Refacing Kitchen or Bathroom Cabinetry

Grandma’s kitchen may bring back good memories, but you probably don’t want your kitchen to look like hers. You can update tired, worn kitchens and bathrooms by refacing the cabinets.

Refacing – sometimes referred to as resurfacing – creates new-looking cabinets without spending thousands of dollars and undergoing a complete remodel. To make the job even easier, purchase a veneer kit featuring the wood grain you prefer. Everything you need to install the veneer is included.

Consider Your Cabinet Style

Your cabinet style determines what areas of the cabinet will need refacing. Each style or type exposes different areas of the cabinet frame, which is the box portion of the cabinet (everything but the doors and countertop, in other words).

Partial Overlay Cabinets: Most everyone’s familiar with partial overlay cabinetry, but simply didn’t realize its name. When you look at a partial overlay cabinet you see part of the frame between doors and surrounding drawers. The doors partly overlay the frame, in other words, lending them their name. With partial overlays you must veneer the entire cabinet face.

Full Overlay Cabinets: When there’s less than about 1/8 inch between the cabinet doors, and the drawer fronts and doors almost completely cover the cabinet frame face, you know it’s a full overlay instead. Doors and drawers literally lay over the cabinet front, hence the name. Veneer is largely useless – simply changing the hardware, doors, and drawers will change the appearance significantly.

Flush Inset Cabinetry: If the cabinet doors actually set into the cabinet, flush with the face frame when closed, you have a flush inset cabinet. Since the cabinet itself is completely exposed, you’ll need to reface the entire face.

Depending on the cabinet style, install veneer on the entire cabinet facing or skip it altogether. In addition, any sides exposed to view will need refacing as well. If a cabinet side or end, if it’s one of several cabinets in a row – is only partially visible, go ahead and veneer it anyway to prevent the old cabinet finish from sticking out like a sore thumb. Make sure to allow for sides or ends that need veneer when measuring to purchase a veneer kit.

Refacing or Replacing Doors and Drawer Fronts

Refacing your cabinets but keeping the same doors and drawer fronts defeats your efforts. Instead, either reface or replace them. Refacing is cheaper, but may be extremely difficult. Veneer works best if the surfaces are completely smooth, flat panels. Intricate designs will prove nearly impossible to veneer properly and won’t look good when you’re done. If you plan to reface your doors or drawer fronts (the flat board often attached to the front of the drawer box) you’ll need matching edge banding to disguise the veneer edges.

A more costly, but simpler solution is to replace the doors and drawer fronts, or even the entire drawer box. Select from those that match the veneer – often you can find these replacements at the same stores where you purchase your veneer. Either take a door and drawer front or drawer with you to ensure you purchase the proper replacements or measure the old ones carefully. Precise measurements are essential.

You can also make new drawers to save a little money. Simply detach the current drawer front, flip the drawer around, and attach the front to the rear of the drawer. Add new knobs or pulls to match the new ones on your now refaced cabinetry and you’re looking at a “new” kitchen or bathroom cabinet. Expect to pay anywhere from a couple of dollars per knob or pull, up to as much as fifty dollars for high-end hardware. Make sure to include such items in your project budget and to comparison shop, as well.

How To Use Veneer

Compared to installing new cabinets, refacing them with veneer is definitely less hassle. No matter how long it takes to do it, you can keep using your kitchen. And while applying veneer takes patience – not to mention a steady hand, so that when it sticks, it’s where it should be – it’s not really complicated. Expect to:

– Remove all doors, detaching the hinges from the cabinet instead of from the door. (Detach from the door as well if you plan to reuse the hinges. Otherwise, discard.)

– Pull out every drawer. Remove drawer fronts, unless you plan to reface them as well.

– Inspect the cabinetry carefully. If you find any damage, repair as appropriate. Replace cabinet bottoms with a new section of plywood, for instance, or glue a loose board. If you find evidence of rot or mold stop immediately. While rotted pieces may be replaced and mold can be killed, both indicate a moisture problem and a possible leak. Plan to tear away the cabinets and fix the problem before replacing the cabinets (which may be the best option).

– Detach knobs, pulls, hinges, or any hardware that you wish to reuse. Soak them in a bucket of hot water to which a squirt of dish soap has been added. Add a bit of vinegar to boost grease and oil removing properties

– Sand any surface that you plan to reface. Use 100-grit sandpaper. Sanding removes dirt and contaminants while smoothing the surface and preparing it to bond with the veneer.

– Brush away sanding dust with a tack cloth (typically included in veneer cabinet refacing kits).

– Create new ends for anywhere the cabinet sides show. Cut a sheet of thin plywood to measure the exact size of the cabinet end. Apply carpenter’s glue and align flush with the cabinet edges. Attach with 2d nails, driven through the plywood and into the thin cabinet frame in the corners and once or twice in between them. Countersink the nails, then fill in the holes with wood putty. Sand the edges and filler smooth.

– Apply the veneer, one section at a time, following the manufacturer’s installation instructions. Measure each piece and cut with a sharp knife, using a straight edge for precision. Hold it up near the space it will cover, ready to press it into place. Peel back the backing, exposing the sticky side. Press the veneer into place, smoothing it and reinforcing the adhesive by rubbing a block of wood or rolling pin over the surface. Trim the edges as directed.

– Attach hinges, replace drawer gliders, screw on knobs and handles as necessary to mount the new cabinet doors and drawers. Use new or used items, as desired.

Completing Your Mini-remodeling Project: Bonus Ideas

If your “new” cabinets have you itching to make greater changes, take the refacing a little further and turn it into a miniature remodeling job. You’ll have much of the fun but less of the hassle and expense of a typical remodeling project. Consider installing a new countertop surface or sink and faucet. Make extra space with tilt trays, roll out shelves, and other organizers. Not only will your kitchen or bathroom look brand new, it will feel that way too!


  • Novel Remodeling September 19, 2014 at 2:16 pm

    I would like to say one of the most compelling articles. It goes into the right details and can be helpful for most homeowners. Good Job!

  • Rebecca Hyatt September 28, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    I have a question…. can I use an exterior acrylic and oil based stain to stain interior kitchen cabinets???? If so what’s the steps to do so…. please help any help is appreciated
    Rebecca Hyatt


Leave a Reply