Refinishing or Replacing Kitchen Cabinets — Which is Best for You?

With the high cost of kitchen cabinets, should you replace or refinish them?

Kitchen cabinets are an investment and one you shouldn’t take lightly. If your kitchen is in serious need of remodeling, you need to realize that the cabinets are 40% to 50% of the entire remodel. Before you buy kitchen cabinets, you need to consider refinishing your old ones. The cost of simple tools, paint, and hardware is much less than starting from scratch and replacing an entire kitchen of cabinets.

Here are some questions to ask yourself and see if your kitchen is a candidate for refinishing.

Are your cabinets worth refinishing?

If you have cabinets built 20 to 30 years ago, chances are they are higher quality than what you can buy today. If your cabinets fit into this age bracket, they are square and plumb, it makes more sense for you to refinish and improve what you already have rather than spending big bucks starting from scratch.

On the other hand, if you have rusty metal cabinets, cheap particle board cabinets, or have structural issues like unlevel floors causing your cabinets to warp, refinishing isn’t a good idea.

Is the layout of your kitchen functional?

If the current layout of your kitchen is good, you’re in luck. Refinishing your cabinets is an inexpensive way to save. However, if your current kitchen isn’t functional or has major design flaws, refinishing won’t be a quick fix for you.

When changing the layout, talk to the designer and explain that you have good quality cabinets and would like to reuse as many as possible. You may not be able to use them all but may be able to save by not having to buy all new cabinets.

What does refinishing cabinets involve?

Refinishing cabinets isn’t rocket science but it is tiring and dirty work. There’s lots of sanding, painting and sanding involved. This means dust, spills, and scattered tools. Here are the steps to refinishing:

1. Remove Hardware

2. Remove drawer fronts and kitchen cabinet doors

3. Rough up the finish on the frames, doors, drawers and side panels

4. Paint or stain depending on the finish you choose

5. Apply second coat

6. Apply sealer

7. Replace all doors and drawers

8. Install new hardware

Are you up for the job?

Now that you know what refinishing cabinets involve, you need to honestly decide if you can handle the job. Depending on the size of your kitchen, one person can refinish the cabinets in four to eight days. That, of course, is with optimum conditions and you’re organized and already have all your materials, tools, and supplies.

Some things to think about when trying to make this decision are your responsibilities. Will you have several days where you can work uninterrupted or will you continuously have to stop to cook dinner, take kids to practice, go to work, or perform other family responsibilities?

Can you take time off from work? How much? If you don’t get the job done during your time off, how will it affect you and your family?

Can you afford and can you stomach eating out or living on sandwiches and pizza during the remodel?

Do you have any previous DIY experience? Have you ever tackled other home improvement jobs? How did it turn out?

By objectively, honestly, and realistically answering these questions, you can get a pretty good idea if you can handle doing the job. If you can’t, don’t tackle it. Save up some more money and wait until you can hire a contractor to do the job for you.

On your mark, get set, go

Kitchen remodeling is a big undertaking. Whether your hire the work out or do it yourself, it is time-consuming and expensive. By refinishing your cabinets yourself, you can save 30-40% on the cost of your remodel.

Before you make your decision, carefully answer these questions and consider whether it’s in your best interest to buy cabinets or refinish the kitchen cabinets already in place. By doing this, your expectations will be more realistic and you’ll be happier with the end result.