What we did—the six upgrades
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Photo 1: The six upgrades
We raised an upper cabinet, painted the frames, installed new door and drawer fronts, added open shelves, put up crown molding and installed open basket drawers.
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Photo 2: The kitchen before remodeling
The old kitchen cabinets looked dated and shabby.
If you’re pleased with the basic layout
and function of your kitchen
but want to update the look—and
add a few new features—read on. We’ll
show you how paint, new cabinet doors
and drawer fronts, moldings and a few
accessories can transform your kitchen. Photo 1 lists the six upgrades.
Most of the projects require only a
drill, basic hand tools and intermediate
DIY savvy, although a power miter saw
and pneumatic finish nailer allow you
to cut and install the crown molding
faster. All the products used in this
project are readily available
through catalogs, the Internet
and specialty woodworking
Bear in mind, these upgrades won’t
fix cabinets that are falling apart, create
more storage space or make your
kitchen easier to navigate. But if you
want to give your kitchen an inexpensive
yet dramatic facelift, here’s how.
Project 1: Raise an upper cabinet
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Photo 1: Raise the cabinet
To raise a cabinet, remove the shelves and doors and then the screws securing
it to the wall and cabinets on either side. Raise the cabinet, temporarily
prop it in place, drill new pilot holes, then reinstall the screws.
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Photo 2: The finished results
The raised cabinet breaks the monotonous line of wall cabinets.
To break up the monotony of a
row of cabinets, change the
height of one or more upper cabinets.
This provides more “headroom”
for working and more space
for lighting and appliances, as well
as creates a more interesting and
varied look (Photo 2).
In order to raise a cabinet, your
cabinets must be the modular kind
such that each cabinet is an independent
“box” screwed to adjacent ones.
Earlier “builder cabinets,” with the
entire row of cabinets built and
installed as one unit, aren’t easily separated.
We elevated our corner cabinet
3 in., temporarily propped it up with
scrap lumber, drilled pilot holes for
new screws, then reattached it (Photo 1). A cabinet
that’s been in place a long time
may need a sharp rap with a hammer
to free it from paint and grime that
have “glued” it in place.
Project 2: Paint the cabinet frames
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Photo 1: Prep before painting
Clean the cabinet face frames with
mineral spirits, then scrub them
with household ammonia and rinse.
Fill holes with spackling compound,
then sand with 120-grit sandpaper.
Vacuum the cabinets, then prime
them with a pigmented shellac.
Lightly sand the dried primer.
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Photo 2: Painting results
Pick colors that create a nice fresh kitchen décor.
Proper preparation and sanding
between coats are the keys to a
smooth, durable paint job on your
cabinet face frames.
Oil paints arguably create the
smoothest surface, since they dry
slowly and “self-level” as brush stroke
marks fill in. However, this slow drying
time means they’re more vulnerable
to dust. Cleanup is also more of a
hassle. Latex paints dry quickly and
may show brush strokes more, but
additives like Floetrol (The Flood Co.) improve “brushability.”
After priming, paint the cabinets
with a gloss or semigloss paint. Apply
a thin first coat, let it dry, then lightly
sand with 120- or 180-grit sandpaper.
Wipe the surface, then apply a second
coat. Two or three thin coats are better
than one or two thick ones.
If you have a gas stove, turn off the
gas for safety while using mineral
spirits, shellac or oil paints, and provide
plenty of ventilation.
Project 3: Install new door and drawer fronts
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Photo 1: Mount the new doors
Mount the hinges to the doors, then mount the doors to
the face frames using the existing screw holes. Most
hinges allow for some up-and-down movement and tilt
so the doors can be adjusted evenly.
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Photo 2: Install the new drawer fronts
Replace the old drawer fronts. We pried off the old front
using a chisel and a flat bar, marked the position of the
drawer box on the back of the new drawer front, then
joined the two using carpenter’s glue and screws.
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Photo 3: New door front results
New door and drawer fronts dramatically upgrade the kitchen.
We had a local cabinet shop make our new doors and drawer fronts the exact
same dimensions as the old ones. We used the same hinges and mounting
holes in the face frames to ensure the right fit. You can have your components
made locally or by nationwide dealers. (Find them on the internet.)
Existing drawer fronts can be attached in a number of different ways. We were
able to simply pry off the old and screw on the new. If yours can’t be removed,
you’ll need to use a circular saw to cut all four edges of the drawer front even with
the edges of the drawer box, then apply the new drawer front directly over the old.
This will make your drawers 3/4 in. longer; make certain your drawer hardware
and cabinets can accommodate the extra length. If not, you may need to install
new drawer hardware or new drawer “boxes.”
Project 4: Add an open shelf, wine glass rack and plate rack
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Photo 1: Build a wine glass shelf
Build a shelf to fit snugly between the cabinets on each side. We used a
jigsaw to create curved brackets, nailed wine glass brackets to the bottom
of the shelf, then installed the entire unit as one piece.
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Photo 2: Assemble the plate rack
Cut, assemble and install the two plate rack "ladders." Use short screws to
secure the ladders in the cabinet opening. We set the rear ladder 4 in. away
from the back of the cabinet and the front ladder snug against the back of
the face frame.
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Photo 3: Open shelf results
Open shelves break up and improve the appearance of a solid bank of wall cabinet doors.
If you have a short cabinet flanked
by two taller cabinets, you can add
this combination shelf/wine rack.
We cut the shelf to length, then
added mounting strips on each end.
We cut four 9-in. sections of wine
glass molding from a 3-ft. length (available through woodworking stores and catalogs), then glued and nailed
them to the bottom of the pine shelf.
We also cut curved brackets from each
end of a 1x6 maple board and cut the
center 1 in. wide to serve as shelf edging.
Finally, we installed the unit by
driving screws through the mounting
strips and into the cabinets on each
To display your plates and keep
them accessible and chip-free, build
and install this plate rack. The total
cost of materials? Under $10.
To create the two plate rack “ladders,”
measure the cabinet, then build
each ladder so the finished height
equals the height of the inside of the
cabinet. The finished width should be
equal to the width of the face frame
opening. Drill 3/8-in. holes, 3/8 in.
deep in 3/4-in. x 3/4-in. square dowels
and space them every 1-1/2 in. Cut the
dowels to length, add a drop of glue in
each hole, insert the dowels, then use
elastic cords or clamps to hold things
together until the glue dries.
A drill press comes in handy, but
you can get excellent results using the
same tools we did: a cordless drill, a
steady hand and a 3/8-in. drill bit with
masking tape wrapped around it as a
depth guide for the holes in the rails.
Project 5: Install crown molding
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Photo 1: Position and mark the molding
Position and mark each piece of crown molding as you work your way
around the kitchen. Make small notches in the top corners of the face frames
so the moldings lie flat against the sides of the cabinets when installed.
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Photo 2: Cut with a power miter saw
Cut the crown molding by placing it
upside down and securing it at the correct
angle with a clamp and wood scrap.
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Photo 3: Crown molding results
Crown molding adds style and a finished look to the cabinets.
Crown molding comes in many profiles and sizes. If your face frames aren't wide enough on top to nail the
molding to, nail strips of wood to the top edge to provide a nailing surface.
Raising the corner cabinet created a challenge where the moldings on each side
butted into it. We held the upper part of the crown molding back a few inches, but
extended the thin rope molding portion so it butted into the corner cabinet.
Project 6: Install open basket units
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Photo 1: Saw out horizontal rails
Remove cabinet hardware, then the rails where you want to create an open
cabinet. A fine-tooth pull saw works well for removing the dividers, since it
lies flat against the cabinet frame as it cuts. Sand the area to create a smooth
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Photo 2: Install the basket tracks
Cut the tracks to the proper width,
then level them in both directions
and screw them to the sides of the
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Photo 3: Open basket unit results
Open baskets break up the solid bank of base cabinet fronts and make the kitchen feel more spacious.
The “Base 18” baskets we installed (from a woodworking catalog) came with two
side tracks that could be cut narrower to accommodate cabinets ranging in
width from 15-7/8 in. to 17-7/8 in.“ Base 15” baskets fit cabinets with an inside
width of 12-7/8 in. to 15-7/8 in. Measure carefully, cut the basket tracks to width,
then install them as shown.