Start by removing the cabinet doors, drawers and all hardware. Flat-front doors and drawers are easily refaced, but if yours have raised panels, routed profiles or other architectural detailing, you can opt to buy new unfinished doors and drawers and stain them along with your cabinets.
Sand the side and front surfaces of the old cabinets. It’s not necessary to sand off all the old finish, just rough it up so the new wood veneer will adhere properly.
Practice your veneering technique on less-visible areas first, such as on a side panel. Apply a thin film of wood glue to the cabinet surface and use a nail gun with 5/8-inch brads to fix the veneer panel in place. Adjust the nailer to sink the brad heads just below the veneer surface. Nail from top to bottom to avoid creating a bubble in the middle of the panel (Image 1).
When all side panels are in place, use a block plane to trim the veneer edges flush with the old cabinet faces.
Apply veneer to the cabinet fronts. Veneer all of the horizontal areas and rails first, then use a sharp razor knife to cut in the pieces for the vertical stiles. When complete, trim all intersecting edges and corners flush with the sides.
Next, reface the cabinet doors, following the same procedure. You can save time on this step by using matching wood veneer tape on the door edges; veneer tape is easily applied using a hot clothes iron to activate the pre-glued backing.
Fill all brad holes with wood putty colored to match your intended stain color. Let it dry and sand lightly to remove excess (Image 2). Use a sanding block to evenly distribute pressure and avoid gouges and indentations.
When all of the cabinets are ready for stain, use a paintbrush or rag to stain the inside edges and openings first, then the sides, and finally the cabinet fronts. This allows you to work quickly in the less critical areas and lets you see and correct any drips or smudges on the most visible areas. Apply a generous coat of stain, wipe away the excess and allow to dry according to the manufacturer’s directions, then repeat with a second, final coat.
Next, stain the cabinet doors and drawer fronts, along with any separate wood pieces or moldings. If these parts have raised or routed features, use a paint brush to flow the stain into crevices and corners but don’t allow it to accumulate in these spots.
Kitchen cabinets take lots of punishment from cooking heat and steam, grease spatters, cleanup splashes and day-to-day use, so the wood surfaces need all the protection they can get. Three coats of polyurethane will do the job. Water-base polyurethane is a good choice because it’s relatively odor-free, “flattens” better than oil or alkyd urethanes and dries fast, allowing you to put on all three coats in a day.
Use a brush recommended for the finish you choose and apply the first coat. Always brush in the same direction as the wood grain or pattern. Don’t lay the finish on thickly, and don’t overwork the brush — too many brush strokes will cause air bubbles in the finish, leaving bumps and pits when it dries.
When the first coat is complete on all of the new wood, and it has had adequate time to dry, sand all surfaces lightly with fine-grit sandpaper to prepare them for the second coat. Wipe away all sanding dust with a tack cloth, then apply the second coat of finish. Repeat these steps with the third and final coat.
Install the door hinges first. Position each hinge one hinge-length from the bottom and the top of the door (use the hinge itself to mark the location by lining it up with the door edge and marking the wood at its opposite end). When you bore the screw holes use a self-centering drill bit, which aligns itself in the hardware screw hole and sets the right depth so you won't drill through the door (Image 1).
Note: Before you install the hinges, orient the doors so the grain or pattern points either up or down on all the doors. Which way is a matter of choice, but a uniform look is generally more pleasing (Image 2). (The grain tips on the doors for this project all point down.)
Create a jig for pre-drilling door hinge holes in the cabinets. A shelf clamped to the bottom rail ensures that all doors will line up evenly when hung (Image 3).
Install door shock absorbers inside each cabinet opening to enable the doors to open and close smoothly. These work especially well with cabinet doors that have glass inserts (Image 4).
If you purchased new drawer fronts and boxes separately, lay one of the new drawer boxes on an old drawer front to ensure proper alignment. Take equal measurements on the top, bottom and sides, then transfer these dimensions to the new front panel. Drill pilot holes for the screws and clamp the front and box together when installing the screws from inside the drawer box (Image 5).
Repeat these steps with the other drawers. When finished, install the drawer pulls.
Reattach the old slides to the new drawers, or install new drawer slides. Older cabinets typically have 3/4-extension slides. Upgrading to full-extension slides adds convenience, and the new hardware will last longer (Image 6).