends and face frames a fresh look. New doors, drawers, and hardware will completely update the cabinets. Refacing can be far less disruptive, messy, and time-consuming than a complete overhaul.

Home centers and woodworking specialty stores are sources for refacing supplies, tools, doors, drawers, slides, hinges, and other parts and hardware. Many dealers offer installation tips and information about measuring for replacement doors.

Step 1: Prep Cabinets

Empty the contents of the kitchen cabinets into boxes, and move the boxes into another room. Remove all doors, drawers, hardware, and moldings. Make sure the cabinets are tightly attached to the walls and to each other, adding screws if necessary. Degrease the cabinets by wiping them with denatured alcohol. Fill dents and holes with wood filler. Lightly sand all surfaces with 100-grit sandpaper. Vacuum the dust to start with a clean work area.

Step 2: Flush Surface Sides

If the edge of the face frame projects past the cabinet's end panel, bring the surfaces flush with a hand plane or flush-trim bit in a router. Cut a piece of 1/8- or 1/4-inch-thick plywood to size for the end panel. Position the panel so that it barely extends past the face frame — an overhang that's just enough to snag your fingernail is plenty. Attach the plywood with panel adhesive and brads.

Step 3: Trim Edge

Trim the end panel flush with the face frame by using a plane, a router with a flush-trim bit, or sandpaper in a hard rubber sanding block. Be careful to keep the corner square. This will ensure that the veneer on the face frame will have a firm foundation at this outer edge.

Step 4: Apply Contact Cement

Apply a coat of water-base contact cement to the face and edges of each stile (the vertical elements of the face frame). When the contact cement dries, in about 30 minutes, it will act as a bonding agent to improve the grip of the pressure-sensitive adhesive on the back of the veneer.

Step 5: Cut and Install Veneer

Make a pencil mark on the upper and lower rails 1 inch to the side of each stile. Measure the size of the stile, then cut a piece of veneer that is 2 inches wider (for intermediate stiles) and 1 inch longer. For stiles at the end of the ends of the cabinets, cut the strip about 1-1/4 inch wider. Start to strip away the backing and align the edge of the veneer with the marks on the rail. Work downward, peeling the backing and patting the veneer into place.

Step 6: Smooth Veneer

To ensure a good bond between the veneer and stile, rub the veneer with a smoothing tool. Woodworking catalogs have tools especially designed for this purpose, or you can substitute a piece of hardboard with its edges fully rounded over to blunt them.

Step 7: Fit Corners

To wrap the veneer around the stile, slice along the edge of the rail. Put a new blade into your utility knife, then cut with a sawing motion, exerting pressure only on the forward stroke. Repeat this slice at the top of each stile.

Step 8: Smooth Edges

Bend the veneer around the edge of the stile with your fingers. Press it with your smoothing tool to ensure a secure bond. Don't worry if you have some minor cracking of the veneer as it goes around the stile. You can sand that smooth later.

Step 9: Remove Excess

With a steel straightedge as a guide, slice away the excess veneer in a straight line across the rail. To trim the veneer flush with the bottom edge of the rail, stroke your utility knife blade along the back edge of the veneer two or three times, then gently wiggle the piece back and forth until it breaks. Use this same technique to trim the veneer flush with the edges of the wrapped stile.

Step 10: Cut Veneer for Bottom Strip

On the inside of the cabinet's bottom, run a strip of masking tape so its edge touches the back of the stiles. Brush contact cement onto the rails and up to the tape. Cut a veneer strip 1 inch wider than the rail. Square-cut the one end by using a framing square and utility knife. Butt the cut end against the veneer on a stile, then mark the other end with a knife nick.

Step 11: Finish and Stain

Cut the rail veneer to length, then apply it using the same procedures as for the stiles. By holding your utility knife blade against a framing square, you can easily slice through the veneer folded into the cabinet. Peel away the masking tape to reveal a smooth edge. Use 120-grit paper in a sanding block to tackle any splinters and sharp edges. Apply stain, if desired, then a clear finish.

Other Options and Techniques

Paint Freshens a Cabinet's Interior

As long as you have a cabinet empty, take the time to prime it and apply a coat or two of white enamel — either latex or oil-base. A regular 9-inch roller can be a bit unwieldy inside a cabinet, so downsize to a 7-incher. The job will go surprisingly fast, and your cabinets will look cleaner and brighter. They may even look better than they did when they were brand new.

Shelf Replacement is Fast and Easy

If your kitchen is ready for a makeover, you'll probably have a few worn or bowed shelves. Replacing them with melamine-covered shelves is faster and easier than repainting the old ones. You can purchase the plastic-covered shelf material in a variety of widths and lengths at a home center. You might also consider adding some intermediate supports for heavily loaded shelves so you won't have a repeat problem with bowing or sagging.

Replacement Drawers

It's easy to assemble drawers that are shipped as components. Brush water-resistant glue into the joints, then clamp. Make sure that the drawer is flat and square while the glue dries.

In some cases, you may be able to simply remove the existing drawer front and screw on a replacement. Or you may be able to salvage a drawer by performing some minor corrective surgery. But total replacement has a powerful allure, especially when you're already replacing other parts.

If you have a woodworking shop, consider making your own drawer boxes. Or subcontract this job to a company that specializes in drawer boxes. Depending on the amount of money you're willing to spend, you can purchase knocked down or fully assembled hardwood boxes with dovetailed corners, plywood or laminate-clad sides, and rabbeted or doweled corners. You can even purchase metal sides that have built-in drawer slides — you complete the box by cutting front and back panels and sliding in a plywood bottom.

New Slides Glide Smoothly

Drawer slides dictate side clearances and influence the maximum box height, so it's a good idea to choose the style of slides before ordering the drawers.

The economical drawer slide shown in the photo is often called epoxy-coated because of its durable and low-friction finish. It requires 1/2 inch of clearance on each side, so order a drawer box that's 1 inch narrower than its opening. The 1/2-inch clearance is also standard on many side-mounted drawer slides. These ball-bearing units are more expensive, but you can choose full-extension and even over-extension models that allow easy access to the back of the drawer.

Bottom-mounted slides require precise dimensions between the bottom of the drawer and the lower edges of the sides. After installation, these slides are virtually invisible, and that can be an important consideration if you want to show off the dovetailed sides.

Simply screw the drawer members to each side of the drawer box. Screw the cabinet members to the side of the carcass or utilize a socket for mounting to the cabinet's back.

Attaching the Drawer Front

Joining the drawer box with its new false front is a relatively easy process. Install the drawer box into its opening; make certain that the hardware works smoothly. Put several strips of cloth double-face tape onto the drawer front.

Draw marks on strips of tape applied to the cabinet's face frame to position the new false front. As you hold the false front in position, reach inside the cabinet, and press the drawer box against the false front. Gently remove the assembly, then drive screws through pilot holes to permanently join the pieces.

Choose and Install Your Hinges

Gauge the installation spot for an overlay hinge at the width of one hinge leaf from the end of the door.

Here's a Euro hinge for a 3/8-inch overlay door with a baseplate that allows face-frame mounting. The hinge has three-axis adjustability to ensure a great fit.

There are two broad categories of door hinges you can choose from: overlay hinges and Euro hinges. Overlay hinges screw to the back of the door and to the surface of the face frame. Installation requires no fancy tooling or jigs. Euro hinges also are called 35-millimeter hinges because that's the diameter of the hole you need to drill to mount the hinge cup. The mounting screws require pilot holes that are precisely positioned. Instead of resorting to tedious marking for each hinge, you can purchase a drilling jig. If you do, shop around because some jigs are relatively inexpensive and others cost up to several hundred dollars. Be sure to pair your hinges with mounting plates designed for face frame application.


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