kitchen cabinet saga

blackcats13May 31, 2009

Do you remember last fall when we bought this house? And I could not for the life of me figure out how to get the 50 years of built up oil/grease/dirt/gunk off the cabinets? A friend this winter said they had successfully used a sander. So, I used that as an excuse to buy myself a Festool random orbit sander for my birthday =D

It didn't work. As I'm standing there, all dejected, envisioning a) years of gross cabinets, or b) too much money being spent for new ones, DH asks, have you tried steel wool? I say, no, but I might as well. He brings some out (the roughest kind) and I try it. Would you believe IT WORKED?!?! Unbelievable. Steel wool and a little (ok, a lot of) elbow grease. I'm glad, but jeez, I wish I would've figured that out last year!!!!

But I still got an awesome sander out of it =D

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What treatment are you going to do next on the cabinets, after sanding with the steel wool?

I'm asking because I think you might want to investigate whether you should stay away from water-based paints because *maybe* any steel wool 'dusty bits' remaining on the surface will rust if you paint over them with a water-based solution.

I vaguely remember reading something about how avoiding sanding with steel wool when I was investigating painting a wooden step.

I just want to give you a heads' up, just in case!

    Bookmark   May 31, 2009 at 5:19PM
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I remember your efforts and frustration in de-gunking the cabinets. Let me congratulate you on emerging the victor!

Tools are way cool! I was sanding a chair by hand to refinish it and after much effort on my part, DH brings out his orbital sander - wow - then this tiny triangle one that was perfect for the little spots.

Betcha you are going to find so many things to use your new sander on, even if it didn't work on the cabinets. Watch out house - woman with power tools!


    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 11:01AM
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Sanding generates dust, and some of that dust will end up in your lungs, unless you take care and wear some kind of protective filter. Since your house is old enough to have lead-pigment paint on the woodwork, this is even more significant. Search under industrial hygiene.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 11:18AM
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Oh, I will definitely look up the steel wool stuff, thanks!

Jill - I LOVE having my own tools!!!

Good reminder! I specifically got the Festool to help with that (dust, not specifically lead). The cabinets were stained, not painted, but I'll take care when we get to something that was painted.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2009 at 3:42PM
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I just moved into a house that hasn't been updated in 50 years. I have the same gross kind of cabinets with gunk that won't come off. I'm going to try that steel wool trick too while I'm waiting for six plus weeks for my cabinets to come in.

In my last house I got one of those small sanders and sanded my cabinets, primed them with a good bonding primer from SW and then painted them. They came out great and stayed nice for five years while I was there and are still going strong. If you are planning on keeping those cabinets you might want to try it. You could end up with a beautiful new kitchen look for only a couple hundred.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2009 at 9:15PM
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Cleaning the cabinets with TSP will take off old oil and dirt. I tried sanding my cabinets too and the oil residue was still there. TSP cleaned it off and made a good suface for priming and/or staining.

    Bookmark   June 8, 2009 at 12:31PM
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Just wanted to note, I looked up steel wool/rust and it looks like it might be a concern. I read about it on a car refinishing forum, but maybe it is similar? Maybe as the steel wool breaks off in tiny little pieces, bits of it can get embedded in the wood. Diane, I did try the tsp and was so disappointed that it didn't work for my needs (that time anyway). So, steel wool it is. Maybe I'll use oil primer/paint (ick). It'll still be worth it.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2009 at 1:05PM
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Synthetic steel wool pads (made by 3M) are an option if you know you want to use a water-based product afterwards, and as a bonus they don't tear your hands up quite as badly as steel wool (although you'll still trash your manicure) and they last much longer because unlike steel wool you can rinse the pads out, dry them well, and reuse them. They can be a little hard to find - you are most likely to find them in a marine supply store or a specialty woodworking store, or order them online. #000 is pretty much equivalent to #0000 regular steel wool.

But, if you want to paint the cabs with a water-based paint and you've already gone at it with steel wool, put a coat of solvent-based primer-sealer (like Kilz, Bullseye or B-I-N) on first. That seals in the microscopic metal particles. Use a respirator or make sure you have REALLY good ventilation, they're super stinky and hard on the brain cells. Latex paint can be used over all three.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2009 at 1:22PM
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Oh thanks!! Yes, I've already done 4 or 5 cabinet doors with the steel wool. And DH has a whole bag of it on hand. As far as tearing up my hands, strong garden gloves solve that =D

I wonder though, I just went over the 2 I did last weekend, and either the sweat mixed with steel wool dust that dripped on them stuck more then I thought, or there is so much grease on there that the wood soaked it up and is releasing more every time I scrub the old stuff away. Is that possible? And if it is, will the Bullseye take care of it? We have several gallons just waiting to be used. Otherwise I will be saving up for the Ikea cabinets I really didn't want.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2009 at 3:09PM
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Don't paint over gucky residue. You need to get down to a clean surface for the paint to stick properly - even a high-adhesion primer won't stick to grease and dirt. Yes, it's definitely possible that when you get one layer of grease off that there's yet more underneath.

I've seen Castrol Super Clean (automotive section of Walmart or hardware store) recommended when TSP didn't work on serious grease. It's very strong so you put on a bit, scrub, rinse, move on to the next spot, lather rinse repeat. Krud Kutter is also popular but I hate this stuff, took the paint right off the baseboards when I used it to spot-clean a stained vinyl floor at my last house. Leasa used Greased Lightning with quite a bit of success in her "house of horrors" that is turning out so beautifully. I like Simple Green for degreasing, although I don't know if the gunk I've dealt with has been as bad as yours - I've moved into way too many apartments with a sticky layer of grease-dirt-nicotine over everything that I could scratch into with a fingernail. Spray it on undiluted, scrub with a green scrubby pad and rinse well. Its licorice-y smell is definitely a love it or hate it thing though! (I love it.) Heavy rubber gloves, eye protection, and plenty of ventilation with all of these.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2009 at 2:12AM
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Sigh. And I so thought I had found the resolution. I would go so far as to say it's several layers of that gunk. It just doesn't seem worth it ... until I look at the cost of replacements and the to-do list!

I've tried greased lightning. I cannot even imagine what I might be scrubbing off for all these things to not work. We do use simple green - can't decide if I love or hate the smell LOL

Maybe the answer is the steel-wool buff the finish completely off. I think I only saw re-emergence on areas where I hadn't gotten all the way down to nearly bare wood. This will take forever! By the time I'm done I might have the money to replace ;) Oh well, it's one of the few things I'm willing to do outside and my arms are getting a workout!

    Bookmark   June 29, 2009 at 9:15PM
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Just a thought, but, maybe it isn't actually 'gunk'? Maybe it's poorly applied poly or shellac or other product?

I'm wondering because in places where my painted wood work shows thru to the original stain/shellac from the 1920s, it's sticky/gooey like that. Whoever painted my trim/woodwork, didn't prep the surface so in spots it's fallen off.

Using Peel-Away 7 resolved the issue for me and cut it down to the original wood.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2009 at 4:55PM
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Well, clearly you are dealing with some other kind of finish. Have you tried denatured alcohol? If you have a shellac finish, the alcohol will dissolve it. This is the best way to test it. If it is shellac, try wiping down the doors you sanded with the denatured alcohol. If the surface looks even after that, you can prime with a shellac-based primer and then paint with latex or oil. Be careful using steel wool with shellac though, if you are not fast enough, you will end up with steel wool fibers in the finish. I just juse a rough washcloth (cheap one).

    Bookmark   July 2, 2009 at 3:28PM
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Hm. That is an interesting theory, but the parts that seem to reappear are like ... splatter. Like if you flicked wet hands at something and some drops of water scattered over it, except this isn't water. Other then that, they seem to be staying clean. Of course, in some of the worst spots I've completely rubbed the finish off. If I close my eyes and lightly run fingertips over them I can't actually feel anything, I can just see it.

Maybe I should just prime one and see what happens after a week or so. If this isn't going to work I'm not going to spend the time and energy painting them. I'll just steel wool the worst of it so I can touch it without being completely grossed out!

    Bookmark   July 4, 2009 at 3:38PM
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Y'know, it just occurred to me that if you're really sunk on those doors but you can get the cabinet boxes to a salvageable state, and you're fairly happy with the cabinet layout, you might consider just replacing the doors instead of ripping them all out and installing the Ikea cabs you say you really don't want. Scherr's gets rave reviews over on the Kitchens forum and elsewhere for having excellent replacement cabinet doors at very reasonable prices. The website's still more than a bit bollixed so I suggest downloading the .pdf catalog to check out.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2009 at 10:56PM
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Thanks, that's now in the bookmark file! It's not that I hate Ikea so much, just that there isn't a budget for the kitchen. It's not supposed to be for a few more years yet. The whole thing needs to be redone. The boxes closest to the stove are no better then the doors. I'm going to try the paint sometime this month on just one door and see what happens. Honestly, even with the spots on them they are SOOOO MUCH BETTER then they were before. When I'm being smart I recognize that. When I'm sick of the kitchen I start thinking Ikea ;)

    Bookmark   July 7, 2009 at 11:22PM
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Hey Blackcats!

I've been lurking...tired of puttying the windows -anyway- This is what I tried.
Take all the bottom doors off and replace with some beautiful fabric curtains either handmade or ready made. My great granmothers kitchen was that way and I have very fond memories of it. I used a spring rod real tight to hold them in place. It adds a ton of cheery color quickly and cuts the painting in 1/2!

Good luck and have fun!

    Bookmark   August 6, 2009 at 8:01PM
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Hi Heather! Thanks for the tip! For me ... well, I have 2 cats so I'm not sure that would work. However, I've seen it done and it is a pretty look. I've been over in kitchens lately. We're really seriously considering a cheap as possible temporary replacement. Time lines are always off anyway, so my 3 - 5 year plan (or 8 yr) might turn into 10+. I don't think I can deal with it for that long!

    Bookmark   August 7, 2009 at 11:33AM
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Ha ha ha- yea no animals when I did it here! Our kitchen remodel went from 5 years to 15 and we still haven't done it...(face lifts with paint are cheap so that's the route we went) I am afraid of what we might find and having costs sky rocket-it has been remuddled so many times- so instead we do 1 regular room a year. Kitchen full remodel will be last.

I did use Comet on mine too. The kitchen cleanser had the grit and the grease eater. I found it cut down through the gummy finish and left it etched ready to prime! Just an alternative idea.


    Bookmark   August 7, 2009 at 12:12PM
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