Refinishing Kitchen Cabinets - Woodworking Talk - Woodworkers Forum
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post #1 of 11 Old 11-04-2019, 06:41 PM Thread Starter
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Refinishing Kitchen Cabinets

Our kitchen was put together in the 60s with plywood cabinet doors and drawers. The finish is worn in many spots and needs some attention. Some cabinets are in excellent condition but others need some work so I'd like to keep the "amber finish" as similar as possible (see first image). Before I start, I would appreciate some advice on what type of finish to use and how to best prep the affected areas (second and third images)

For any doors or drawers that need attention, I was planning on sanding down the entire face with 200 grit using hand orbital sander. I'm not sure if a coarser grit is needed (maybe for some of the rougher areas?). I assume that since this is plywood, the finished face isn't very thick. I don't know if I need to completely strip off all the old finish or if I just need to lightly sand the entire surface with more attention given to the scratched/faded areas.

As for for finish...I have no idea what was used originally and I don't know how to identify the various types. My guess is probably shellac given the warm, amber tone and the vintage of the kitchen. But I'm guessing. Could I use a water-based Polyurethane that has an amber tint like this Varathane product? O should I just use a shellac like this one?

Any suggestions or tips are appreciated. Thanks.
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post #2 of 11 Old 11-05-2019, 10:53 AM
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I think you're going to have a hard time matching the color where the finish is worn through, but its worth a try. I wouldn't sand with anything over 220 and be very careful around the edges.


If it were me, I'd probably reface with new wood and start from scratch.
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post #3 of 11 Old 11-05-2019, 11:36 AM
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We are painting our cabinets as we speak. The color is white. White makes your room look bigger and brighter. We are using some new paint that is really good for kitchen cabinets. If you are interested send me a PM and I will get the name of the paint.

Don in Murfreesboro, TN.
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post #4 of 11 Old 11-05-2019, 12:41 PM
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That was typically shellac on those old cabinets, that would be a good place to start if you want to keep that appearance.

I painted ours white...
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post #5 of 11 Old 11-05-2019, 01:41 PM
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Take some denatured alcohol and rub it onto the finish. If it starts to remove the finish, then there is a good chance it is shellac.

If itís shellac, all you need to do is clean the surface, sand any rough spots, and reapply more coats of shellac. There is no reason to strip off old shellac since new coats will melt themselves into the preceding coats.

If you need help finding shellac ask and we can tell you where to get quality flakes of the appropriate color. Working with shellac is very easy and forgiving. It can be rubbed on, brushed on or sprayed on.
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post #6 of 11 Old 11-05-2019, 04:43 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Terry Q View Post
Take some denatured alcohol and rub it onto the finish. If it starts to remove the finish, then there is a good chance it is shellac.

If itís shellac, all you need to do is clean the surface, sand any rough spots, and reapply more coats of shellac. There is no reason to strip off old shellac since new coats will melt themselves into the preceding coats.
Thanks for all the suggestions. The wife wants to keep the wood look and, while I prefer everything to be white, this is a battle I don't have energy for and I don't want to replace all the wood just yet.

I like the recommendation of not sanding with anything coarser than 220...I think I may just hit the first piece with with a hand-block sander which can't cause as much damage as a motorized sander just to see how thing work out.

Terry Q...thanks for the tips about denatured alcohol and about shellac applications...both very useful. I think this helps me set a course of action.

I appreciate the advice from those with more experience with finishing. Much obliged. I'll follow up with results and photos once I get the first piece completed.

-Shimon
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post #7 of 11 Old 11-05-2019, 04:55 PM
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Welcome to the forum, Shimon! We do like photos of shops and tools as well as projects so show us where you do your woodworking when you get a chance.

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post #8 of 11 Old 11-17-2019, 10:02 AM Thread Starter
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Well, I've had two updates that I posted disappear into the ether...so hopefully, this third post will survive.

I rubbed some denatured alcohol on the existing finish (as Terry Q suggested) and it's definitely shellac which is pretty good news.

I removed a cabinet door last weekend, sanded it by hand with 220 which didn't remove all the blemishes but I was hoping that the new shellac would melt/merge with the old shellac to help disguised the wear areas. But, it didn't work out that way. The blemishes and worn areas are still visible and I ended up using five or six coats which made the finish a bit too dark. See first photo.

Yesterday, I sanded down one drawer face with 150 and then 220 using a palm orbital sander and rubbed on three coats using a balled-up t-shirt and it came out very nice. The worn areas are nearly invisible and color matches very closely. Second photo shows drawer face before sanding and third photo shows the drawer back in place so you can compare with the un-repaired drawers above and the door face I did last weekend (which will be redone using the new method).

The wife is satisfied so I'm happy and can move on to the rest.

I appreciate the help and suggestions. Thanks.
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-Shimon
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post #9 of 11 Old 11-17-2019, 01:58 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by hawkeye10 View Post
We are painting our cabinets as we speak. The color is white. White makes your room look bigger and brighter...............
We have lived on ny boat for approx. 25 years. Every so often, I would sell what i had and get a slightly bigger one. You are 100% correct about making a space look larger. Every boat I ever had, I removed the counter-tops and table tops and replaced with White Formica. It's amazing how much bigger and cleaner it felt. Attached is a Before/After photos to give an example of 'white'

As for the finish, if the cabinets were made in the 1960's, they are mpore than likely finished with lacquer. Shellac fell out of favor over 50 years before that,

Before you do any sanding on the cabs, wash them down thoroughly with soap and water to remove any grease and oil residue on them. Sanding will only drive the cantamination further into the wood. Wash and rinse several times.

Those cabinets look pretty shot. you will probably never get them to match by sanding and clear coating.

If you know anyone with an HVLP sprayer, there wont be much to mask off. if you dont, this is a good time to buy a self contained unit for around $350. Once you spray, you will never go back to a brush. And, lacquer can be mixed in the store for any color of the rainbow.
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faith michel likes this.

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Retired woodworker, amongst other things, Sold full time cruising boat and now full time cruising in RV. Currently in Somerville, Tx

Last edited by Tony B; 11-17-2019 at 02:17 PM.
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post #10 of 11 Old 11-17-2019, 04:09 PM
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Shimon - my parents did all the inside work on our new 1960 Homestead.
it was beautiful for many years.
after I inherited the property in 2007, I performed a 5 year total gut renovation.
here is an example of how you can change the kitchen from drab to fab.
(lots of severe scrubbing with hot TSP to remove all the gunk before painting).
Like hawkeye10 and Tony said, white can give you the illusion of so much more room.
I kept some of my Dad's woodwork and married in my own additions and kept all
the vintage hardware. all the wood paneling was replaced with new drywall.
when I sold it in 2016, the new owners were ecstatic with
the whole project as it was "move in ready".
all the best in your projects !!
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Tony B and woodnthings like this.

-- I am a painter. That's what I do. I paint things --

Last edited by John Smith_inFL; 11-17-2019 at 04:21 PM.
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post #11 of 11 Old 11-18-2019, 11:46 PM
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Shimon I think those cabinets are really to far gone. You might want to consider painting them. It will take a lot of time and effort for you to get them where you wasnt them to be and even then they prolly wont meet your standards.
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