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Kitchen Cabinet Facelift: Repurpose Doors To Save Money

By Hank Will, Editor-in-Chief

Tags: kitchens, building, DIY,

GRIT Editor Hank Will at the wheel of his 1964 IH pickup.Now that the mud room project is completed, my Partner in Culinary Crime (PICC) and I have moved on to stage one of the next project, which is a kitchen cabinet facelift. We live in a 104 year old farm house that was outfitted with built-in-place hardwood plywood cabinets in the 1970s, and while those kitchen cabinets are roomy, they really needed a facelift. Since neither of us is interested in blowing  $40,000 or more on a kitchen update or putting a bunch more stuff into the landfill or burn pile, we put our heads together and decided against buying new doors for the cabinets. We chose instead to modify them to look like something that they are not. So with minimal investment in anything other than time and a few tools, we transformed the well dated kitchen cabinet doors into something that looks a little more rustic and makes for a much brighter kitchen. Kitchen cabinet facelift: finished project. 

Kitchen cabinet facelift: the original plywood doors. 

The first step in the process involved carefully labeling the doors, drawing a map to be sure they would go back into the same places and removing all the hardware. We decided to replace the handles with knobs but wound up painting the hammered bronze hinges black rather than using new hinges. Yes, you can paint hinges and yes the paint will stick.  

While my PICC prepped the interior of the cabinets and filled screw holes, I took the doors to my router table and using a pointed plunge-type round-over bit I first routed a groove into the center of each door to make it look as though it was formed from two tongue and groove boards. I relieved the outside edges of the doors with the same bit to give them a uniformly rounded perimeter. When working with the router table it is really important to keep the work snugged up against the fence or you will get significant wandering.

We next filled the screw holes on the doors and gave everything a good roughing up with 100-grit sandpaper -- even though the special glossy-surface primer that my PICC sourced didn't require it. I should mention that the primer was a low VOC product that covered things nicely, left a great surface for the topcoat and was easy to use with the house closed up because it was virtually fumeless and it cleaned up with water. Sweet!

Kitchen Cabinet Facelift: painting inside and out. 

We used brushes and small microfiber rollers to apply the primer and topcoat. We brushed out the rolled topcoat, which was a top of the line Valspar low VOC paint. My PICC bought the stuff and paid way more than I have ever paid for paint (except for tractors) but wow, did it go on smooth and brush out beautifully. Oh, and it covered in one coat no sweat.

Kitchen Cabinet Facelift: Painting the doors. 

Painting the doors was a trick for us because we have relatively few flat surfaces for drying them. The dogs were evicted from the house during this operation for obvious reasons. The little dots you see in the corners of the doors is where we have the door numbers -- we used permanent marker and took care to sand and paint around them.

Kitchen Cabinet Facelift: Callie the cat moves in. 

Callie the calico cat and our terriers Pearl and Molly like to tease one another. Callie found that the top cabinet made a much cozier vantage point than the top of the fridge from which to cast her canine slurs. Once I got the doors reinstalled, she was forced out.

Though our kitchen is far from completed, the successes with this first bank of cabinets has us motivated to move on. Right now we feel like we might splurge and replace the 40-some year old laminate counter top with a natural material -- and on a lark, a couple of weeks ago we ordered a new cast-iron sink and fixtures. Stay tuned.

Hank Will raises hair sheep, heritage cattle and many varieties of open-pollinated corn with his wife, Karen, on their rural Osage County, Kansas farm. His home life is a perfect complement to his professional life as editor in chief at GRIT and Capper's Farmer magazines. Connect with him on .

hank will_2
2/28/2011 9:37:08 AM

Hey Robyn -- I love working with wood and leather. Both are so forgiving. I enjoy metal fabrication too, but needs more precision. I left my metal lathe to a friend one move but not the welders. It's really good to get back to some of the fundamentals that make me who I am.

hank will_2
2/28/2011 9:32:01 AM

Shannon -- Thanks so much for the kind words. We did another bank of cabinets last weekend and I sanded the varnish a little harder than before. That made the prime coat dry hard a little faster but the topcoat looks as lovely as with the cabinets in this post. If the weather stays warm enough we'll paint the hinges and get the doors back up later this week.

s.m.r. saia
2/28/2011 6:02:48 AM

Hank, that looks really nice. Thanks for the tip about the primer and paint. I'm getting ready to do a cabinet facelift here and one of the things on my to do list was to determine the best kind of paint to use, so I'll check that one off. Good luck with the rest of your project! Shannon

robyn dolan
2/25/2011 8:10:30 AM

Your doors look great! Nice to have those woodworking skills. My cabinets need a facelift too. They're just cheapie veneer, and the fake wood grain is wearing off. I think I'll just paint them, though. Lucky here, to get to work outside periodically all year. Staying in during the storms, and worst heat of summer.

hank will_2
2/24/2011 4:55:43 PM

Same with me, Dave. Plus I hate to just waste something that is totally functional. I can't wait for the outdoor shift ... last Sunday I slabbed myself a piece of black walnut from one of the pond-dam repair snags and I plan to make a shaving horse with it to aid my work with drawknives and the like. I also ordered an Alaskan chainsaw mill to cut some lumber from the snags to make Karen's kitchen island. I'm really excited about all of that. It's sleeting like an ice-ball blizzard here at the moment. Argh.

nebraska dave
2/24/2011 3:58:51 PM

@Hank, I don't even like the new cabinets unless I get up into the price range that is not available to my meger pocket book. I bet the white paint brighten up the whole area as well as gave the kitchen a much fresher look. You and your partner have been busy this winter. Every thing looks very nice. The focus is about to shift to outside soon. I am waiting with anticipation for that to happen. Have a great cabinet day.