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Reviving Kitchen Cabinet Finish

Beil1958Beil1958 Registered User Posts: 658 Member
edited September 2010 in Parent Cafe
I have light maple cabinets in my kitchen that are about 13 years old. When we put them in, we chose a medium grade cabinet so they aren't the best of the best. As I look at them now, it seems the finish is getting dull. They never had a high-gloss finish, but did have a nice sheen. I've tried cleaning them with various products, thinking the dullness was removable, but have come to the conclusion that they have just lost their luster over the years. (LOL---haven't we all?!)

I'm looking for a product that will revive them a bit. Guess we could put a coat of polyurethane on them, but that sounds like lots of work AND a big job for us as amateurs. I don't want to experiment with products that might damage the cabinets. Has anybody had any experience fixing a similar problem?
Post edited by Beil1958 on

Replies to: Reviving Kitchen Cabinet Finish

  • APOLAPOL Registered User Posts: 1,780 Senior Member
    Yes. We did hire someone to sand down the cabinet doors, then used "Minwax". I love them-and feel like I have a whole new kitchen w/o spending a fortune!
    (ps...I do not have any connection with this product, just speaking from our experience...)
    I hope this helps-
    APOL-a Mum
  • ellebudellebud Registered User Posts: 2,328 Senior Member
    Ok...since the guys are coming in the next few weeks to give bids on various things: We have a bathroom with very expensive cherry vanity. It is only 3 years old and not looking well. I believe my husband splashes water on the front which is carved. Does minwax work on that? I really hate to spend a lot of money when a little curall could help.

    Thank you!
  • WayOutWestMomWayOutWestMom Registered User Posts: 8,806 Senior Member
    I've "revived" kitchen cabinets in the two houses I've lived in. When I lived in the first house, my FIL (who was a painter/carpenter) showed me how to do it and helped. When I redid the cabinets in my second house (the one I currently live), sadly, he had passed away and I was on my own.

    If you are reasonably hands-on and not afraid to leap in, it's not too difficult.

    First scrub the cabinets thoroughly to get off the accumulated grease that is pervasive in kitchens. Getting them clean enough may require two or three scrubbings. Use a strong grease cutting detergent. You may need to use triple fine steel wool (000) to get into the grooves and textures. You do not want to refinish over dirt.

    Remove all pulls and handles when cleaning to get the accumulated dirt off that likes to collect around them.

    Now is the tricky part-- take a drawer to your local home improvement store and find a stain that matches the color of your cabinets. Minwax is one well known brand. Delft is another. Look at both and find the one is very close to the color of your cabinets. You may want to get some help from the guy/gal in the department since what the stain will look like on your cabinets also depends of the type of wood the cabinets are made from. (IOW, cherry stain over pine looks different than cherry stain over cherry wood.)

    After the cabinets are clean, use the triple fine steel wool to rub off worn or flaking poly sealants. (Unless you have truly old cabinets, the finish isn't actually varnish, although it's usually referred to as that. Removing varnish is more difficult. You cannot use a polyurethane finish over varnish.)

    Identify areas where there are scratches, gouges or discolorations. Deep gouges will need to be filled with wood filler available at your home improvement store. NOTE: I've never had good luck with stain over wood filler exactly matching the original wood so may want to only fill really deep noticeable gouges. Shallower ones can be minimized by gently sanding around them to minimize the sharp edges and contouring the surface.

    Use extra fine (0000 or 000) sandpaper to gently sand the area around scratches. (Helps to minimize the contrast between old stain and new stain.) Discolored areas are always problematic. Try sanding first to remove the discoloration. If that doesn't work, you need to call a professional for help.

    Apply stain to sanded areas. Let dry. Wipe off excess. Repeat until the scratched/sanded areas are the same color as the original cabinets. (NOTE: wear rubber gloves when staining unless you like to have your hands stained the color of your cabinets.)

    Use a polyurethane finish over the entire surface of the cabinets. Be sure to open the doors and drawers when you do this so that you get every bit of cabinet surface. Let dry. Repeat for a second coat.

    Replace the hardware--and you're done.

    Minwax makes a two-in-one stain and finish. It works well enough on unfinished wood, but you need to have thoroughly cleaned and prepped your cabinets for it to look nice of wood that's already been stained and finished.

    Polyurethane finishes come in both glossy and satin.

    My cabinets looked terrific after they'd been revived. Both places. Right now I'm about to refinish my bathroom cabinets. (Teenaged girls who never bothered to open a window/use a fan when taking long steamy showers/baths have caused the wood to swell and the poly to split and peel off. I'm hoping that now they're out of the house, if I refinish the cabinets, they will stay nice.)

    Beil--if the stain is intact and there aren't any scratches, a single coat of poly after thorough cleaning is all you really need. It looks daunting, but really is very easy. Cleaning up after using poly is a snap (water soluble). You can also try just using poly to touch up the areas that are less than perfect. I've done that too on my kitchen cabinets--like over a cabinet where the countertop oven is or the one cabinet that get used alot (where the glasses and plates are)
  • ConsolationConsolation Registered User Posts: 21,619 Senior Member
    Has anyone ever tried painting their cabinets?

    My kitchen has high-end custom cabinets made by a company in Massachusetts. (The previous owners bought the kitchen from a kitchen show, where it was the floor display.) The cabinets are generally in great shape, and I don't want to replace them. (And can't afford to, either.) The wood and color is, I think, maple. I've never liked the color--a dark honey, I guess you could call it.

    I was thinking of painting them off-white as part of a--hopefully--low budget aesthetic facelift for the kitchen. (The house is about 100 yrs old, and a classic kitchen would actually fit with it much better than the more modern maple look.)

    I really dread the level of prep involved, and I dread a situation where the paint is always chipping off and looking crummy.
  • zoeydoggiezoeydoggie Registered User Posts: 643 Member
    I recently had the N-Hance procedure done on my kitchen cabinets and was very pleased. Two guys did the entire kitchen in less than a day. No odor, no mess. You can Google to see what they do. It made a huge difference in my kitchen. My cabinets are the original ones from my 1970's house, so they are not beautiful. They are clean and smooth and have a nice sheen.
  • greenwitchgreenwitch Registered User Posts: 7,180 Senior Member
    I have some cabinets, about 10 years old, where the finish seems too thin and a little sticky. It bugs me just to open and close the doors! I'm thinking of refinishing and was considering taking the doors off the hinges so I could work on a flat surface. They are maple with a clear stain so I assume I wouldn't have to restain, just add poly.

    What do you all think?

    The other cabinets in my kitchen are older and were painted about 15 years ago. I don't know what the previous owner used on them, but she had painted the walls with acrylic glaze and it is a great, long-lasting finish. They haven't peeled at all. I can't even imagine them peeling. Still, I wish they were a wood finish instead.
  • BUandBC82BUandBC82 Registered User Posts: 2,061 Senior Member
    I used a product called Restorz-It. If you google it you can get to their website. I used the pre-cleaner and the wood finish restorer. It's on the expensive side, but worked well for me. I figured it was more expensive to have someone come in and redo my cabinets. They really looked great after I finished.
  • MomLiveMomLive Registered User Posts: 2,370 Senior Member
    Has anyone ever tried painting their cabinets?

    Yes - have done this in several houses. I'm not a big fan of the current 'maple cabinets, black granite counter tops, stainless steel look', that is all the rage at the moment (though it's a nice look, it's just not for me), so we painted our cabinets an off-white/beige shade. They look great - get tons of compliments on them. I have off-white cabinets, black appliances, and a neutral granite.

    Years ago my husband did them himself (our first house - we painted them white). It was a huge job but if I remember correctly,you might need to de-gloss them first and then you definitely want to use an oil-based paint.

    In this house, we found someone who paints cars for a living and had them spray paint the doors (with an oil based paint). Spray painting does away with the brush strokes. It looks very professional. If I remember correctly it only cost a couple of hundred dollars to do this. We painted the cabinet base ourselves.

    Recently we had someone paint the vanity in son's bathroom black (again with an oil-based paint), it turned out very well.

    ETA: If you don't use an oil-based paint, you might end up with peeling paint. We've never had a problem with peeling.
  • sryrstresssryrstress Registered User Posts: 2,354 Senior Member
    Homer Formby makes a "revival" product. You might want to try that first. I've seen it do wonders. Minwax also makes a "wipe-on" poly. It comes in satin or gloss. My mom and I have used it for years. It is great because there are many fewer runs and drips when using a rag rather than a brush. It is not water soluble--clean up with mineral spirits.
  • BalletMomBalletMom Registered User Posts: 215 Junior Member
    Question for WayOutWestMom......I live in an old farmhouse, with old kitchen cabinets (unpainted). How can I tel if varnish has been used? I would love to re-do them, the way you suggested.
  • worknprogress2worknprogress2 Registered User Posts: 1,355 Senior Member
    I also had my kitchen cabinets painted a creamy off-white at least 15 years ago and I still love how it looks. The prep work is the most important part of the job. I had mine done by a professional painter and just had it retouched this year. I wash them a couple of times a year with Murphy's and they look great.
  • WayOutWestMomWayOutWestMom Registered User Posts: 8,806 Senior Member

    To test for shellac, find an inconspicuous spot on your cabinet (because you're going to ruin the finish if it is shellac) and rub with some denatured alcohol. If the finish liquifies and comes off--it's shellac.If just gets soft, but doesn't rub off--it's a mixture of shellac and lacquer.

    To test for lacquer, rub an inconspicuous spot with lacquer remover. If the finish liquified and rubs off--it's lacquer.

    If the finish reacts to neither the alcohol or the lacquer remover, it's likely polyurethane.

    You can use poly finishes over both poly or lacquer, but not shellac.

    Wow, I really wish my FIL was still alive--he knew all this stuff.
  • ConsolationConsolation Registered User Posts: 21,619 Senior Member
    Thanks for the advice, MomLive. The spraying tip is particularly helpful.

    What did you use for deglossing, sanding or one of those chemicals? To tell you the truth, it's the sanding that I really dread. And the molding detail on the doors is going to be REALLY hard to get into....
  • laketimelaketime Registered User Posts: 282 Junior Member
    Sherwin Williams has a product called Pro Block Primer. This summer I applied this to maple cabinets that I saved from a bathroom remodel 5 years ago. The cabinets had a pale stain. I scrubbed them well with mineral spirits, but did not sand or degloss. It worked beautifully. I spray painted with a gun I rented from Sherwin Williams with a white semi gloss and topped with a wood countertop from from Ikea. And now my guest cottage has a kitchenette!
  • worknprogress2worknprogress2 Registered User Posts: 1,355 Senior Member
    Or you could order paint grade doors for the kitchen. I did that in a bathroom and it worked out really well. Then you just have to prep the cabinets and not do sanding on the doors.
This discussion has been closed.