Cabinet Refacing Labor Hours

Making a profit on cabinet refacing depends on being productive on site. Here are some thoughts on the labor time required with various methods. May 28, 2010

I have been considering offering cabinet re-facing for a couple years now, but I still have not taken the plunge. I am having a hard time wrapping my mind around the labor hours to do it. I have searched here and read some posts but they all have spoke in terms of dollars per opening. While somewhat useful I can't translate this figure and apply them to my business. I understand there are many variables, but would anyone be willing to share some information on how much time they are spending on a re-facing job? I'm willing to count the first couple jobs as a learning experience, but I would like to have a reasonable starting point.

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor K:
I can knock out a normal 10x12 or so kitchen in one day. I pre-finish everything and it goes pretty quick. I charge a lot more than just one dayís work though. Figure all your supplies, trim, doors, drawer fronts, rebuilding drawers if they old fronts are part of the drawer, stain and finish time. Everyone is different and I don't have a normal charge, but it usually runs 1/2 to 5/8 cost of a new kitchen.

From contributor M:
Can you elaborate about your process a little? We have been approached a lot to do the same thing. Are you talking about replacing all the faceframes and doors or apply material on top and new doors? What thickness of material works for you?

From contributor K:
Sure, 1/4 inch cabinet grade plywood to cover all sides and face frames. 1/4x3/4 strips to cover edges of the 1/4 ply that would show. New drawer fronts and doors. If the drawer box is part of the drawer front, you have to rebuild the drawer to work with a separate front. Pre-finish all the pieces before going into the house and it's pretty quick work. Glue and pin nail the ply on. Some folks do it with a thin stick on material, but the 1/4 inch ply with glue and pins will last longer. I usually price it both ways if I feel the kitchen is worth doing it to. If it's not made well or falling apart and needs a new kitchen, that's what I suggest. Give it a try Ė itís pretty good money and a quick facelift for the customer.

From the original questioner:
I was considering one of the veneer products so it could be wrapped around the edges of the face frame. Is that the area you are using the 1/4 X 3/4 strips? When you say a 10X12 kitchen, I'm assuming and L shape configuration. So you would have roughly 22' of cabinets, minus appliance openings?

From contributor M:
Even using veneer for facing, you cannot generally wrap it around the edges of a face frame or finish cabinet end. I use 10 mil paper backed veneer, prefinished and pre-glued (contact cement). I shop cut the veneer into appropriate width strips to cover the face frames and finish ends. After applying contact cement to the front of a cabinet, I use a paper cutter to cut the veneer strips to the correct length and stick them to the face frames. I generally do not cover the edges of the face frame which are hidden inside the doors. This is all a very quick process. You can use a router or a sanding block to trim the edges of the veneer once in place, depending on how oversize to the actual width of the face frame pieces you originally cut your veneer.

I replace all the cabinet doors with new prefinished doors. For drawer fronts it's the same, except that for older kitchens you usually have drawers with integral fronts (this was already mentioned in this thread). For them, I simply cut off the overlaying edges of the old drawer fronts so that they can push into the cabinet opening, reposition the old slides, and screw on my new fronts from the back side.

For all this I get around 50% of the price I would get for an equivalent grade new kitchen. Re-facing an existing kitchen with very heavy veneer or plywood is generally overkill and causes a lot more work for the installer.

From the original questioner:
I guess I assumed that the inside edges of the face frame would be covered. I also assumed I would be able to bend the veneer around the frame also. Without having experimented with the process yet, I am making many assumptions at this point. I think I may need to do a couple of test runs, and see how things go. I don't think I would be willing to only veneer the fronts of the frames if the color was not very close to the original cabinets. I realize re-facing is a compromise, not a new kitchen, but I have to admit my enthusiasm is dwindling.

From contributor T:
I may have a job like this coming up. The cabinets are currently covered with plastic laminate. Have you guys done this and what would you use as far as adhesive?

From contributor M:
Where there is a significant color shift between the old and new cabinet finish, you can stain the inside edges of the face frame. I have never had a customer ask for more. It also depends on what the original interior color of the cabinets is. The inside edges of the face frames can look quite natural simply staying the color of the interiors, since the two colors are adjacent and connected. If, however, the existing interiors are contrasting, like white melamine with a light wood exterior, and you are requested to reface the exteriors in dark wood, the inside edges of the face frame, if not changed in color, would become an orphan color (light wood) when the exteriors became dark wood and the interiors were white. That would look very bad and the edges would have to be stained dark. You can always offer your customer the choice of edge treatment in advance and adjust your price for the job accordingly.

From contributor M:
Peel and Stick type wood veneer generally sticks very well to plastic laminate, provided the PL is degreased and clean.

From contributor J:
If you've read past threads on this subject, then you saw the comments about Wood Over Wood (WOW). Of all the materials available including plywood, solid wood, peel and stick, phenolic backed, etc, that's worked/looked the best for us. I have never been able to do a 10'x12' kitchen in a day, even with a helper. It takes us a minimum of two days in the home. We do the demo, sand the cabinets and install the drawer slides on the first day. Second day we reface the cabs and install the doors, drawers, and drawer fronts. Don't let your 'enthusiasm dwindle' because re-facing is what it is and it's been my experience that customers have a pretty good idea what they're buying before they ever call us. There's good money in it too, particularly if you learn to do it quickly. If you are in the cabinet business and that's slow right now, this can be good filler work if you can get the word out. I'd stay completely away from re-facing the inside edges of the frames and the inside of the boxes for sure. That will be extra, extra time consuming, you'll need to charge for it (or lose money), and the customer's value in re-facing versus buying new diminishes. That's how I'd sell it too. Except for new shelves, drawers, and slides, what they see with the doors closed is what they're buying.

You mentioned trial runs. I'd highly recommend you get a couple of old cabinets and reface them. I got that advice years ago, took it, and had a pretty good idea how I needed to proceed on that first job. If you do that, hang on to the refaced cabinet to show customers. If I ever get a show room, I plan to get two old cabinets just alike, reface one and leave the original finish on the other to show the before-after affect. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. With this economic downturn, people still want their houses to look nice so I wouldn't be surprised if we see more enthusiastic interest in re-facing.

From the original questioner:
Yes WOW is one of the products I am going to look into. I have not given up on the idea. I will have some old cabinets in a few weeks from a replacement job. I am going to order some WOW and try my hand at it and see how it works out and see how long it takes. Once I have done this I think I can decide whether or not to proceed. I have to admit though I am still hung up about the inner edges of the face frames, but I will see how covering those works out.

From contributor K:
There are many ways to reface, some definitely better than others.

1. Peel and stick - the least effective - not because of the product, but because of the preparation. Most do not put the effort into this that's really needed and it's why it's infamous for starting to delaminate a few years later. You see this method with the national seller (i.e. - Sears, Century 21, Home Depot, all licensed by national companies), and they charge and GET a boatload of money for re-facing because they offer financing (18% - no down payment, no payments start until project is completed, but the sales pitch is - "you can have a new kitchen for $79/month" - of course, it goes on for 10 years)!

2. Veneering - if you are veneering directly over the old cabs, you need to remove all of the old finish, and clean thoroughly with denatured alcohol. If not, you are no better off than using Peel and Stick.

If you are veneering, the best way to do this is to apply 1/4" luan or poplar with Titebond and brad nails as a new substrate to veneer to. It will take you a half-day to do this, but will pretty much eliminate delamination. Apply the strips the opposite way you would apply the final veneer strips to minimize movement (think cross-lamination in plywood). After doing this, take an hour or two to absolutely strip out the interior edge with either prefinished ply or hardwood with Titebond and brad nails. Apply 1/4" end panels, along with 3/4" matching hardwood strips (if you are going for the Face-Frame look), sand the faces flush for any imperfections and then face veneer. Pop new 1/4" panels on the bottom, along with some 1/4-round, and you can't tell if it's new cabs or not. This will take you approximately 3-4 days to do, but you can charge more than others.

3. WOW. As others have said, this works very well, just don't be skimpy on the glue. The only thing I don't like about it is the way it looks at the end panels, but if you veneer the end panels, it makes it look better.

4. New Face-Frames (our preferred method). If the cabinets are in great shape and at least 1/2" sides (although if it is 20 plus years older, most likely will be 3/4"), pop the existing frames off, pocket holes, glue and pocket screw new dado'd face-frames on. If you are not doing the interior also, and can't put pocket-holes because they are visible, glue and brad nail the frame on that section (making sure the brad nails, even though putty'd, afterwards, are behind doors when opened/closed). Add 1/4" end panels, and panels underneath with 1/4-round finish. Best of all worlds, but the existing cabinets need to be sound. You can do one frame for larger runs (although I would recommend over 60", as this usually causes some issues). If desired, we charge $1500 - $2000 more (depending on size of kitchen) to reface the interiors (material costs average $300-$400, can be cut onsite, and takes about a 1/2-fullday), which you can just use 1/4" matching ply with Titebond and brad nails. With the frames off, it's easy to install, allows for pocket holes for face-frames, and a stronger cabinet. We then also add new drawers, pull-outs, garbage/recycle, tilt-outs, cutlery dividers, mouldings (crown, light rail), etc., along with moulding shelf edging and the end result is basically a brand new cabinet. A lot less money than new, and you are in and out (assuming no tops or tilework, etc.) in days rather than weeks, and no inspections to wait on.

From contributor K:
For those who just do the faces and don't do inside edges or under the cab, the way I sell against this (especially if they ever plan to sell in the future - if not, the job should be replacing, not re-facing) is that it looks great on the outside until you open the doors and see three different materials and sit in the kitchen and can see the unfinished underside. The thought that comes to mind is - "what, did you run out of money" - or (for potential buyers) - "they were just looking to do the minimum, and I'm going to have to fix it. I wonder where else they cut corners."

Re-facing is sold by most as "Why replace when you can reface" giving the customers the impression that you won't be able to tell otherwise. I used to sell Real Estate years ago, and unfinished bottom and interior edges are tell-tale signs of re-facing, and is greeted by buyers as something they are going to deal with down the line. Iím not saying you can't do it if it is sold correctly, but I thought it might be useful info for those who do. That said, a minority of some wives don't care as long as they have something new.

From the original questioner:
You have given me some more possibilities to consider. I think in the right situation face frame replacement might be a good option. I'm not sure, but my first instinct is that I could make new face frames and install them faster than I could install ply substrate and veneer over it.

From contributor A:
I've read this thread with interest as one of my first projects was re-facing a 1960's era kitchen. The cabinets were sound so I choose to rebuild the face frames with new doors attached. I built the frames 1/4 inch strong on exposed ends to accommodate skins. Re-crowned and trimmed the edges with cove. I even was able to build in a pullout spice setup in a base using a large door opening. The client was very happy and this is in a different league than sticking on PSV. The only difficulty I had worth mentioning was you have to be very precise to get your FF's right. There was a lot of measuring and drawings. I would think twice if the client was hard to get a hold of or they lived far away as I was over there at least five times getting numbers.