What to Expect When Your Cabinets Get a Makeover

Updated: May 31, 2020

1) This is not a fast or simple process.

The very first thing to happen in this multi step process is the removal of all hardware, doors & drawer fronts, which will then be brought to my house for cleaning & refinishing.

Because of the cure time for the paints (15 days to full hardness), I typically work on facings before I start on the doors & drawers.

If your cabinetry is made of unpainted wood & is in good condition, every door, drawer front, and every inch of the facings, toe kick, and moldings has to be prepared thoroughly or your new finish will not last.

All surfaces will be cleaned with trisodium phosphate (TSP) or Krud Kutter, rinsed with water, then sanded with 220 grit hand pads (in your house) or machine sanded (at my workshop) to scuff up the surface so the new paint will stick. After machine sanding, the surfaces will be dusted off with microfiber cloths, then further cleaned with a deglosser product.

If your cabinetry has been previously painted, it's the same process… Unless they were badly painted or are in poor condition, then a more heavy machine sanding will be required.

After deglossing, cabinetry to be painted is spray primed with two coats of Stix primer by Benjamin Moore. A light hand sanding before paint is applied.

Your cabinets will then be sprayed with two+ coats of base paint. I exclusively use Benjamin Moore's Insl-X Cabinet Coat for cabinet projects. On certain projects, or at the homeowner’s request, oil based products may also be used, but they will be rolled, not sprayed.

I DO NOT SPRAY paint in your house; facings are rolled with a special foam roller & brushed instead.

Surfaces getting a gel or wiping stain will require cleaning with TSP, rigorous hand sanding, and 2 coats of stain, followed by 3 layers of a polyurethane top coat.

If you are getting any sort of specialty finish, it typically comes after the 2nd coat of base paint. Each layer must dry before the next layer or any top coating, if required.

Doors will usually be reinstalled 2 days after painting is completed to ensure the paint has hardened enough to be durable for transport.

You MUST be delicate with the facing surfaces after it gets painted. I'm not responsible for damage done before the paint has had a chance to fully cure.

There's a reason the facings get painted before the doors. Their paint needs to be setting up ahead of the doors being re-installed. Be patient. Eat out! Give your kitchen a break.

It takes 15 DAYS (less for oil based paints) for the paint to FULLY cure. Be nice to your beautiful new cabinetry surfaces while they are “toughening up.” USE the door knobs & drawer pulls.

If you're having any sort of glaze or specialty finishing, expect to add another 7- 10 days to the time line, especially since multiple layers of a protective top coat will be required, in addition to multiple layers of glaze on both sides of your doors.

2) Machine sanding is a big mess & hand sanding is a small one.

● If I can avoid it, I do not machine sand in your house. Still, prepare for hand sanding by removing everything from your cabinets & drawers & placing flat sheets over all soft furnishings. A thousand apologies, but there is no clean way to sand.

● Hand sandings are much less messy, the dust will be more localized, but it's still dust… and sanding is necessary to the process.

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

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

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

Nevertheless, I will use oil based paints, if requested, but I will not spray them/ run them through my machines, and it will cost more.

4) 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 & please, don't expect me to work at the same pace as someone with a big crew. It will stress us both out!

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

If you total up how many times every square inch of your cabinets will have to be touched in order to give you a quality refinish, it is quite a lot! In fact, the number is somewhere close to 10...every square inch, and most of it is done by hand. There is only so much than can be given over to a machine.

Heat & humidity slow things down a great deal. 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 with my drying racks in my house. Still, I can only control so much with the weather.

Conversely, if we have a cold snap, I can’t do some of the processes. My garage is my work space, and if it is below 55 degrees, most of the products I use won’t “perform” properly. Thankfully, in Houston, the cold moves on in a few days- most of the time.

Overall, expect 10 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. Glazed finishes- expect up to 21 days.

5) Be patient with the process.

Firstly, you have chosen to hire ME, not a bunch of workers or subcontractors. I am THE worker bee, along with an assistant, sometimes two. I work as quickly as I possibly can, and I typically work long days at your house and/ or in my garage on your behalf. If needed, I will hire trusted subs or contractors who offer complimentary services, but I don't make a habit of it.

Secondly, I clean up after myself. I've been through this process several times in my own home, & I know how irritating it can be to have the kitchen, master bedroom/bath, or living room (or even the secondary spaces) tied up under construction. But, please, remember, I'll only be traipsing through your space for a relatively small amount of time. When I'm done, I haul away the trash (or get it to the curb) & tidy up the work area. Sorry, I don't clean the rest of the house though.

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!


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