Cabinet Refinishing 101

By: Beth Krietsch How to

Cabinet refinishing is one of the most common home upgrades out there among those looking to quickly transform a living space. Rather than replacing cabinets all together, cabinet refinishing allows you to keep your existing cabinets and simply upgrade by changing the finish or paint color. Usually all that’s required is a bit of sanding, stripping, and painting or staining, and the project can be accomplished for around half the cost of cabinet replacement. So for just a bit of work and limited cost, you’ll see a dramatic difference in your kitchen or bathroom.

How much does cabinet refinishing cost?

Cabinet refinishing is far less expensive than the cost of purchasing and installing new cabinets. But the cost will vary depending on how many cabinets you need to refinish, the size of those cabinets, the type of materials you want to use, and labor costs. If you hire out, most cabinet refinishing jobs cost somewhere between a few hundred dollars at the low end and around $5,000 on the high end, with the average price of refinishing your cabinets landing somewhere around $1,800–$2,800. If you choose to do the job yourself, cabinet refinishing will cost you around $300.

The number of cabinets to be refinished and the size of the cabinets play a huge role in the cost, but if you decide to hire out, many contractors will offer deals based on the size of the job, so the overall cost to complete the job may be lower than you might think.

DIY or hire?

It’s definitely possible to take on a cabinet refinishing job as a fairly simple DIY project (here are a few more tips on how to stain wood), but many people choose to hire a professional to get the job done. Many make this choice for a number of reasons including lack of time, high standards and expectations, lack of confidence in personal home repair skills, and more.

Finding someone to do the job

When you hire a contractor to work on a home repair project, make sure they’re skilled, reputable, trustworthy, and charge a fair price that aligns with your budget. Friends, family, and coworkers often give great recommendations, so start by asking your network if they know anyone who can get the job done. As always when hiring someone to work in your home, be sure to look at reviews before making a hire.

Taking the project into your own hands: DIY cabinet refinishing

As we’ve mentioned, cabinet refinishing is pretty simple, only requires a few steps, and comes with serious savings—sometimes $1,000 or more (even if you hire a pro for the job). Before starting, make sure you have a workspace where you can sand, strip, paint, and stain your cabinets, as well as let them dry. You’ll also want to make sure you have the required tools, are confident with your ability to complete all parts of the job in a quality manner (or OK with it if your project has some flaws), and have a sufficient amount of time to get the job done.

How to: cabinet refinishing

Cabinet refinishing materials

  • Drop cloth(s)
  • Painters tape
  • Sandpaper or electric hand sander
  • Screwdriver
  • Paint or stain
  • Brushes for paint or stain
  • Gel or chemical wood stripper (only if you’re stripping the cabinets) or primer
  • Rubber gloves

Once you’re ready to begin your cabinet refinishing project, here are some simple steps to keep you on track:

  1. Put down a drop cloth on the floor and cover all counters, backsplashes, and surfaces with plastic or another drop cloth and painters tape to avoid damaging drips and spills.
  2. Remove all cabinet doors (don’t forget drawer faces as well).
  3. Remove all hardware from the cabinet doors. Store all screws and hardware in plastic baggies so they don’t get lost during the project.
  4. Sand or strip the finish—this might involve stain and paint remover, a scraper, and sanding paper. Keep in mind that you may need to take on multiple rounds of sanding. (Note: you need to strip the current finish or stain if the current stain has a solid lacquer on it (we like this biodegradable option). If you’re painting the cabinets a significantly lighter color, you may want to apply a coat of primer.)
  5. Make any repairs necessary, such as filling in small nicks.
  6. Stain or paint the cabinets, cabinet doors, and drawer faces, applying primer if necessary, allowing the paint or stain to dry between coats.
  7. Patiently wait for the stain or paint to fully dry (the surface should be smooth, not at all tacky).
  8. Check the cabinets for additional blemishes and nicks. Use a detail brush to fix any lingering imperfections.
  9. Put the hardware and handles back in place. This might mean using hardware that previously was in place, or replacing it with something fun and new.
  10. Admire your hard work.
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