Project Guide

How to Reface Your Kitchen Cabinets

Evaluate Your Kitchen Cabinets
A refacing professional discussing a cabinet refacing finish with a man and a woman in a kitchen.

If you like your kitchen's current layout, cabinet refacing may be the perfect update option. However, you have to be sure that your cabinets are in the right shape to be refaced rather than replaced.

Evaluate the condition of your cabinets by looking at these elements:

  • Plywood or MDF construction
  • Smooth surfaces in good condition
  • Internal hardware in good condition - drawer tracks, shelves, internal storage structures
  • Solid wood facing frames

If any of these elements are not present, your current cabinets may not take well to refacing. It may be less expensive in the long run to invest in replacement cabinets.

Prepare to Work on the Cabinets
A person cutting plywood for a cabinet refacing.
  • Order your refacing materials and any new hardware.
  • Remove all the contents of your drawers and cabinets and store them safely in another room.
  • Remove all cabinet doors, drawers and drawer fronts.
  • Remove all the hardware from the cabinets and drawers.
  • Wear gloves and clean the sides and faces of the cabinets with a cleaner formulated to remove grease and oils. Allow time to dry thoroughly.
  • Scuff all the exposed surfaces with a medium-grit sandpaper, then wipe down all surfaces with a tack cloth.
  • Measure and cut plywood panels to fit the exposed ends of the cabinet. Apply carpenter glue and affix the plywood panel to the cabinet. Press in place, then secure with 2d finish nails. 
  • Fill in any holes with wood filler. Allow time to dry, then lightly sand for a smooth, uniform surface.
Apply the Veneer
A person measuring the edge of a cabinet to be refaced.

Rails are the horizontal faces of the cabinets; stiles are the vertical pieces. Measure all of the rails and stiles and record the measurement of each.

  • Use a utility knife and ruler or straightedge to cut the veneer into strips with the wood grain or pattern running lengthwise. Each strip should be 1/2-inch wider and 2 inches longer than the corresponding rail or stile. 
  • Always begin applying veneer with the stiles, or vertical lengths.
  • Take the first piece and align it so that it slightly overhangs all the edges of the stile.
  • Peel one corner of the backing away and then press it into place. Continue to peel away the backing and press the adhesive side down as you go.
  • Once the strip is in place, take a small wood block and firmly press down the length of the strip to force out any air bubbles and ensure the glue adheres firmly and smoothly.
  • Repeat the process with the adjacent stile.
  • Using a utility knife and a ruler or straightedge as guide, trim the excess veneer from all the edges of the stiles.
  • Next, apply the veneer to the rails so that it overlaps the stiles on either side.
  • Apply the veneer to the rails of the cabinet so that it overlaps the stiles on both sides.
  • Use a carpenter square to line up the join between the two pieces of veneer, then run your utility knife along the guideline, slicing through both pieces of veneer.
  • Remove the excess piece of top veneer from the rail, then lift up the edge of the rail veneer. Remove the cut piece of stile veneer from underneath. Then smooth the edge of the rail veneer back into place. This should create a neat join.
  • Continue finishing all the cabinet facing.

Tip: Be sure to change the knife blade after every few cuts to ensure that the cuts stay clean 

Prepare the Doors and Drawers
A person sanding the edge of a kitchen cabinet drawer.
  • Clean the cabinet doors and drawer fronts. Allow them to dry thoroughly.
  • Sand the surfaces and wipe down with a tack cloth.
  • Stain the cabinet doors and drawer fronts to match the new veneer. Use a paintbrush to fill in any detail areas.
  • Allow time to dry thoroughly.

Apply Protective Coating
A person applying polyurethane to a cabinet surface after refacing.

Use water-based polyurethane as a final protective coating on the cabinet surfaces. Water-based dries fast and is odor-free, making it easy to work with.

  • Apply the first coat of polyurethane with a paintbrush recommended for the finish you've chosen. Apply in a thin layer, brushing in the direction of the wood grain or pattern, in even single strokes. 
  • Complete the first coat and allow it to dry.
  • Lightly sand all the surfaces with fine-grit sandpaper, then wipe away any sanding dust with a tack cloth.
  • Repeat these steps to apply a second and third coat of polyurethane. 
Reassemble the Cabinets
A  person reattaching a door to a kitchen cabinet.
  • Orient the doors so that all the patterns run in the same direction.
  • Install the door hinges, positioning each hinge one hinge-length from the top and from the bottom of the door. Mark the screw hole locations on the door.
  • Use a drill to create screw holes in the door, then affix the hinges with wood screws.
  • Use a piece of scrap wood to create a jig and use it to create the holes in the cabinet for the hinges.
  • Attach the doors to the cabinets.
  • Attach the drawer fronts to the boxes and then install the drawer pulls.
  • If the internal hardware can be reused, install the old drawer slides onto the drawer boxes. If needed, replace with new drawer slides. Slide drawers into place.

Kitchen cabinet refacing is experiencing a surge of popularity because it saves money over a full remodel, and it is a green solution. The process reuses the standing cabinet structure, keeping the old cabinet boxes from clogging up a waste facility. In addition, there are refacing options for just about any style, and while it can be tackled as a DIY project, refacing can also be requested from professional installers.

Don't worry if you don't own all of the tools needed to reface your kitchen cabinets. Rent tools and trucks for any project at The Home Depot.