This DIY is not for the faint of heart. You have been sufficiently warned.
Cabinets are coming.
If at any point you get lost in this post feel free to pause, get some food, regroup and return at a later point. This is the DIY that do it yourself-ers only dream of.. and we took this on as our second project in our new home..
I am going to try my best to go step by step so that this can be recreated.
Here is the before and after so you actually believe that this is possible:
(I apologize for the poor quality of some of the photos. Some were taken by the realtor before we moved in but they were nice large view shots of the kitchen)
***As a side note, we did not change any of the tiles, back splash or counter tops – the lighting was much different when each of the photos were taken!***
The photoshopped realtor photos appear to be taken with the light of the gods shining above, whereas ours were taken on an iPhone 6. Slightly problematic, as you can see but you get the point.
STEP 1 – Help
This is the most important step. Have your significant other sign a binding contract so that they cannot legally leave you during this project.
But in all reality, enlist some help. Just like a see-saw, this is something you can’t do alone.
Perfect. You’ve got your help, now make sure you have a decent amount of time to work on this. This is a miserable project to do a couple hours each night after work. You will not be able to finish this is one weekend. You may think you can, but you can’t, not successfully that is. We both had around 9 days off from work and we worked on this almost every day.
STEP 2 – Gather supplies
You will need a lot of supplies. Some of which you may already have.. others which you will need to purchase, I will try to remember them all.
- Hand sander with lots of 80 and 100 grit sandpaper
- Drill + various bits
- Cabinet de-greaser
- Tack cloths
- Drop cloths/plastic tarps
- Painters tape
- 2 gallons primer (we used KILZ stain-blocking latex primer)
- 1 basic angled paintbrush, 1 straight paintbrush, 2 small basic rollers (for primer)
- 2 gallons of good paint (we used Benjamin Moore Advanced paint in simply white, semi gloss)
- 1 angled 2″ Purdy brush, 1 straight Purdy paintbrush, 1 small 1/4 inch nap roller, 1 large 1/4 inch nap roller for very smooth surfaces
- Large dedicated work space
- New hinges/hardware
- Wood glue
I did a lot of research about which paint to use and ended up feeling most comfortable using the Benjamin Moore Advanced Paint. Lots of people seem to use this paint for similar projects while painting furniture and the professionals at the hardware store also agreed that it would be best for cabinets. It has self-leveling properties which were actually pretty impressive to see – talk about watching paint dry.. Bubbles literally disappear in front of your eyes 🙂
STEP 3 – Clean cabinets/drawers
This step is important. Cabinets can get covered in a lot of grease and grime over the years and if you begin this process with dirty cabinets the primer won’t stick and sanding will spread the grease around and it will be like trying to scrape molasses off the pavement.
Clean the cabinets well and get all of the gunk off. We cleaned ours first, before we removed the doors, it was a bit easier to manipulate them, however, once we took them down, we cleaned around the spots where the hinges were. Our kitchen is around 30 years old with the original hinges so there was definitely a good bit of shmutz. We only planned on painting the front and backside of the cabinet doors, I could care less what the inside of the cabinet boxes look like. If you cant see it then it doesn’t exist right?
NOTE: There is still time to turn back and at least you will have a nice clean kitchen!
STEP 4 – Remove all cabinets and drawers and prep the room
We have a very large kitchen, which is part of the reason why we fell in love with this house. That being said, we had 52 cabinet doors/drawers.
I’m going to repeat that again… FIFTY TWO.
As in, more cabinets/drawers than there are states, more than halfway to a century, the amount of playing cards in a deck (if only the cabinets were as small as playing cards).
The key to this process is to have a large dedicated work space that you will be able to inhabit for the next week or so. Our living room is very long (20ft x 40ft), so, we laid out some massive plastic tarps on the back half of our living room. Additionally, we put a large plastic tarp in our dining room as well for some additional space.
It is a good idea to number your cabinets as you go. Andrew, being his tech savvy self, took photos of the kitchen and printed them out on plain paper. On these papers we wrote a number on each cabinet. We then took sticky notes and wrote the corresponding number and stuck it to the cabinet. We used a power drill to remove the hinges and we then placed all of the cabinets onto the tarp. We moved the post-it notes and stuck them onto the tarp directly above the cabinet they corresponded to. We planned on using our same drawer pulls so, we removed those and put them into a large Tupperware container for later.
As far as drawers go, we had been using the kitchen for around a month, so unfortunately, all of our drawers were full.. We took everything out and covered our dining room table in cooking supplies. We then stacked the drawers on their side so that the face of the drawer was facing upwards. This seemed to be the most space-saving method. I would have loved to just remove the faces of the drawers but seeing that our kitchen was a bit older we would have ruined them in the process.
We took everything out of the cabinets and loaded it onto our kitchen island and covered it all with another large tarp to keep them clean. That being said, nothing will keep your home clean, nothing will stop Satan’s dust from getting all over your house when you are sanding…
We then taped off everything we did not want paint to touch.
Ta-da! Your house is now in shambles and you won’t be able to find anything you need.
This is our sad kitchen before and after removing the cabinets:
STEP 5 – Sanding (aka the release of Satan’s dust)
Now that your kitchen and cabinets are prepped, you will begin the most terrible part of the project. This part will make you question your existence and contemplate the meaning of life.
For the love of god, please use an orbital sander. You will thank me.
We wanted to get off some of the topcoat/sheen that was on our current cabinets so that our primer would stick better. We found that it worked best to use the orbital sander on the large areas and then use a sanding block for the grooves. We found that 80 grit worked best to quickly get off some of the shine. We sanded the backs and fronts of every single cabinet and the fronts of every drawer. Did I mention that we had 52?
This took a whole day.
OH WAIT, you think that you’re done?
NO. You need to sand all of the cabinet boxes in the kitchen as well. So, Andrew sanded all of the cabinets while I sanded the boxes in the kitchen. Divide and conquer (I would also add that to your contract as well)…
Here is a photo of our house when we finished sanding:
Wear a mask and crappy clothes because nothing is safe from Satan’s powder.. especially not your lungs. Be smart people.
Once you’re done sanding, you need to wipe down the doors very well. You do not want all of your hard work to be ruined and have your paint riddled with dust fragments. We used a wet towel and a tack cloth to get it done and we let them rest overnight so we could get some much needed sleep as well.
STEP 6 – Primer, primer, primer
Yay! You’re almost done.. oh wait, you haven’t actually done anything yet. How encouraging.
So, here comes the primer. Think of this step as your friend. The better you do in this step, the easier the top coat will be.
Ideally, you will do two coats of primer. Two on the back, two on the front. Simple.
No, not simple.
Start with the backs of the cabinets and do one coat of primer on each one. We used rollers for the large flat areas and then angled brushes for the grooves. Do one coat of primer on each back and let them dry. Good news is that you have so many freaking doors to do that by the time you’re done with the last door, your first door will be dry again. Once you have done two coats of primer on the backside, you can make your way to the fronts. We didn’t care much about how the primer looked so we just flipped the doors onto their backs, painted the fronts and let them dry.
You know what was really cute?
When half of the doors got stuck to the tarp when we tried to lift them back up.
As if this couldn’t get more fun?!
We very carefully peeled them off of the plastic tarp and questioned our mortality one more time. I think this occurred mostly because we had a couple of very hot, humid days while we were painting and the paint stayed a bit more tacky at times even though they were completely dry. (Note to self – don’t paint your cabinets when its as hot as the Arabian desert)
In terms of drying time..We painted two coats on the back and then let that dry overnight. We did the 2 coats on the front the next day and then let those dry overnight as well.
Andrew painted all of the cabinets and drawer fronts while I had the lovely task of painting primer onto the cabinet boxes. I used a similar technique and painted the large expanses with a small roller and the rest with an angled paintbrush. Andrew said that I should do the kitchen because I’m a better painter than he is..
Here is a photo of the primer coat on the boxes and drawers:
Once the paint was dry there were a few spots where the primer was a little rough so we just used 100 grit sandpaper and quickly smoothed out those spots.
STEP 7 – Top Coat
Now that it’s too late to turn back and your kitchen looks like a dull matte disaster you must forge ahead.
Again, Andrew told me that he didn’t feel comfortable doing the final coat because he didn’t want to “mess it up”. Not gonna lie, I didn’t want it to be messed up either so I took on the task of doing the top coat…on everything.
You will begin this process as you did before. You will start by doing the backside of the cabinets. We did really good coats of primer so we only had to do one coat of the Benjamin Moore Advanced paint.
Here’s the trick that will save you a ton of time and effort. First paint the backs of the doors and let them dry. You can wait for them to dry overnight or you can move onto the fronts..
Get a case of pushpins and get excited.
While your backs are drying push the push pins into the back 4 corners of the cabinet door. So, when you flip the door over, the backs can continue to cure and you can paint the fronts without having to wait days and days and days. The pushpins will keep them elevated off the floor (so they wont stick to the tarp, cough cough) and you will be able to keep painting. Look at you being a super fantastic multitasking do it yourself-er.
I know what you’re thinking…Wait, won’t there be tiny holes in the back of my cabinets?
AND if you have a friend who points out that the backs of your doors have 4 tiny pinholes, then you may need new friends. You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.
So, you will slowly make your way through painting the cabinet boxes, cabinet door fronts/backs and the fronts of the drawers. Be careful to use a steady hand and watch for drips and wipe them up quickly. This paint does much better with a thin coat, thick coats will make it drippy. We found that the roller made life a lot easier but it didn’t always look as great as the paintbrush. We recommend using a 1/4in nap made for very smooth surfaces. I swear by Purdy products for painting, but they can be expensive. However, if you clean them well enough you can use them for years.
STEP 8 – Patience
Now this is the worst part..
Let it dry for a couple days.
If you rush and try to put all of your cabinets back up then you will be very disappointed when you mess up all of your paint. Rehanging the cabinets is tough work and you will inevitably scratch or create some dings in the paint, however, the more it is cured, the less this will happen.
We let ours dry for 3-4 days. In this time we decided on which hinges we wanted to use and we actually just relaxed for a few days and remembered what life was like before we took on this project.
STEP 9 – Replacing hardware
We didn’t want to completely alter our cabinet hinges because it would have required a TON of drilling and carving of the door. Ideally, I would have loved to use soft close hinges, but they are expensive and we would have had to create holes in the backs of each door to allow for the large hinge to lay flat.
So, we went with the same style hinges that we had previously. Take a look at your cabinets and see how your current hinges work before buying new ones. I actually ended up taking an old hinge with me to the store to find something that matched.
New hinges with old cabinet knobs:
We ended up using 3/8″ inset cabinet hinges in Satin Nickel to match our previous cabinet pulls.
Thankfully, I got hinges that were the same size as our previous ones so I was able to use the same guide holes that were already in the cabinet boxes (talk about pure laziness). If we decided to change our hinges completely we would have had to use wood putty to fill all of the holes prior to sanding all of the cabinets in the beginning. We then would have had to drill new guide holes.
I bought two packs of 25 on Amazon at $36 each and one pack of 10 for $19.99. Remember that each cabinet needs two hinges, some need three. Make sure you plan accordingly.
Putting the cabinets back up is a two person job.
The only cabinets that didn’t come out completely straight are the ones I tried to do by myself. Its nearly impossible to not mess up while you are trying to hold the cabinets in place, use the drill, keep the door from scratching the paint, etc. So, we attached the hinges to the doors first, and then one person held the door up while the other screwed the hinge into the cabinet box.
Remember how we numbered all of the cabinets in the beginning? Well thank god we did that because now we were surrounded by a sea of identical cabinets. Some of the numbers got un-stuck from the tarp and we had to make a few educated guesses but we figured it out.
Additionally, we added those little felt bumpers to each corner of the cabinet doors and drawers so that they wouldn’t scratch the paint every time we closed them… or more importantly, when our future children slam them when they can’t find the Doritos.
We then put back all of the original knobs. This was really a money saver. They were relatively new and we didn’t want to buy 52 new ones…No thanks, I’d like to keep my money.
STEP 10 – ENJOY
This is it. You did it. You completed the largest DIY you have ever taken on.. and it actually looks GOOD.
Don’t mind the dishes in my sink.. I just wanted you to know that the kitchen actually works.
They came out beautifully and they changed the entire FEEL of the kitchen. It is so bright and beautiful now.
Would we do this project again?
IN A HEARTBEAT. It was completely worth it. It looks as though we have spent $10,000 for new cabinets when we really just spent around $200 and a week of our time.
So sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor..
How have they held up?
So far they have been fantastic. We did this project in early September, and they are very easy to clean and wipe down, there aren’t really any chips in the paint that I can see so far.
I will post an update in February/March when we are closer to 6 months.
Best of luck on your cabinet endeavors!