Help! Ugly plywood cabinets!

Swiss_Chard_FanaticMarch 17, 2014

EDITED MONTHS LATER TO SAY: This is an old post. Scroll to bottom for latest updates.

What would you do with these? I hate the ugly dark color. But notice that they have heavy wood grains and knots that cannot be covered up by paint? What to do here?

More pics below.

This post was edited by Swiss_Chard_Fanatic on Tue, Oct 7, 14 at 14:55

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Heavy knots and grains that paint just would not cover up!

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 2:47PM
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You can see that these cabinets have already been stained in a dark stain color. Upon cleaning them, some of the stain came off and now the cabinet doors are varying colors from medium to dark shades.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 2:49PM
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Well new cabinets can be expensive but not always. If you look for sales or at home building/recycling places if you have any nearby.
You could possibly purchase just new cabinet doors, not the whole cabinets?

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 2:54PM
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Purchasing all new cabinets is out of the question for us, as it is too expensive and labor-intensive. We prefer to go with something easier/simpler/less expensive without having it look or feel "trailery." We are looking for ideas because we honesty have no clue about kitchen cabinets.

We are open to the idea of purchasing new cabinet doors, but this then raises the question of how to match them up with the boxes. Even the boxes have heavy grains and knots in places which makes painting them a problem.

This post was edited by Swiss_Chard_Fanatic on Mon, Mar 17, 14 at 14:58

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 2:56PM
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NHBabs z4b-5a NH

Use a filler of some type to fill in the knots on the inside of the doors. It may take a couple of fills to get it flat since most fillers will shrink as they dry. Once it is level, sand smooth along with any rough spots in the wood.

We have had good experiences with B-I-N primer sealer (Zinsser brand) which will cover and keep the stain from bleeding through, though you might want to use 2 coats. Then paint the cabinets the color of your choice (I like using gloss in a kitchen so that it's easier to wipe down) and change out the hardware if you want something different.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 3:11PM
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You may want to consider having your cabinets "refaced".

"Cabinet refacing is a cost-effective way to give your kitchen a whole new look by replacing cabinet door and drawer fronts and veneering the exterior of the cabinet boxes. Your kitchen layout stays the same and the cabinets stay in place, so you avoid the inconveniences associated with major renovation and demolition."

Search for local refacing companies in your area and get a quote. Doesn't cost you anything.

Proper cabinet painting would require a lot of time and good cabinet paint isn't free either so do your research on that.

Here is a link that might be useful: source of quoted passage above (Home Depot)

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 3:24PM
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I would totally repaint those and I wouldn't worry about knots on the inside of the doors at all. (Probably wouldn't even worry about knots on the outside, either but that's just me)

Take the doors off, sand them good, prime/sand, prime/sand, prime/sand and paint. New hardware and there you go. Not fast but definitely cheap and relatively easy.

Maybe you could look into a local place that you could take the sanded doors to and they'd spray finish them for not too much $$ either? Personally, I'd stay away from a high gloss... I'd go with more of an eggshell enamel, still easy to clean but not so much of a sheen helps the grain kind of 'fade' into the paint.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 3:38PM
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Something I'm worried about with all that sanding would be, what if the doors start to break up along the wood grains and chunks or pieces fall away? Especially that area in the third pic I posted along the edge of the door. I've never done any sanding in my life before, so not sure what to expect. About to get a crash course.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 4:02PM
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Wood filler, a good bonding primer, and paint are your friend. And sweat. Good old fashioned sweat.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 4:07PM
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Here are some nice instructions/inspiration. I agree with the previous poster--do not worry about the knots inside your cabinets, since you won't see them most of the time. Looks like the fronts are fairly smooth, and even if some grain texture remains, it will look so much better in a lighter color. Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 4:50PM
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We had very similar style cabinets in our first home. Although they had already been painted. We took the doors down, painted the inside and faces, then attached a small trim piece with a tiny nail gun that we borrowed. I worked for a high end custom home builder and the jack of all trades guy that worked there told me to use drywall mud for the nail holes, where the trim met, and old pull holes. Worked like a charm. Used a good oil based paint at the time, but I'd probably use a good primer and then a ceramic based paint or something. I can't tell you how the insides looked, I can't remember anything to crazy, but I used drywall mud everywhere.

The only thing to be careful of was that I got a little too carried away with paint and a couple doors didn't fit properly so we had to sand a little again. Just to warn you.

Changed all the handles to ORB cup pulls, knobs and hinges. Looked awesome! I think you can do it!

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 4:58PM
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Wow I'm feeling really encouraged after reading all the responses.

FamCook, I hadn't even thought about attaching trim pieces! What a great idea. This would give it the look of face framed doors.


Refacing is something I am definitely considering but I'll need to price it out and see how much it would cost vs the sand/fill/prime/paint solution, which seems rather inexpensive. Also, I wonder how long the refacing solution will last? 5 yrs? 10 yrs? 20 yrs?

Whatever we end up deciding on doing, it has to be something that DH and I can do, and we are newbie DIYers.

This post was edited by Swiss_Chard_Fanatic on Mon, Mar 17, 14 at 17:41

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 5:32PM
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On the right is where we started. On the left is what we ended with after removing old trim, adding new trim, and painting.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 5:56PM
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Here's how the final reworked cabs looked after installed and with hardware.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 6:00PM
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whoa irmaly! That is a fantastic redo!

OP: I like to use those spongey sanding blocks, fwiw. And use lots of tack cloth to wipe up the dust between sandings.

If you do an internet search you find more than you need to know about painting cabinets. Probably youtube has a bunch of videos as well.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 9:56PM
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Refacing is not an inexpensive alternative. I had planned to reface the cabinets in my current kitchen, but it was less expensive to have new cabinets made. I refaced the cabinets in my old house, but was keeping the layout and had a small child at the time. The thought of doing a full remodel at the time seemed daunting. Trimming out your cabinets and painting seems to be a labor intensive, but sound solution.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 10:49PM
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Irmaly, that redo is amazing! What an inspiration, that you can take dated and make new and fresh!

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 11:06PM
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Refacing can be an economical choice if you DIY, but its not a simple job. If you hire a refacing contractor, it is expensive because its very labor intensive. I would paint the cabinets. Do the surface prep properly, that is critical. And definitely fill those knot holes in, at least on the exterior of the doors. Its a good idea to get door trim, you can get a shaker look without spending a lot. But even if you don't get the trim, just fresh paint and new hardware and it will look great. Yes, painting is a lot of work, but its the least expensive option.

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 11:09PM
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Have you considered whitewashing?

Here is a link that might be useful: how to whitewash

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 11:14PM
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Here is a link that might be useful: 3K whitewashed cabinet

    Bookmark   March 17, 2014 at 11:17PM
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Preparing the surface is absolutely key. We sanded and sanded and filled holes and used a top of the line primer. Primed twice with zinsser BIN @ about $40 a gallon. Then of course used excellent cabinet paint. We have had our "new" kitchen now for over two years and it gets a real workout. Paint has held up even better than I expected. And look at what a nightmare I started with.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 9:40AM
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You people are so inspirational! I am totally jazzed for a spruce-up, now!

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 9:53AM
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I think they'll be great painted. Don't worry about filling all the knot holes, just do the big ones on the front. The cabinets might still look like painted old wood cabinets but they will look like they belong in your house, and the whole tone of the room will be much happier. There is no problem with having kitchen cabinets that look like they came with the house (in your case, that will come from having slab front partial overlay doors and the wood valance over the sink). It'll look retro and charming even if you don't change the door style, which, lucky you, is a good neutral one. I'd move the handles on the upper cabinets down to where I could reach them, though.

Painting will be a lot of work. Before you commit to it, do get some measurements of the room and at least try out the Ikea kitchen planner to get an idea of how much replacing them would really cost. Depending on how handy you are and how much help you have, it would probably take less time to remove the old cabinets and install new ones than to do all that prepping and painting, and you might decide that the cost difference is worth it. We hired out our Ikea kitchen installation, but their cabinets are made to be homeowner-friendly and DIY-able. (The hard part of our installation was the fact that our room was completely out of square, which might be the case with your house too.) If you try out the Ikea planner, be sure you plug in one of the lower-cost doors like Applad. Some of their other door styles can more than double the cost of the kitchen. Ikea might be changing to a new kitchen cabinet system (speculative at this point), so you could probably catch a good sale on the current one. Also be aware that the price you get with the planner doesn't include all the bits and pieces you don't know you need (unless you are doing it at the store with one of their kitchen people), so add at least another 1/2 to the price it generates.

Good luck! My mom's kitchen had cabinets like that and she painted them with a roller (lol). She has had a cheerful white kitchen for many years as a result. (She also says she hopes to never paint kitchen cabinets again.) On the other hand, she painted the insides of the boxes barn red, and you can't get that with Ikea.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 10:25AM
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One of my all time favorite kitchen makeovers! I almost did this to my 1950 slab door kitchen, but finally decided to do the full remodel.

Here's one pic. To see the full before and after story with pics, click on the link below.


Here is a link that might be useful: Vintage Aqua & White Kitchen Makeover

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 3:02PM
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I was thinking what compy was thinking, about how you could totally do something bold and cool.

I love this, myself:

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 3:13PM
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Irmaly, you did an amazing job!

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 3:25PM
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I wonder if you could beadboard wallpaper over the cabinets. Also, could you get rid of some upper doors?

Here is a link that might be useful: DIY beadboard wallpaper on kitchen cabinets

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 6:31PM
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Oh birch plywood cabinets...They can be tiresome. However...

As a painter (my real job) I've done several cabinet/kitchen jobs. Don't panic. You can do this!

Remove doors from the bases. Take off hinges and hardware, and even if you are replacing them, save at least one of each if you want to keep the same size. That way you can take them to a store, and size accordingly! If you want to change the sizes, fill the holes with putty!

If you want to fill the holes...Use DAP Plastic Wood. (It's in an "upside down" can.) Wear gloves, because if you get it on your skin, you basically have to file it off if it dries! Just putty knife it in an skim to a flat surface. Overfill a smidge for sanding, but it doesn't shrink much.
Just follow the directions. It's pretty easy.

Sand with an 80 or 100 grit. Get a good scuff, but you don't need to go terribly crazy. Just make sure you break up that varnish...If there's any left. If they feel rough to the touch, hit them with a 180 or 200 grit sandpaper.

If you want to use oil enamel, prime with a good oil primer. However, oil is tedious and not-so-fun to cleanup.

I use BIN Shellac primer on cabinets. It is amazing at stain/grain blocking, and adheres to any surface, so you get a good base. It's smelly, as it is alcohol based, but it cures very fast, and the smell dissipates quickly. If you don't want the smell, use BIN 1*2*3* primer. 2 very thin coats of that, though, as it is a bit thick.

Personally, I would use a latex enamel, as latex is easier to work with. (I would also use a gloss or semi-gloss, as those finishes can take more of a beating.) You can use regular paint, but it doesn't contain the hardeners that an enamel has, so you would have to finish coat it with a polyurethane.

You don't have stiles, so you can roll them. I would use a good-quality foam roller, to avoid nap marks from a conventional roller. Here's the trick to re-painting cabinets, THIN coats. Think "eggshell" thin. And you need to wait at least four to six hours between coats. I do at the minimum three coats. Cabinets take a lot of abuse.

The thin coats allow the paint to dry consistently and get a good cure.

Three P's: Prep! Prime! Paint! Take your time, be patient, and your cabinets will look beautiful!

*One other thing, and it's important. Once painting is finished, let them cure for at least 24 hours before re-installing, even if they feel dry to the touch. That paint needs to get hard!!

This is a link to my last cabinet/kitchen overhaul. I still wish I had taken more finish pictures.
I didn't have my good camera with me that day.

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask!

Here is a link that might be useful: Kate's Painting: Murt's Kitchen

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 8:01PM
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I painted my original kitchen cabinets with Benjamin Moore's Advance paint and am amazed at the quality finish I was able to achieve. It filled in or at least smoothed over so many of the imperfections. It's expensive paint, but this is not a job you will want to repeat too soon so worth it. In fact, that was how I approached the project and bought the best quality supplies I could find. I sanded, primed and followed with 2 coats of paint. I used a foam roller followed with a brush at the edges to eliminate drips. Let everything dry for 2 days before you really use them again. I think you can make those cabinets look great.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 9:59PM
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These were a good, smooth birch plywood. My carpenter eased the edges and made a nice rabbeted edge, then we added trim. Primed, painted with BM Impervo, new hardware. Bought the hinges on line and don't like them, but they are what they are.....I think they turned out very well. Solid as a rock....

    Bookmark   March 18, 2014 at 10:13PM
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That transformation you did with your cabinets is absolutely amazing. Do you think that newbie DIYers like my husband and I can do that with ours?

To the posters who mentioned doing something bold: I definitely want to stick with something that will not go out of style. I'm much more inclined to paint them white and install brushed nickel hardware.

I prefer something contemporary and do not at all care for "cute" or "cottagy" or 50s or retro. I like things that look more modern.


How can you tell they are birch? If indeed they are birch, is it possible to make them look like the attached picture? I do love the attached picture; the wood looks satiny and velvety and bright. I'd love to have those cabinets. And I love the shaker style. But I'm doubtful if my cabinets can go that light of a shade. Maybe with enough sanding they can? What do you think?


To the posters saying that painting will be a lot of work, why do you say that? I just recently got done painting multiple rooms including ceilings (multiple coats). Surely it couldn't be that hard.

In conclusion, I am very close to making a decision now, thanks to all the helpful posts! If I can get a light color out of these cabinets I will gladly stain them a very light golden color as in the picture I've attached. But if not, I will paint them white.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 5:25PM
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"Do you think that newbie DIYers like my husband and I can do that with ours?" Yes, as long as you play by the rules. You have to take your time. You have to fill holes where necessary and sand them good. You have to apply two coats of GOOD primer (zinnsser BIN is what we used). Sand lightly after the first coat. Do not take on any next step until everything is completely dry. Then use the best paint you can afford--a paint made for cabinets. We used BM Advance paint. It takes a long time to dry between coats. You cannot over apply it and you will have to wait at least two days between coats.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 5:38PM
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A friend of mine just repainted her kitchen cabinets using the Rustoleum Cabinet Transformations. I have to say that I was pretty skeptical, but her cabinets came out pretty fabulous. She has the old pine cabinets with the funky black hinges circa 1970s and she was able to paint, rehinge and put on new pulls for around $200.

Here is a link that might be useful: Rustoleum Transformations

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 5:42PM
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Some beautiful examples of what can be done above.

Some of your doors look pretty rough to fill, around the edges and such. If you are painting anyway, consider having some new plywood cut to the same size as some of those. If you don't have access to a table saw, perhaps one of the box stores will make the cuts for you.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 6:21PM
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I worked in a lumber yard/hardware store before starting my painting business. One of my favorite jobs ever...You never knew what adventure would walk through the door!

That being said...I've seen a lot of birch plywood cabinets! There's actually a set in the utility room, and the kitchen cabinets too, of the rental I'm living in while our house is being built! (They are a maple finish.)

Wow those are pretty cabinets! I tend to like darker cabinets myself, but those might just win me over...

Your cabinets, however, being plywood....I don't think you can get them that light. Dark stain tends to seep in, and with regular wood, you can apply a wood bleach, then sand to remove the stain. But plywood is composed of thin layers, and I would worry that in the attempt to sand away the stain, you could go too deep.

You could do a test, sand the back of a door. See if it lightens up. If it doesn't turn out the way you like, you can always paint. Don't go crazy buying stain and clear coat until you do the sanding test.

I apologize if I ramble...

    Bookmark   March 19, 2014 at 10:16PM
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I have always painted my rooms and recently a bathroom vanity, which was way more work than room/ceiling/trim painting.

I'm wondering whether you might consider using gel stain. It's almost like paint but will allow some grain to show through.

The most popular choice is General Master Java (it's dark), but it goes so much faster than any paint treatment because you can use it straight without much prep work, no major sanding or primer. It's also a lot easier to achieve a more professional look because you don't have to worry about brush strokes, smoothness, etc.

plywood with General Finishes Java

It's actually darker in real life. See below for kitchen makeover.

Here is a link that might be useful: gel stain cab makeover

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 11:31AM
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I'm with Happy_Girl on the painting. :)
I feel like a pro as many times as I've stripped cabs, or just painted them. PREP makes all the difference.

I'd also use the putty. Incredible stuff. Don't get it on your clothes. It acts like foam insulation and bonds for life.

Resist the urge to use Kilz as your primer. Kilz is designed for drywall, not wood. An oil based primer is a real key to a great, durable finish. You could also look for an oil based, adhesive primer. Great base! I agree with B.I.N., but have also used Inslx' (now BM) STIX. Makes paint go on like buttah. I choose Cabinet Coat for the paint, though. It's designed specifically for trim and cabinets, dries hard as a ROCK, and clean-up with this is water.

That said. Cabinet doors are $2-$5 at reuse centers. Here to tell 'ya. Measure your cabinets, then measure the doors. Look for doors a little larger, but not smaller than the ones you have. If you're really on a budget, This is absolutely a great way to go. Again, here to tell 'ya.

Since those doors are already removed for their cabinets, easier to paint! They would probably cover enough of the face frame, you could fill and paint those easily.

Those knots are hard. Makes the cabinets look like old plywood, don't they? I wouldn't worry too much about resale. Paint the color you love because someone's going to have the money to pull those babies out.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 11:33AM
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I used Cabinet Coat on my cabinets - brushed it on - and they look fantastic. Much more durable than regular latex paint.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2014 at 2:56PM
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I am very eager to get started on these cabinets. What do you guys think I should use to patch up those holes--bondo or wood putty? From what I've read it looks like Bondo is the best choice because putty will crack with time. I live in a hot and humid climate; do I need to be worried about the bondo causing problems because it will not expand and shrink with the cabinets?

I won't know if I want to stain these until I take the sander to them. I suppose I should do that first, before applying any wood filler product. I'll take pics.

By the way, I've cleaned all of these cabinets inside and out using a solution of warm water, mild soap, and a little bit of bleach. Then I sprayed and wiped down everything with mold killer. But I'm still noticing a musty smell to them. How can I get rid of this smell? From what I've read, painting the inside of the cabinet boxes would be very very hard and I can't reach all the way in there.

This post was edited by Swiss_Chard_Fanatic on Sat, Mar 22, 14 at 13:16

    Bookmark   March 22, 2014 at 1:11PM
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Hold on with the sander if you're planning to use gel stain. It only requires cleaning and light sanding, if at all. That's the beauty of General Finishes gel stain.
I also used Rustoleum Cabinet Transformation on one bathroom vanity, and have to say that it adhered a lot less than the GF gel stain. In fact, it started sliding right off despite following the instructions.
If I were you, I'd call the customer service of General Finishes and talk to one their experts about what they recommend on how to proceed, including what filler to use. They are extremely helpful and knowledgeable.

Here is a link that might be useful: GF gel stain

    Bookmark   March 23, 2014 at 11:20AM
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I see recommendations for trying open containers of baking soda or coffee, when I Google for musty cabinet (or furniture) smells. But I suspect that painting or somehow sealing the interior of the cabinets may be the thing that really works.

I really do understand the hassles of painting cabinet interiors (done it before, and will be doing it on this house too!) But with a step ladder and a small roller on a longish handle, coupled with a brush to get the far corners, it might not be as bad as you think.

Plus, depending on what you use, it can really change the look and feel of the interior, in my experience.

I found this thread in a contractor forum, discussing the pros and cons of using Bondo or wood putty. One poster did say if your climate goes from wet to dry the Bondo (in his opinion) would crack less than wood putty. But I think Bondo can only be used if you paint, not stain.
Bondo or wood putty?

In my opinion, because of the heavy knots that will need filling, I'd probably choose paint instead of stain. But I agree with everyone can do this!

    Bookmark   March 23, 2014 at 1:40PM
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In the case of musty or moldy smells, an oil-based primer would be your best bet. You can use those other things to get rid of a smell, but the least bit of moisture brings it back.

I think I mentioned to resist the urge to use Kiilz. It is created for drywall, where it remains the most effective.

All in all, last time I checked, painting cabinets was far from brain surgery. It's not necessarily a walk in the park, but just get off your duff, make a decision and do it. Boom. Done. Like most things, the most difficult aspect of the whole job is just starting. Doing it right the 1st time dictates its durability. That's why there is a Paint forum and a gudzillion places to read about the many ways to do this right. In a nutshell, they've all been covered in thread. Now. Just do it.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2014 at 3:01PM
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I would take the doors off, paint the boxes, and have open storage. You probably have your food in containers anyway if it smells musty inside, so just get pretty ones. Really, with the doors splitting and dropping knots and smelling, why put time and money into them? I know this isn't your only big house project, so use your resources wisely.

    Bookmark   March 23, 2014 at 5:00PM
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Ha. Exactly like mine. Got the old wood finish off with a belt sander (fast). Primed. Painted with a roller. (fast). Added a few sticks of trim wood in a contrasting color (cheap). While doors were off, painted the box same color. (Re-did the interior a few years back). Done and happy with the brighter look and little expense.
P.S. You've lived with knotholes on the inside, for how long? Dab on some Shellac, prime and paint. You'll never notice them. Got pictures yet???

    Bookmark   March 23, 2014 at 5:44PM
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Update: I have been wanting to get started but hubby is not yet ready and if I mention the kitchen to him he gets very irritated. I said what if I get started on my own; he said no because I have zero experience and I might mess something up and cause us more expenses to fix it. So I'm stuck. Stuck. Stuck. Can't do anything. Can't talk to him about it or he'll get irritated. I feel like I'm trapped in a corner.

I'd like to get one of those spray painters at Lowes for $80 and paint the inside of the kitchen cabinets white too, but I have to wait for his time schedule and there are so many other house projects that I also can't just get started on my own because I have zero experience with these things and he's afraid I'll mess something up. So again, have to wait on him...I feel like I'm going to explode. Anyone else in my situation?

I asked him if he thinks I can get started on sanding just the cabinet doors and he said no he doesn't think that's a good idea because I have zero experience with sanding...ugh...and he's so busy...

He's a busy person with lots of responsibilities and has very little spare time, while I have all the time in the world and I'm sitting on my hands unable to do anything, helpless, because I have zero experience. I want to get started on things but he says no. I'm going crazy.

This post was edited by Swiss_Chard_Fanatic on Tue, Apr 15, 14 at 13:51

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 1:47PM
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That's frustrating. However, I don't think sanding requires that much experience.
What's the current plan? I was thinking of your cabinets yesterday when I saw this kitchen:

Here is a link that might be useful: one kings lane kitchen makeover

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 2:43PM
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My DH never wanted me to do anything because it would take too long to teach me or redo things, as much of a perfectionist as I am. That created a huge inertia, since he worked 16 hours a day, almost 7 days a week. It all = nothing.

With him gone, and him leaving 3 generations of tools behind, I've taught myself almost all of their uses and functions. Before I discovered YouTube.

Now. If you're going to sand them anyway, what the heck do you have to lose by starting on a part of the cupboard that isn't seen? Plus, there's no detail: the face frame. They're a nice, flat surface.

Take a base cabinet door off (so you can sit on the floor) and starting with a good, 60-80 grit sand paper, start rubbing with the grain. If you start crossing the grain, it'll show up later under your paint or stain and look horrible, so stick with it. Use a sanding pad, because it'll save your fingers from pressing.

I predict your arms will quickly tire. Normal.

Another thing to try is to get some Citristrip and a plastic scraper.
Staring again with a base cabinet, put cardboard or paper down on the floor. Tape it there.
Now put the stuff on with a paint brush like you're putting on frosting. Not so thick it drips off, but thick enough that it's not drying.
Leave it for an hour, maybe 2. If you see some drying, add another layer just there.

Then, WITH THE GRAIN, take your plastic (not metal) scraper and squeegee the stuff down onto the cardboard. You might almost be holding it at a 90 degree angle, but be careful not to gouge the wood. No need to be delicate, though. When it's all scraped off, use a scrubbie and some water to neutralize and get the remaining stripper off. No need for chemicals and you can do this in place.

There's really no need to be delicate, either, because at some point, your DH will sand probably just because he told you not to. But if you use this stripper well, you won't need to sand. I'm living proof.

So... What have you got to lose?
Pull up those big-girl pants and give it a try.

If I can teach myself to build cabinets with tools that were [ahem] too difficult to explain and too dangerous for someone not familiar with them (huh?) you can sand or use nontoxic stripper.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 3:07PM
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"So... What have you got to lose?
Pull up those big-girl pants and give it a try. "

I totally agree, get started and show him you can do it. He just doesn't want to do it himself.

I have taught my grown children that it if you want something done - stop waiting around for someone else to do it for you.
Roll up your sleeves, do some research on here and you-tube, get your self organized and get to it!!

You can do it! You might surprise yourself and your DH to what you are capable of.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 4:29PM
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Divorce, trade him in for a new husband - just kidding.

Do you have an experienced friend who can help guide you (more so to give DH a sense that you are not doing this alone)?

Agree, time to put on the big girl panties. :-)

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 4:51PM
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I would tell DH that the odds are very high that you will most likely outlive him. Given that, it's better to jump in and begin to learn how to do some of this while he's still around to use as a consultant than to try when no one is readily available. And the last time I checked, making mistakes is a part of learning -- so let the fun begin! I learned all of this the hard way. My DH could do anything around the house, including taught himself to build furniture. He went from healthy to severely disabled over night, and 18 months later I was a widow at 56. Starting from ground zero with home, auto, and investments was one of the most difficult aspects of widowhood. Also, your DH being overwhelmed argues strongly in favor of your "taking the bull by the horns" now. Your cabinets have already been abused. The way I see it, they're perfect for you to learn and experiment on.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 7:57PM
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What about picking up a piece of cheapy furniture from Craigslist or goodwill also of plywood construction. You can practice on that. Show him the before and after. Sell it on Craigslist in it's new, cute state, make a profit. Then you'll have had a chance to show you've been able to figure it out and he'll probably be more ready to let you have a go at the kitchen.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 8:14PM
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>>...he'll probably be more ready to let you have a go at the kitchen."Let?"
The dynamics we don't know but being told you'll screw up sanding? I doubt anyone's that stupid. But it IS a stupid thing to say, IMHO. If that's the way a relationship works, though, better someone else than me. BTDT and never, ever again. I'd take my chain saw to their tires, first.
And yes, it used to be too dangerous for me to use that, too.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 10:14PM
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Well, I just explained to my daughter, who has never even held a screw driver in her hands, over the phone how to paint a laminate dresser. Judging from the pictures and her description of the final product, the project has been a success.

Is your plan to paint the cabinets? If yes, get explicit step-by-step directions with materials needed from this forum, for example, and start making a list of the steps and materials.

Go to the local hardware store (Strosnider's is great) or Home Depot on weekdays and find one of the sales people who seems to know what they're doing/selling and talk to them.

Also, what are your bathroom vanities like? They might be good for a practice run.

Finally, I really don't think there's anything you can mess up with sanding.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 11:50AM
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A search under "Painting kitchen cabinets" will yield tons of threads all repeating the same procedures.

It's not like it hasn't been done before. :)

Swiss_Chard_Fanatic, are your big girl panties fitting any better today?

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 12:05PM
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Take a look at some youtube videos. The one I attached has more than 310,000 views. There must be some good ones.

Here is a link that might be useful: youtube video

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 2:00PM
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Agree that painting and fixup is totally doable, however I've recently acquired two very nice sets of kitchen cabinets for free or almost free on Craigslist. Both cases people were getting rid of high quality nice wood cabinets a few years old in order to install the latest and greatest white fashion kitchens. All we had to do was haul them away. A little fitting and trimming, a few pieces of trim and presto, like new kitchen for 5-10% of the price of new. (and a lot less work than refinishing!)

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 2:20PM
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Really, what can you damage by sanding a little? Just don't inhale the dust you make, and clean up after yourself. Now, if you were trying to build new cabinet or something, that's a whole other issue... But, then again, it's your home and you'll have to figure out if the resulting fall out will be worth it. Me, cabinets driving me crazy? Weekend project time!

    Bookmark   April 16, 2014 at 8:45PM
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I'm changing my kitchen cabinets around again.
I have pretty given up on getting a grayed green color that doesn't look turquoise in natural light.

I've built two cabinets (doors in progress) out of maple. I've vinegar-stained them and L.O.V.E the gray grain.
It goes very well with the Reuse Center cherry, beaded inset cabinets I've stripped & bleached back to natural cherry.

That means I'm stripping two of my maple base cabinets. Now it's unusual to know what you're stripping off, but I know it's STIX, a layer of Duron paint, another STIX, and a 2nd, Cabinet Coat paint. These came to me unfinished, so I know how far down I need to strip.

I thought I'd show you how I'm doing this, in place, with plastic grocery bags pressed into it to hold the Citristrip against the paint. I didn't even take the crap out of the cabinet. This is one of the corners:

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 2:27PM
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I was married to someone like that once. The only way I could get any project started was to wait for him to leave, then start the demo myself. I'd rip out carpet, paneling, tile, shingles, whatever I wanted gone! He'd pretty much have no choice but to continue on with whatever I had started.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 4:14PM
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DH and I bought our first home...a cute little cottage style home that needed every room remodeled. We started with buying windows for the whole house. We installed the bathroom window, kitchen windows, laundry room and master bedroom windows...and then DH went on 7 days/week, 12 hour days for about 6 months. The remaining windows for the other bedroom and living room sat against the wall in the living room that whole time. When the overtime slowed down I gave him several weeks to rest up and then I got up early one Saturday morning (he was sleeping in and sleeps like a baby) and took out the old windows in the living room. Then I went and woke him up and told him what I had done. He was mad for a bit but then he had to get busy installing the new ones so we didn't have open holes in the house. Just start, how mad can he get...and tell him my least it's not open holes in his house walls!!!

This post was edited by dcward89 on Thu, Apr 17, 14 at 16:34

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 4:29PM
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Go to Home Depot, buy a chunk of wood (like a piece of pine that you can fit in your car, and while you're in the lumber section, notice how intoxicating the smell of fresh cut wood is?), bring it home, get out the sander or sandpaper, whichever you want to start with, and start sanding on it. It doesn't take long to get comfortable with the tools you'll be using, it just takes practice.

Make sure the piece has a few knots in it so you can practice working on and over those like in your pic of the door above. Buy a little tub of wood putty (in the stain aisle), practice putting that in the knots and sanding it smooth.

Buy a pint of stain and practice staining that sanded wood in small patches so you can see how stain behaves and the way to get a good look. All woods handle stain differently but the practice in application is what you want now.

Surely your hub realizes you can't learn how to do something if you're always prevented from doing it. And if you don't have turpentine (or the green equiavlent) vegetable oil will take stain off your hands, just slather it on like lotion and rub for a bit and then wash off with soap.

Oh, and listen to CEFreeman, she rocks the reno. :)

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 6:45PM
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Swiss_Chard, sometimes you just gotta give it a try. I refaced our awful cabinets 10 years ago when we first moved in. I had a 6m old baby and had never held a drill before. Even more astounding, there was no Gardenweb to walk me through it. Somehow I figured out what to order and how to install it all. White melamine doors and drawers, some cover panels and some paint - for $500 the kitchen looked totally different. It still wasn't GW-worthy, but it got us through a decade. BTW my husband just watched and rolled his eyes. And I'm pretty sure I drank a glass or two of wine while I did it.

I have ZERO DIY ability but I notice that it all seems worse in the thinking/planning/considering phase. And as someone with no technical skills, it's really easy to psych yourself out: what if I screw up? I used to do a new project every weekend while my husband took kiddo #1 out to the park with his friends. Nothing wild, just a lot of painting, installing a faux tin backsplash, new house numbers etc. Then #2 came, things got busy, and a few years have passed. Now I get anxious about trying stuff. The only cure for that is just to dive right in. Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 7:19PM
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Ah... I was hoping CEFree would chime in... she is the queen of putting her foot down & getting it done - or at least started ;)

If you have a Habitat for Humanity ReStore, or similar, in your area, you can likely find some used plywood doors to practice on for very little $.

Good luck & keep us posted!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 8:26PM
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In case you haven't started yet, let me share something that worked for me in a house I own that is now a rental. The cabinets were so ugly I almost cried just looking at them, but I didn't have much money. I decided to try putting moulding around the edges (like a picture frame) and then cut some wainscoting to fit in the middle. (Actually, the guy I hired to do it thought I was out of my mind.). My ugly cabinets now look like custom Shaker - I painted them bright White. I used a granite remnant for countertops and it is absolutely gorgeous. The guy who did it for me asked if he could steal my idea since the kitchen did not look the same!

    Bookmark   April 17, 2014 at 8:41PM
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I just lurked on this thread since I have not refinished cabinets...but I was very interested in the transformation. Hopefully you were able to jump in beautify your kitchen!

Any updates Swiss_Chard?

    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 8:26AM
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I had those type of cabinets in one house. In addition to ugly doors, the frames/drawers weren't that great, so I definitely would NOT pay for a commercial refacing. Is there any way you could afford IKEA and DIY? Seems like it would be a lot better result, for maybe not a lot more $$/effort than all of the above ideas.

BTW, Irmaly, your kitchen transformation is amazing! Kudos!

    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 12:44PM
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I agree with practicing on a piece of furniture that you can pick up on Craigslist or at Goodwill. I've refinished so many pieces of wood furniture and it's really not that hard, just tedious with the prep work involved. Getting started might motivate DH to join in!

irmaly - what an amazing transformation! I love your counters too. Are they soapstone or granite?

    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 1:41PM
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Irmaly, you are a total inspiration!

For refacing, it can be reasonably priced. My mom had a great experience with the Drawer Depot, and one of the cool things about them is that you place the order yourself online and it updates the price so that you can see to the penny what it will cost before you order. (Or before you decide not to order, if you think it's too much!).

Here is a link that might be useful: The Drawer Depot

    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 2:49PM
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Thanks! The countertop is Soapstone (Julia). We absolutely love it. I can't imagine ever having anything else.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 4:45PM
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irmaly, thanks for posting the counter top info. Yours are gorgeous! I've been looking at granite alternatives to soapstone to save money but haven't found any yet that I like as much.

This post was edited by juddgirl2 on Sun, Apr 27, 14 at 22:01

    Bookmark   April 27, 2014 at 6:55PM
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Thanks again everyone for all the advice and tips. DH and I have had quite a bit of strain/disagreements over the remodeling but I've gained a better insight into why he thinks the way he does.

I've decided to just push the boundaries and go ahead and do things on my own a bit. First, I went out and bought a hand sander and some 220 sandpaper and some wood putty. Then I went to work. It amazes me how quickly sandpaper gets used up. He was right about that part.

I went to work on a door frame and a door that were both in need of repairs. Filled in the dents with wood putty, then sanded, repeated a few times, then painted. And let me tell you--that hand sanding (not electric, I mean by hand, literally) is a pain. I am hurting. Haha. I seriously doubt I will be able to make much progress with a hand sander on the kitchen cabinets. But I'll give it a try.

DH does have an electric sander but he claims that the sand paper for it is too expensive. I believe he purchased the more expensive sandpaper though. The ones I bought for the hand sander came out to about $0.19/ea. The ones he bought were like $1/ea. I can probably do better than that. Oh and 1 piece of sandpaper is only good for 1 small cabinet face. We have I think 12 cabinets and most of them are medium-sized, so there's the front, back, sides, and then sanding after the wood putty, so it could take 5 sheets or so per cabinet, which would put it at $60 worst case scenario just for the sandpaper. We'll see. I will be working on things some more today.

Really proud of myself regarding that door I fixed up, gosh it was so ugly before. It took 3 coats of paint and much sanding but you'd never know, looking at it now, it looks almost new!

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 3:02PM
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Way to go!

I have a palm sander, and I buy regular sheets of sandpaper and cut it to fit. I'm afraid I can't speak to the exact price difference, but it's worth considering.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 3:07PM
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Swiss_Chard_Fanatic, I am proud of you! I know you can do this! I can't wait to see your finished product! I was thinking of painting my cabinets but mine are veneered with the thinnest piece in the middle that may crack if sanded and I have a soffit and large stiles in the of each cabinets partially overly builder grade cabinets. I also have wallpapered sides. My cabinets are not as ugly as they sound but I dislike them. I wish they were solid wood with no soffit and full overlay, since then I would paint them.

Please share pictures!

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 5:37PM
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How awesome! And kudos to the hand sanding. That takes moxie, I tell ya! Yep, like annkh I just use regular sandpaper cut into quarters for my palm sander.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 6:54PM
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First, I must congratulate you on how you're rockin' those big girl panties! I knew 'ya had it in ya!

Second, 220 grit is more for polishing. I strongly suggest 80 or 120. You smooth the wood after using those grits with the 220 before painting. You'll use a ton less sand paper.

Make certain every so often to knock it on the edge of something and a lot of dust comes out. Another trick is to take an old fashioned (artist's) gum eraser and erase the sandpaper. It takes the dust out of the sand paper. It's worth the coupla bucks if you're going to do a lot.

Lynn2006, I'm sure this must have been discussed here, but if you wash your cabinets down really well, then use a BIN or STIX adhesive primer, you don't need to sand that flimsy panel.

Swiss_Chard, I warned you 'bout that arm thing, didn't I! ROTFL! I learned that myself after trying to manually sand 16' of lowers and uppers. Thought I was gonna die -- but then, it's always great to work your arm "wings!"

I'm looking forward to pictures.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 10:13PM
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Good for you, we're all rooting for you!

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 11:35PM
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"Second, 220 grit is more for polishing. I strongly suggest 80 or 120. You smooth the wood after using those grits with the 220 before painting. You'll use a ton less sand paper."

Just wanted to re-emphasize this. CEFreeman is very right, using a little bit coarser sand paper will save you some time and work.

Here's the simple type of electric sander I use (mine is older and a different brand but just like it.) This one is about $40 at Lowes, and you just cut a regular sheet of sandpaper in quarters, and the paper slips under little clamps at both ends of the pad. I've worn out a number of these little guys over the years, they are easy to use and less work than doing all that sanding completely by hand.
Porter Cable palm sander

Good for you. As romy718 said, we are all rooting for you!

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 10:11AM
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way back in the dark ages, I had a sander that was both an orbital and straight line sander. It was really convenient. After stripping a piece of furniture, you used the orbital to get all the remaining paints off and then you would switch it to straight line (with 220 grit sandpaper) to smooth the item for staining. I would actually go over the whole thing before staining the cabinets with really fine steel wool (which closes off the pores of the wood to give you a more even finish) but since you are painting, you really don't have to do more than the 220 grit sandpaper. I think the sander may have been a Black and Decker.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 10:48AM
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CEFreeman! Thank you. I am still trying to figure out my options as I do all these extensions as I really need to finish my kitchen and the downstairs floor soon.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 11:08AM
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Thanks for all the encouragement and advice, everyone! Well I finished that experimental door project and there was one complication. I used "Elmer's 32-oz Putty Wood Patching Compound" and it tends to form air bubbles no matter how well it is pre-mixed or applied, in some cases. It occurred in about a third of the places I used it.

I noticed the resulting grooves and pock marks in some places on the door but they weren't terrible so I decided to go ahead and paint the door anyway. The door looks a million times better than it did before. But I'm wondering now if I should go back over those areas with the wood putty again and try to cover those grooves and pock marks, then repaint.

Once I get this wood putty thing figured out, and once I buy some 80 and 120 grit paper, I'll feel more confident and ready to begin on the kitchen cabinet doors. Wish me luck! I have 2 more doors as practice projects that need wood filler and sanding and painting before I begin on those kitchen cabinets. Here we go!

This post was edited by Swiss_Chard_Fanatic on Tue, May 13, 14 at 12:50

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 12:46PM
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Just for experiment's sake, yes, I'd sand with your 120 grit and go over it again. I live in the house of Good Enough For Now and I'm beggin' ya, don't settle. Do it as right as you can!

I use Elmer's Stainable Wood Filler. Stainable, simply because sometimes I need to stain and no matter what they tell you (for future reference) Minwax does NOT take stain. The 'putty' thing is throwing me off. I'm wondering if that's the stuff that never actually dries.

Anyway. Try filling in the holes in layers, vs. clumps. As it dries, it has to get all the way down to the bottom, which takes a while. It'll shrink some. If you do some, let it dry, then patch the rest, it'll dry more solidly. Seems like a small thing, but it makes a difference. Particularly when sanding. If it's not completely dry, your sandpaper can pull off bits and look pitted. It'll also make grooves with the bits it pulls off, as it drags through the not-quite-dry putty.

Another thing is to fill it so the filler is slightly above the flatness of the piece. That way, when it dries, shrinks and is sanded, it'll actually be smooth.

Swiss_Chard, in the scope of life, sandpaper is cheap. Tell your DH you're both not to drink a can of pop or two. You'll have the results of the sandpaper a heck of a lot longer than it takes someone to pee out a can of pop. Graphic? Yes. Point made? Probably.

I'll bet you're eyeing those cabinet doors with a whole new attitude, aren'tcha?

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 1:32PM
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Point made, lol! Woman, you crack me up!

Swiss_Chard, you are learning so much and gaining confidence even when you make mistakes. Keep learning and keep plugging away!

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 1:43PM
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But I'm wondering now if I should go back over those areas with the wood putty again and try to cover those grooves and pock marks, then repaint.

I am obsessive so I probably wouldn't be able to sleep until those grooves and pock marks were gone!

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 3:48PM
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Love that OP is moving forward with this project.

Thanks to GW self empowering therapy sessions.

Between the money saved on a new kitchen and therapist, you can buy yourself a massage for those strong shoulders when you're done.

I can't wait to see pictures, good luck, and keep going...

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 3:52PM
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Keep on working hard and smart, girl. All of those hours will build confidence. Work can be hard and fun. One foot in front of the other and keep on. It will look awesome and feel better. Don't stop, yeah.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 7:19PM
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You're only stuck if you allow yourself to be. Your husband is looking for any excuse to set up obstacles for you. I've done what errant has, just proceed with the demo and either finish it up myself or my hubby has to help. If I didn't start, it would never have been done.
Good for you for taking the initiative and doing some sanding. It's not hard, doesn't take a rocket scientist and the results are very motivating! Once you start you can't wait to do more. My sisters and I recently flipped a 50 year old home with impressive men allowed. It gave us confidence to do things on our own and not depend upon the men in our lives to do everything! CEFreeman has some great advice, check out youtube,pinterest all have great tutorials for some guidance on just about anything....and really? Sandpaper for the belt sander is too expensive? NOT! Don't let your husband discourage you. It's your home too and doing it yourself is much more economical then any other option and you'll never gain experience if you don't start somewhere!

This post was edited by khinmn92 on Tue, May 13, 14 at 20:06

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 8:03PM
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I would plan on doing at least two applications of any filler larger than a brad or tiny nail hole, and sometime even then. It does tend to shrink a bit, but you don't want to overfill because that stuff is usually a lot harder to sand down than the main piece itself -- like a nasty paint drip. Like CEF said, just a tiny bit will give you some leeway, but you can also get air pockets, cracks, etc as it shrinks. The larger the area you are working on, the more coats I would plan on. You could need 3 or 4 in some of your larger areas, but shallower fills will dry faster and the little bubbles or pocks won't take much time at all. When you get going on several doors, the first are likely to be dry by the time you get to the last one.

Definitely cut sheets for your sander and use coarser paper for heavier sanding and the finer grit (220 or higher) for the lighter sanding -- just before painting or between coats.

Glad you went for it. It just takes some time and patience, but can really pay off in both money saved and satisfaction.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 8:40PM
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I was just smoothing two of the antique doors I've been refinishing. (God bless Citristrip: no sanding other than this throughout the entire pricess!)
But as I was doing this, I realized no one had ever suggested the sanding sponge blocks.

There are areas you can't get into with a sander. Plus, whether or not we realize it, using fingertips as the pressure behind sand paper not only exhausts you more quickly, but it also makes uneven pressure.

I STRONGLY suggest picking up at least an 80 and a 220 sanding sponge. Get the kind that can be rinsed (i.e. the dust rinses out of the grit) and the kind that have a slanted edge. That edge will save you hours of trying to get into tight spaces.

Plus, did anyone mention always moving with the grain, or if you have to cross it, do it on a loooooonnnnng diagonal?

I don't even buy plain sand paper anymore. I either use my oscillating (round) sander because it lets you be less careful with the grain, or sanding blocks. Even my mouse sander and vibrating sander (square) are gathering moss in the garage. I never use my belt sander because it's just far too aggressive and can get away from me pretty quickly.

Anyway, when you go to the store, get a couple of these. Just drink a few less pops, right?

    Bookmark   May 14, 2014 at 9:33AM
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Ok guys! The summer heat has finally gone away (mostly)! This is the month that I get this project done! I stopped working on the project in May because the heat arrived and it was just too much. We don't have an air conditioned workspace for sanding and painting. And I tend to be quite messy with those things. I'll get paint on the walls, ceiling, etc.

BUT, now that the cool is arriving, I'm gearing up for the projects again. I'll be clearing space and setting up in our backyard work shed.

By the way, I have come to hate matte paint; I realize what a mistake it was to ever use it. We painted our home with matte paint because we were told that matte paint would cover up and hide imperfections. BUT it will accumulate marks and scuffs and imperfections faster than a lighting bolt hits a tree. So we will have to repaint the entire house with a satin finish paint. And we were told to use a high gloss paint on the trim.

Now, this is where the door project comes in. I was working on that bedroom door. I used white matte paint. I have to redo it now because you would not believe how bad it looks already. The amount of scuffs and black marks on the darned thing. Just waiting for hubby to get some paint.

Do I go with high gloss or satin finish for the door? What about the cabinets? High gloss?

Soon, my dear cabinets...soon...and pictures as I go too.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2014 at 2:54PM
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Swiss_chard - I bet you're happy to get started on projects again! You might consider a semi-gloss on your trim instead of high gloss. High gloss will highlight every flaw just as matte paint hides flaws (i.e. brush strokes, nail holes, etc). Also, it can cause a glare sometime depending on the lighting in your house.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2014 at 3:11PM
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And I would use satin on the cabinets :)

    Bookmark   October 7, 2014 at 3:22PM
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I agree, satin for the cabinets. Gloss will be too shiny, I think.Sorry the matte paint didn't work out for you, on doors, I agree its not the best choice for scrubbing them.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2014 at 6:26PM
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Where'd you go? We need updates!!! :)

    Bookmark   January 16, 2015 at 1:59PM
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Well, the weather has been sooooooo cold that we haven't been able to make any progress on this! Ugh! And the shed isn't ready yet as a work space; I did some cleaning and organization in there a few weeks ago but I need hubby to help me finish cleaning it up because there are some things that literally need to be CUT on to get them out of the way, and if I do that on my own I think he'll get mad. I will definitely be posting more updates when they finally start happening!

    Bookmark   January 16, 2015 at 2:44PM
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