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What to Expect When Your Cabinets Get a Makeover

Updated: Apr 28, 2021

Whenever I sign up for a big home project, I like to know the process, or at least to have an idea of what to expect. With that in mind, here is my FAQ sheet for you on cabinet refinishing. 1) This is not (necessarily) a fast or simple process. Here’s a general day-by-day:

  • Day 1- cabinet doors & drawers are labeled, removed, then transported to my garage workshop for processing. All hardware is labeled & bagged. I do not paint your hinges. The facings (the cabinet boxes) are cleaned with trisodium phosphate (TSP), rinsed with water, then sanded with 220 grit hand pads to scuff up the surface so the new paint will stick. We then dust, wipe with a deglosser to further clean the surfaces, then lay floor paper & tape off where the cabinets meet the wall or tile.

  • Day 2- priming the facings- low odor- done with a brush and fine roller. I DO NOT spray paint in your house; 2 coats, a few hours apart. We usually take lunch, run errands after the 1st coat, come back after & do the second.

  • Day 3- paint; 2 coats, same as above. You may reload or cabinets the next day- BUT you MUST be delicate with the facing surfaces after they get painted. I'm not responsible for damage done before the paint has had a chance to fully cure. Be patient. Eat out! Give your kitchen a break.

  • Day 4+++ we start that same process on the doors & drawers at my house, except I’m using a machine sander & spray equipment.

  • Day ? 7? 8? - when all the doors & drawers have been fully processed, they come back & are reinstalled.

  • If you are having a special build out on your island and/ or a glaze or other specialty finish that requires extra steps & top coating, or you have a very large kitchen (42+ pieces) this timeline will be extended. 2) Machine sanding & spraying is a big mess. Hand sanding & brush/ roll painting is a small one.

  • If I can at all avoid it, I will not machine sand or spray paint in your house.

  • Hand sandings are much less messy. The dust will be more localized, but it's still dust & will light on whatever is close- cabinets, dishes, silverware, furniture… and sanding is necessary to the process.

  • Prepare for hand sanding by removing everything from your cabinets/ drawers & placing flat sheets over all soft furnishings near by. Most people use this time to do some spring cleaning & clutter clearing.

  • I'll dust off the counters & sweep or vac the work space area when I'm done. Everything else is yours.

  • I will not spray paint in your house either; I only spray in the paint booth in my garage. A big bonus to this is it keeps your kitchen semi functional during its facelift. Facings & trim are rolled with a special foam roller or brushed instead. There is a very slight texture difference between those surfaces sprayed & those rolled, but as most of what your eye will see are doors/ drawers, few people notice it.

  • Please, have your wall paint available (or at least know the name). Even with my best efforts & products, paint does bleed under tape, particularly on textured walls, brushes & rollers slip, & accidents happen. I always retouch any areas where this has occurred before a job is finished.

3) What type of paint do you use & why?

  • Water-based paints have come a long way in durability & formulation in recent years. It used to be that oil based paints with their high odor, VOCs, & mineral spirits clean up were the only thing to use for trim, doors, & cabinets. Many builders & house painters in our area still use them for those key surfaces, but all major paint brands now offer “water based enamels,” “acrylic urethanes,” or “oil enriched” latex. Coupled with a thorough preparation process (as I noted above) and some solid priming, there is no reason why oil paints must be used on wood or cabinetry any longer. Great article on the subject: HERE

  • I exclusively use Benjamin Moore's Insl-X Cabinet Coat for 95 % of my cabinet projects. Secondarily, I will use Set Coat by Faux Effects, which is a mineral based paint. I DO/ WILL NOT use oil based paints for cabinets.

  • As for sheen- the lower sheen of a latex urethane satin is perfectly fine for most homes, but if you have rambunctious pups or little kiddos, I recommend going up to a semi-gloss. In the water-based world, the sheens are less garish than the old oil based paints. Satins are more “eggshell,” & semi-gloss is more “satin.” The higher the sheen, the more durable/wipe able the paint.

  • Top coating- unless you are getting a glaze or specialty finish, Cabinet Coat is perfectly durable & washable without any extra sealing. HOWEVER, if you cook a lot, particularly frying with fats & oils, we will want to discuss adding an extra layer of protection with several layers of varnish.

4) What about Color Toning or Restaining of Wood Cabinets?

  • The process from cleaning to sanding to taping off is the same as above.

  • The water based stains (General Finishes) I use dry very rapidly and are able to be recoated if desired on the same day. They have almost zero odor & are designed to stick to properly prepared surfaces that were previously coated in oil-based products.

  • Color toned surfaces are varnished the day after staining with General Finishes High Performance water-based polyurethane. Two coats in general use areas is sufficient, but in high use areas (sink & stove), I always do 3). In your house, this layer is brushed on; in my garage, it is sprayed.

  • You may reload your cabinets the next day.

  • Color toning generally results in a faster turnaround time than paint as the products dry much faster & there are fewer layers involved (no priming or glazing).

5) What about my pets & kids?

  • Pet hair and dogs who like to mark are two really difficult things to deal with while painting. PLEASE, keep pets away from the facings while we’re applying paint & as it is drying. Taping, priming, and painting the “toe kick” area is REALLY HARD to do when competing with tufts of pet hair or dog urine. One gets in the paint and primer, the other ruins tape and paint adhesion (as well as being kinda gross for us while we sit on the floor to paint). Sweeping or vacuuming the area each morning would be SO helpful for us, and it will ensure a piece of your pet is not forever embedded in the paint. Ditto for watching out for “markers.”

  • For kiddos, the paint really needs time to cure/ harden up, as noted in the next section. PLEASE, watch out for spills & clean as quickly as possible while the paint is curing. Thankfully, all of my products dry to the touch very quickly, but they still need to be treated with care early on.

6) How do I care for my new finish? It takes 15-30 DAYS for the paint or topcoating to FULLY cure/ reach full hardness. Just be nice to your beautiful new cabinetry surfaces while they are “toughening up.” USE the door knobs & drawer pulls!!

  • NO Mr. Clean Magic Erasers or other such harsh, acidic chemical products.

  • YES-7th Generation cleaners; 50/50 water & vinegar; Bon Ami or Bar Keeper’s Friend made into a weak paste with water. Microfiber cloths are great.

  • Carbon marks are not uncommon on painted wood. The lighter the paint, the more they will show. They occur when something metal (like a ring) are dragged across the surface (often happens when you go to brush something off a door). The resulting mark looks like a thin gray “scratches.” The paste of Bon Ami or Barkeeper’s Friend mentioned above, coupled with a soft paper towel & a gentle circular motion, then wiped with a damp rag or paper towel will pull the mark right off. Again- NO Magic Erasers!

7) How long is this going to take?

  • I'm a small business with a small crew: me plus a helper (sometimes). I do not have a stable of employees from which to pull, nor do I want one. Naturally, I'm going to work more slowly than a contractor with a crew. Please, be aware of this when you hire me & don't expect me to work at the same pace as someone with a big crew or that does all work on premises. It will stress us both out! The more pieces you have and the more steps a finish requires (just paint vs specialty finishes), the longer it will take.

  • This process does NOT produce a perfect factory finish; everything is done by hand or with either a high quality HPLV or airless paint sprayer, and done so beautifully, but it has its limitations. If you expect a flawless finish, you might consider replacing your cabinets or doing a refacing instead.

  • Heat & humidity, as well as extreme cold slows things down!! If we hit a patch of bad weather, it will add time. If it's warm out, please, run your A/C to pull humidity out of the air while the facings dry. I work out of my garage year round with both a portable heater and portable A/C, controlling my work environment as much as I can. Often, I will move my drying racks into the house to facilitate drying/ hardening times. Still, I can only control how our weather variations affect the products & work space so much.

  • Overall, expect 7 to 14 days, from the time I pull doors, depending on the exact finishes being done, top coating, my health, & weather, etc. However, the actual time in your house will only be 3 or 4 days (more for glaze work), which includes removing doors/drawers, all the work on the facings, and then the time to reinstall everything.

8) Be patient with the process.

  • I know contract work in your house is disruptive. I try VERY hard to minimize that as much as I can. We clean up the work space at the end of every day & haul away the paper, tape, and whatever else when it’s all done. Please, remember, I'll only be traipsing through your space for a relatively small amount of time.

  • Eat out. Let the products dry properly without grease or water getting on them before they are ready to take the daily routine.

  • Finally, all of the touch-ups, caulking, & clean-up work, the finishing touches, if you will, are typically done at the very end of the process. It takes time to go back & check the details when in the thick of working through the multitude of steps in this process, but once the bulk of the work is completed, then all the little bits & pieces, trims and edges, get cleaned & sharpened up. I PROMISE!

I hope this has answered the majority of your questions, but if there is anything I missed or other concerns, please, ask! Darla

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