I have a rental apartment in my home which has cabinets that are about
40 years old. I don't have the time or funds to replace them. Does
anyone have any suggestions about repainting them so that they would
look presentable? They currently have a wood finish with a polyurethane
or shellac over it.
House I grew up in had painted cupboards - looked fine, better than the
melamine covered crap that replaced them (popular in 70's Britain).
Do they have any detail or are they flat? A creamy off-white paint is a bit
boring but looks fresh and clean on flat doors. Are they actually made of
wood or is it a simulated finish? Stripping and re-varnishing or oiling
might be an option - difficult to tell without seeing them.
Any of that help or am I missing the point?
Tim (in the UK)
All of the posters' suggestions have been helpful. The cabinets are wood
and have a light stain on them. They are slightly "glossy" but I don't
know how to tell whether that is polyurethane or shellac. Basically,
they have scratches on the surface that don't go beneath the outer
coating but they make the cabinets look pretty beat up. I figure that
with some sort of new finish and new door handles that they would look
I have to watch it, as I'm English, so terminology problems abound...
Assuming your shellac is the same stuff I'm thinking of (used in French
Polish), then meths will dissolve it, whereas it won't touch polyurethane.
Put some on a white rag and rub an inconspicuous bit of the cupboard - if
cloth goes brown, it's probably shellac - or you haven't cleaned your
kitchen in 30 years ;-)
Hmm - sounds like they'd be a good candidate for rejuvenation - considering
the rubbish that's sold these day - real wood cabinets cost a bomb, at
least over here. A light sand and re-varnish might be enough to spruce them
up. If you feel like more work, strip and re-finish - as you say, fitting
new knobs will help - that's becoming popular here with various fancy and
traditional style knobs and handles being sold for exactly that purpose.
Painting is definitely a quick fix that will look alright - and doesn't
stop you stripping and doing something else later.
Good luck :)
Tim (in the UK)
Dismount the doors, TSP every external surface, sand lightly, clean off the
sanding debris, prime. Then paint. Replace hardware (hinges too) rehang.
Very doable. Simpler if the new hardware can use the holes of the old hardware
(might not need filling).
Takes some time, but it's very doable.
You can also buy new doors, and veneer for the cases, at Rockler.com.
Much cheaper than new cabinets, but probably more expensive than
refinishing. Amount of time might not be too different, though.
If it's just the finish on your old cabinets that's in rough shape, I'd
sand them all very lightly (try to avoid sanding through the finish
into the wood) and then put a new coat or 2 of polyurethane varnish on
top. As long as you've sanded, poly should stick to most previous
In my opinion, white paint would look fine too, unless you have some
really nice-looking wood in your cabinet doors. If the wood is old and
dark, a light-colored paint will brighten up the room, too. You'll
still want to sand before painting.
Shellac will be softened by alcohol (I don't know what "meths" in a
previous post means), but alcohol won't soften varnish (including poly)
If they were mine, I'd refinish instead of painting over it. Real wood
always looks better than paitned wood, and if you paint over the
varnish, it will peel. If you really want to paint them, you will have
to do enough sanding (scuffing) so that the paint will stick. Since
you have to do some sanding anyway refinish them. Since I can't see
them I have no idea if they really do need to be refinished of or just
lightly sanded and another coat of oil based polyeurethane put on them.
I recently was faced with just this issue. I repainted the cabinets and
installed new hinges and handles.
The cabinets were finished wood. I sanded using a vibratory sander to rough
up the shininess, then primed with Zinser Bulls Eye 123 primer sealer stain
killer (you gotta prime and I have found this primer to be effective in many
applications in the house...). Then 2 coats of off yellow paint as I went
for light color over the original dark. I painted the doors on a table top,
one side at a time, removed from the cabinets, and they took the longest as
they were 2-sided. The drawers were also done on the table top as well. I
used a 1.5 or 2 inch brush all around.
It really did brighten up the room greatly and looks very nice now. It also
took a while to get through it all - about 30 doors and 10 drawers.
My only problem that I did not foresee was in the one case where I have 2
doors that meet without a post in between them. Since the doors grew in
width due to the newly added paint, they knocked into each other and I had
to put the hinges into new holes. over just a bit. If you have this I would
suggest filling the hinge holes really well and then drilling new holes
after all the painting.
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