Cabinet Refinishing vs. Cabinet Restoration: What’s The Difference?

Cabinet Refinishing vs. Cabinet Restoration: What's The Difference?

When it’s time to update your cabinets, you may have heard the terms cabinet refinishing and cabinet restoration, but what do they mean? Which is best for your situation? What other options are there? Read on, and you’ll learn about different approaches to get your cabinets looking better than new.

Cabinet refinishing

Cabinet refinishing means renewing the existing material of your cabinets, generally by cleaning them, conditioning and possibly removing the old finish, and then adding a brand new surface. It also often includes bringing in new hardware for an updated look.

Generally, this involves the following steps:

  1. Remove everything from the cabinets: shelves, doors, drawers, knobs, handles, and hinges. This will make doing all the intricate work needed for a beautiful finished product more manageable.
  2. Thoroughly clean each component. Dish soap will do fine for this. Make sure you get deep into each crevice. Kitchen cabinets near your stove have almost certainly been splattered with cooking oil over the years. Use mineral spirits on a soft cloth to remove this and anything else too tough for dish soap. Go over each surface several times until all the grease is gone.
  3. Sand the wood. You’re not trying to remove the old finish here entirely. Your goal is simply to remove any peeling, loose paint, or varnish and to roughen the surface to ensure the new coat will bond well. Wipe off loose dust after sanding with a damp cloth.
  4. Before applying your final coats of paint or stain, ensure the surfaces are uniform. For paint, this means applying at least one coat of primer. For transparent stains, this means using a touchup pen to even out any spots of missing stain.
  5. Now’s time to apply the final coats of finish. Use your brush to fill in the grooves first, making sure not to miss any spots. Use smooth, even brush strokes with the grain of the wood. You’ll want to do at least two coats if you’re using solid paint. A combination of polyurethane coating and stain is a good option if you’re staining. Use more than one coat to get a more intense color.

Cabinet restoration

While cabinet refinishing and cabinet restoration are often used interchangeably, restoration implies a more comprehensive treatment of the wood before refinishing. This may be necessary when the finish of your cabinets is in especially rough condition, if you wish to restore a painted cabinet to its original woodgrain, or if you want to go from a darker stain to a lighter shade. 

It might involve using a chemical paint stripper and then scraping to restore the wood grain. It could mean a more rigorous sanding step to remove the entire clear coat. It could also include filling the wood’s grooves, holes, and other blemishes before sanding.

Cabinet Refacing

This is also sometimes called cabinet resurfacing. It means replacing existing drawers and doors with new ones but leaving the existing cabinets in place. This can be a quick and relatively inexpensive route. 

The difficulty here is that you’ll have to match the new components with the rest of the structure that’s staying in place. And that can be difficult. Even if you find the exact same finish as the original, you’ll likely find that the wood that has been in service for years – under light, repeatedly cleaned, and more – won’t look like the new stuff.

One way of getting around this is to use a complementary color on the new parts rather than trying to match the existing color. This is easier when your wood is painted than stained, but you can do it with stain as well. Just make sure you test the look before you commit to it.

Cabinet Replacement

This one should be pretty straightforward. It simply means ripping out the old cabinets and replacing them with new ones. This option may be the most expensive, but it also may be the quickest solution to updating your cabinets. This may be the only option if your old cabinets are coming apart or warping.

Here again, you still have some decisions to make. You could choose cabinets that have been pre-stained or painted. Then all you need to do is have them installed (or install them yourself), and you’re done. The other option is to find cabinets with bare wood and have them finished with the paint or stain of your choice.

Installing unfinished cabinets has some pros and cons. The main con is that it takes an extra step to finish them. But this still won’t take as long as the whole process of cabinet refinishing we talked about earlier. 

The main pro of unfinished cabinets is that you can choose the exact color, texture, and other effects that will achieve the look you want in your kitchen or bathroom. 

If you go with the unfinished option, we recommend either finishing your cabinets in the room where they will be living or at least doing a test there. This lets you see exactly how the surface will look in the actual lighting it will be under and how well it will complement other elements in the area – floors, counters, appliances, etc.

Which is Right for Your Kitchen or Bathroom?

The answer to this question involves a few important considerations:

  • What’s the condition of your cabinets? If the wood is in good condition, but the finish is pretty rough, cabinet restoration or refinishing are good options. If the wood is warped, cracked, or rotting, it’s probably time to replace them.
  • What’s your budget for cabinet restoration? If you’re on a limited budget, you may want to make cabinet refinishing work rather than replacing them altogether.
  • Do your cabinets have special value? If they’re antiques or family heirlooms, it’s probably worth making an effort to get them restored and looking their best.

Let Allen Brothers Help Make Your Cabinets Look Like New

Whether you choose cabinet refinishing, cabinet restoration, refacing, or replacement, you will want your cabinets looking their best. You can either do this yourself if you feel confident that they’ll turn out well, or you can hire a professional. 

Allen Brothers Cabinet Painting specializes in this process. That means we’ll get the job done efficiently, quickly, and with the quality you envision for your cabinets. In the end, this will likely save you both time and money. Contact us today for a consultation and estimate. We’re happy to come to you in Sandy, Draper, South Jordan, West Jordan, Salt Lake City, and the surrounding areas.