Custom Crafted Kitchen Cabinet Doors

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Painting or Refinishing Kitchen Cabinets

Below is, by far, the most frequently asked question we get. So, I have taken the time to post a detailed response on our website:


My name is Donald. I’m writing you with a question concerning my kitchen cabinets. My wife seems to think if we just paint the old cabinets in the kitchen it, will look better. Well, I can't find one painter that will even show up to give me a bid! We are thinking about doing the work ourselves. Do you have any suggestions?

Thank you

When painting kitchen cabinets, whether you’re a professional or a “do it yourself person”, the most important step in order to achieve a good paint job is the preparation of the surface you are painting. An evenly smooth, sealed surface is the key step in the painting process. When the surface is prepared correctly, the paint molecules can cross link together giving a continuous smooth painted surface. Also, the substrate material needs to be dent and chip resistant so your paint job will last.

As an example, cabinet doors made from a single piece of Double Refined MDF/HDF will not last, although Double Refined MDF/HDF is a very hard material and excellent for painting, the outside edges can chip easily. This material should not be used by itself; it needs to be surrounded by a hardwood frame. Another important factor is the hardwood frame material. Poplar Lumber may be classified as a hardwood, but, it is very soft and can dent easily causing the paint to chip off. Since 55% of the cost of manufacturing the doors is the materials, most cabinet door manufacturers on the internet use Poplar because it is cheap and this allows them to make more money or sell their doors at a little lower cost. We all use the internet to find the best possible deal, but when purchasing a custom made product, the price should not be the only factor.

See our Tips on Finishing Paint Grade Doors.

Double Refined MDF/HDF Surrounded By Hardwood Frame
The fact is, a good painter will spend 60% to 70% of the overall painting time on preparation of the surface. More time will be needed if you are planning on using your existing cabinet doors. The flat surfaces of your cabinet boxes can be cleaned, filled, primed and sanded fairly quickly. The cabinet doors on the other hand require a lot more work. This is because the cabinet doors typically do not have a continuous flat surface; add to this, the doors are the most used part of your cabinets having the most wear. Depending on what condition your cabinet doors are in, the time spent sanding and stripping the old finishes off can be very time consuming and costly.

90% of what you see on the front of the cabinets is the doors, it is important that they look good. The only way to do this work properly is to remove the doors from the cabinet boxes. This can create another problem; trying to re-hang doors with the old non-adjustable hinges. What makes this even worse is when you are painting everything one solid color. Any mis-alignment in the doors, that most likely already existed, now becomes magnified. This problem can be solved by replacing the old non-adjustable hinges with an easy to install, fully adjustable, heavy duty euro style hidden hinge as shown in Figure #1. When replacing your hinges, you need to be aware that not all euro style hinges are fully adjustable. What’s amazing to me is, professional cabinet makers always use a fully adjustable hinge like in Figure #1 and non- professionals, who have less experience, always

Figure #1
Fully adjustable Hinge

Figure #2
Limited or Non-adjustable
seem to get stuck with a difficult to install, non or limited adjustable hinge as seen in Figure #2. Be careful when purchasing, it may not be wise to go with the cheapest.

We have found that these problems have lead to there being basically two types of residential painting contractors, the ones that still are painting cabinets and the ones who used to paint cabinets! The reason why most painting contractors eventually stop offering cabinet painting is the home owner’s high expectations. The reality is, the quality and condition of the existing cabinet materials will mostly determine the quality and durability of the paint job. If the existing materials are in bad shape, requiring more prep work, the cost to paint them will be more. This can turn into a vicious cycle, the higher the cost, the higher the expectations. Eventually, a good painting contractor will have enough jobs that go bad that they will stop offering cabinet painting altogether.

The problem the “do-it-yourselfer” can run into when fixing up their home, especially when painting their cabinets, is some can suffer from RWLLB syndrome; don’t worry it is not terminal, but the side effects can last anywhere from 1 week to 6 months. RWLLB stands for "Remembering What it Looked Like Before". If you do your own home improvement there is a good chance you may have done something like this or had a friend or neighbor call you over to show what they had done to their home. In all fairness, I am sure what they have done looks 100% or even 200% better than what it did before, but here is the problem, I don’t remember what it looked like before, all I know is that it doesn’t look so good now. Personally, I don’t like beating up on someone's work, especially when they may have spent over a month doing it, so I try to use comments like, “Wow, that is an interesting look”, “Did you do this yourself?”, “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”

So, before you decide on painting your cabinets or have them painted by a contractor, stop and ask yourself this question. Is it worth trying to paint a door that look like this? (Figure #3) There is an old saying that states: “There never seems to be enough time or money to do the job right, but there is always enough to do it over again.” We have found most of our customers do exactly what you are doing right now. They go on the internet to research the information; separate the good information from the bad by using common sense “if it sounds too good to be true, it is”. Then, the next step is to decide if you are going to do the work yourself, or hire someone. Not all, but most decide they don’t have the time and hire someone. The first problem you may run into is finding a good painting contractor to do the work. As I said earlier, a lot of them have had bad experiences painting over old cabinets. You may find it is best to take the roll of a project manager and have a meeting with your painting contractor. Ask them what it would cost and what you can expect if they were to paint your cabinets, Since the doors require the most work to paint, what would the cost be if they were new? Most painting contractors have never even considered replacing the existing cabinet doors. You may find that they will be more receptive to painting your cabinets if the doors are new.

It is important to remember that your home is most likely to be your single largest investment. To protect your investment, you may need to spend a little more money than you originally

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Figure #3
planned. Also, don’t set yourself or your contractor up for failure by trying to slap some paint on something that really should be replaced. Hope this helps. Good luck on your project.

M. Taylor
Taylor Cabinet Door Company

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