How to Refinish Old Kitchen Cabinets

When we moved into our house almost exactly a year ago, the kitchen had a big Tuscan vibe going for it: burnt orange walls, dark brown floors, and black, old world hardware. While I love dedication to a style, my style this was not. The walls were soon painted all white (except the backsplash, which I am temporarily keeping orange just to test out the pop of color... a simultaneously good and bad decision), but the cabinets and hardware would remain for months to come. Life's busy, yo. Before

What drove me most bananas was how grimy the cabinets and drawers looked. The hardware was worn out and the paint was discolored, chipped and just strangely gunky in places. I would soon discover why... (cue dramatic music).

So I whimsically went about removing the drawers and doors and hardware. Seriously, I thought this would be a Memorial Weekend project. Such innocence. Such optimism.

Here's a schematic of how I removed the cabinets and hardware (always start at the bottom hinge). I used a power drill because a lot of the hardware was one with the paint and VERY stubborn.

HINT: use small containers for all your screws just in case you need them later or you will definitely lose them and your mind.



Once I had completely bare slabs of painted wood, I took all the drawers and cabinets outside. I've learned from previous projects that sanding is a doozy that tends to leave me cranky and sore, so I went out and bought some paint stripper like I'd used on the coffee table project since scraping is slightly less exhausting (I am literally laughing right now because I just had NO CLUE when I started this, guys).


I upgraded to a metal scraper instead of the plastic one that the paint stripper instructions recommended, which is a good lesson about how not following rules can be a good thing. I would still be scraping with a little plastic stub.

So here's why this was The Impossible Project: the cabinets had been painted with latex paint over oil paint. Let me say that again. LATEX (water-based) over OIL. If you ever put latex paint over oil paint, I will find you. And I will give you a stern talking-to. If you're not sure what kind of paint is already on something, rub some rubbing alcohol on it. If the paint wears off, it's water-based. At the very least, cover the oil paint with an oil-based primer if you plan to paint over it with latex.

I could tell that whoever repainted these cabinets was frustrated with how the latex paint was behaving since, you know, it couldn't stick properly to the oil paint, because this stuff was GUNKED on. GUNKED. That's why the cabinets never looked great, and why it took me hours upon hours of mind-numbing scraping and applying layer after layer of stripper.


So here is a valuable lesson: when you feel completely trapped in a never ending project that is making you miserable, be kind to you. I was projecting all my frustration onto myself and ended up getting really exhausted and dehydrated outside in the sun, which does not make DIY projects as fun as they should be. Remind yourself that the end result WILL be worth it and be willing to learn along the way. I definitely did, and hopefully this'll help you avoid some trials in your next big project that doesn't go exactly to plan.


Also, the room you're working on will look like this. I painted the cabinet bases without sanding or anything since dust in every crevice of the kitchen didn't seem like a stellar situation. It turned out fine. I can live with it.


I finished all the drawers first and, after washing them down with some mild soap and water, brought them inside to start the next phase.

First I filled in the old hardware holes with wood filler. Just force it in and sand it smooth once it's dry (this was a welcome easy phase in a blissfully air-conditioned room).


The easiest method to measure the new hardware drill holes was just to lay the pulls down and mark with pencil where to drill, using the old hardware holes as a guide (I love using other people's work to make my life a little easier, I will not lie).


When it came to choosing a drill bit size, I just eyeballed it end-to-end with the hardware screws and tested it before drilling the rest.


Then painting!!! So simple. I put three to four coats of ultra white latex with a roller. They dried sooo nicely. No brush stroke texture, no gunkiness. It was all leading up to this moment.

The cabinets, on the other hand...



Buckle up, kids, you're about to take a ride on the rickety carnival roller coaster of hinge education.

I bought new matching hinges since the originals were black and gross. All the screw holes lined up and that's all I thought was needed. NO. NO IT WAS NOT.


I've tried to illustrate where I went wrong. On the left is an original hinge and the right is what I recklessly bought. As you can see, the offset measurements were totally different, resulting in cabinet doors that were not positioned properly. I went back to the hardware store to find exactly matching ones. No dice. Who knew hinges were so diverse?? There were no courses at the Hinge Academy about this...

So guess what? Spray paint. That's what.




The hinges look darker than they really are in the After Picture, but they match the new hardware really well, and since they won't really be handled ever, the spray paint should last. Our wee little kitchen seems so much cleaner and brighter than ever! I'm so glad this project is over and that I have really visible results of my labor. Now I'm going to take a nap because just writing about this wore me out again.