Cabinet Refacing Tips

A few pointers on cabinet refacing. November 20, 2008

I just took a job that includes refacing some existing cabinets. Customers didn't want to spend much... I need to veneer the face frames and exposed ends. Will be doing new doors. I would like to pre-finish materials before arriving on-site. Any suggestions?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor A:
First measure the length and width of every rail and stile on the cabinets. Buy a sheet of adhesive backed veneer and the cut the pieces in your shop. Be sure to leave at least a one inch overhang on the length and 1/8 inch on the width. Once the pieces are cut, staple the ends to a piece of plywood. By doing this, you can pre-finish the pieces in your shop, which you must do to do a professional job. Place the veneer on the rails first. Overlap the rails with the stiles and then double-cut with a knife and combination square.

From contributor S:
Don't use veneer on the finished ends if you have any. Pre-cut, pre-finish 1/4 plywood of matching species. Install the end panels first, leaving 1/16" proud of the stile. Use a flush trim bit and route the panel flush with the stile, then put the veneer on the stile. If you get a hand held veneer slitter (Virutex) you can finish the 2 x 8 sheet of veneer in your shop, and slit it in the field to size. Then for cutting the length, a good quality paper cutter works great, better than knife and straightedge. If you precut the pieces in the shop, be sure to add for the 1/4" extra end panel thickness.

From contributor M:
You don't stain and finish this veneer after you have cut it into a bunch of little strips. What a pain in the butt. Attach your veneer onto a backer board, any sheet material such as 1/8" MDF, first. Stain and finish it, and then cut your veneer into strips still attached to the backer board.

If you are using peel-and-stick veneer, you can easily attach it to your backer board by putting contact cement on the surface of the veneer peel-off liner and onto the backer board. When stuck, you can do your finishing and then run the whole thing through your table saw to get the strips. On the job, you can cut the strips to length with a miter saw, and easily peel the veneer off the backer board to apply the veneer to your face frames.

From contributor A:
Don't use a table saw to cut the veneer - use a good pair of scissors. Way too much waste from the saw kerf. It is easier to mark out your cut lines before you finish the veneer. Do not cut the veneer at your customer's house; it will add about two to three hours that you will be in someone's house. It is much better to get everything done that you can in your shop.

And by the way, contact cementing your veneer to a backer board and then cutting it into little strips on a table saw is a hell of a lot bigger pain in the ass than finishing pre-cut strips (which is no big deal at all).

From contributor J:
We've done this quite a bit and prefer to use Wood Over Wood (WOW) that we get from Keystone Woodspecialties. Take a look at their site and you'll see a lot of refacing products.

You definitely want to finish before you get on site. We sprayed a paint grade job once in a house and I learned my lesson. I've pre-finished the material in strips and in sheets and my preference is to finish it in sheets. I like to cut it with a Virutex laminate slitter which doesn't damage the material as you cut.

The paper cutter idea is great! Consider that one stolen.

You're going to find that refacing is almost as much work as building new cabinets. Make sure you charge enough. I've found that for me to make any money, I need to charge about 2/3's of the price of a new set of cabinets. Also, evaluate the boxes carefully to make sure they're worth refacing and that they can be effectively refaced.

We had a rather lengthy discussion on this subject back in April. I've included the link below. It includes some before/after pictures of a kitchen we did a couple of years ago. Katrina ripped the whole roof off of this house. Good luck and let us know how you make out.

Cabinet Refacing Basics

From contributor M:
Staining, wiping off, and spraying a bunch of narrow strips of thin veneer is a nightmare to be avoided. Finishing the veneer as a sheet allows you to do the whole finishing process in an efficient way which automatically color matches the veneer for the whole job since it is at that point all one piece and you can just tone it up for uniformity. When you slice the strips out of it, they all basically match in finish.

I like the backer board idea since, in cutting the strips on a table saw, you can do it very fast and not run into straightness problems as easily if you use some kind of hand-held tool.

From contributor J:
Contributor M, I see your posts out here all the time so I've always assumed you build cabinets. How much of your business is refacing and what part of the country are you in?
I've tried over the last couple of years to push custom cabinets rather than refacing. Although I hate refacing, I'm thinking about turning up the wick on it again. There aren't many shops in our area (South MS) that do it, so there's definitely a market there. We're really busy with custom jobs right now, but later on lean times might call for drastic measures.

From contributor M:
I'm in Southern California. Like you, I avoid refacing except when forced into it by referrals or bad economic times. But over 35 years, I've done quite a few, but probably less than 100.

It's interesting to notice, looking back, how my methods of doing refacing have changed. The process for me is efficient enough now that I can do a job for 50% of the cost of new cabinets and still make the same profit margin as doing new stuff. That's for pre-finished refacing and pre-finished new doors and moldings. (The kitchen looks new on the outside.)

From contributor E:
If existing doors and new doors have face mounted hinges, keep in mind where existing screw holes are. It could be a real pain if the holes lined up next to each other. Hidden hinges make life so much easier. Make sure you clean and scuff faces well before applying veneer.

From contributor J:
Contributor M, I can't get there for 50%, particularly if I change out drawers and slides. I've also stopped agreeing to do refaces if the customer isn't going to change the tops. Fifty years old, bifocals, and 240 pounds have all caused me to spend as little time as possible inside a cabinet.

From contributor M:
For 50%, I don't even touch the interiors. (No drawers, pull outs, etc.)

From contributor J:
That sounds about right if you don't redo the drawers. I've never done a job where we didn't change the drawers and slides. That's a pain with the tops on.