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DIY Kitchen Cabinets: From Refurbishing to Building from Scratch

 In Cabinets, DIY Kitchens


Kitchen cabinets are the cornerstone of kitchen design, both aesthetically and functionally. Taking on a DIY project to refurbish or build cabinets from scratch can be a deeply rewarding endeavor, offering a personalized touch and potential cost savings.

This guide will navigate you through the process of giving your kitchen cabinets a fresh new look or creating them anew.

Assessing Your Current Kitchen Cabinets

Before diving into refurbishment or construction, a thorough assessment of your current cabinets is essential.

  • Inspecting for Quality: Examine the cabinet structure for signs of damage. Look for warping, water damage, or significant wear. Solid wood cabinets are often good candidates for refurbishment, while those with extensive damage may require replacement.
  • Understanding Cabinet Structures: Identify parts of the cabinetry that are still in good shape. Well-functioning drawers, sturdy shelves, and frames that are still square and true can often be preserved and incorporated into the new design.

Refurbishing Existing Cabinets


If your cabinets are structurally sound, refurbishing them can be a sustainable and cost-effective choice.

  • Cleaning and Prepping: Begin by cleaning the cabinets thoroughly with a degreasing agent. Remove all hardware and take off doors and drawers. Sand down surfaces to create a smooth base for refinishing.
  • Refacing Options:
    • Veneers: Wood veneers can give cabinets a completely new wood look. Choose a veneer that matches your desired style and apply it following the manufacturer’s instructions.
    • Laminates: For a modern appearance, laminates come in various colors and patterns. They’re durable and relatively easy to work with.
    • Paints: A fresh coat of paint can transform your kitchen. Use a high-quality paint designed for cabinetry and apply it in even coats, sanding lightly between layers for the best finish.
  • Replacing Hardware: New knobs, pulls, and hinges can make a huge difference in the overall look of your cabinets. Select hardware that complements your kitchen’s decor and provides the functionality you need.


Building New Cabinets from Scratch

When refurbishing isn’t enough, or you desire a completely new look and function for your kitchen, building cabinets from scratch is the next step.

  • Designing Your Cabinets: Careful planning is crucial. Consider the layout of your kitchen, storage needs, and aesthetic preferences. Create detailed drawings or use design software to visualize the end product.
  • Selecting Materials: Wood choices range from sturdy oak to elegant cherry or modern engineered woods. Each has its benefits in terms of cost, durability, and appearance.
  • Cutting and Assembly: With your design in hand, cut your chosen material to size, following your plans closely. Assemble using wood glue and screws for a strong, lasting build. Remember to account for the placement of hinges and hardware.


Finishing Your DIY Cabinets

The finish on your cabinets will have a significant impact on how they look and how long they last.

  • Sanding and Painting: Sand the wood to a smooth finish, starting with a coarser grit and working up to a finer grit. Apply primer, then paint, sanding lightly between coats to ensure a sleek finish.
  • Staining and Sealing: If you prefer the natural look of wood, choose a stain that complements your kitchen’s color scheme. Seal with a clear topcoat to protect the wood from moisture and wear.


Installation Tips and Tricks

Proper installation ensures your cabinets look great and function well.

  • Hanging Cabinets: Use a stud finder to securely anchor cabinets to wall studs. Ensure they are perfectly level and evenly spaced.
  • Base Cabinet Installation: Base cabinets should be installed level and plumb. Use shims to adjust for uneven floors and walls.
  • Adjustment and Alignment: Doors and drawers will likely need some adjustment for perfect alignment. Take the time to make these minor corrections for a professional-looking finish.


Refurbishing vs. Building from Scratch: A Comparison

Before concluding, let’s evaluate the pros and cons of refurbishing existing cabinets versus building new ones.

AspectRefurbishingBuilding from Scratch
CostGenerally lower as existing structures are utilized.Higher due to the cost of new materials and hardware.
Time InvestmentQuicker as the structure is already in place.Longer, as everything must be built from the ground up.
CustomizationLimited to the existing framework.Full customization to fit any design or functionality need.
Skill LevelSuitable for beginners to intermediate DIYers.Requires more advanced woodworking skills and tools.
Environmental ImpactMore sustainable as it reduces waste.More materials used, but offers the opportunity to choose eco-friendly options.



Whether you choose to refurbish your kitchen cabinets or build them from scratch depends on various factors, including cost, time, skill level, and environmental considerations.

Refurbishing can be a cost-effective way to refresh your kitchen, while building new cabinets allows for complete customization and modernization of your space.

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