Cabinet refacing is a quick and easy way to change the look of your kitchen
without the mess and expense of a complete remodeling. You simply cover the
cabinet face frame with self-sticking wood veneer and the end panels with
1/4-in. plywood. Then replace the old doors and drawer fronts with new ones.
Refacing costs about one-third what new cabinets would cost, plus you can
leave the countertop in place for even greater savings. And by doing the work
yourself, you’ll also save at least $1,000 in labor for a small kitchen, and a lot
more if your kitchen is large.
Refacing does require attention to detail and some experience working with
tools, but you don’t have to be a master carpenter. If you can measure and cut
accurately, you shouldn’t have any trouble.
Remove the doors and drawers.
Attach new drawer fronts.
Three Simple Steps to Transform Your Kitchen Cabinets
Refacing your cabinets is a great way to give your kitchen a new look with a minimum of mess and inconvenience.
In a nutshell, here’s what you’ll do:
1. Remove the doors and drawers and
cover the front edges of the cabinets
with peel-and-stick wood veneer.
2. Hang the new doors with easy-to-adjust,
easy-to-install cup hinges.
3. Attach new drawer fronts to your
existing drawers. Finish up by replacing
moldings and installing new hardware.
Special tools for working with veneer
Joel uses a Virutex laminate slitter to cut strips of veneer
(Photo 3). It’s the perfect tool for this project, but if you don’t
want to spend the money, you can rent a laminate slitter from
Refacedepot.com. A table saw also works (see below).
You’ll need a veneer tool (Photo 6) to apply adequate pressure
for a good bond. You can buy a veneer scraper tool through our affiliation with amazon.com, or buy a similar tool,
called a veneer smoothing blade, at Rockler.com.
For cutting veneer strips to length, Joel uses a paper cutter
he’s modified slightly for more accurate cuts. We found that
even an inexpensive paper cutter works great for cutting veneer.
The original cabinets in this kitchen are basic,
The new color and appearance change the entire
look of the kitchen.
Before and After
Give standard kitchen cabinets a unique, custom look by refacing them.
How to order new doors and drawers
There are three standard types of cabinet doors: overlay, inset
and 3/8-in. lip (Figure B). Regardless of what type of doors
you currently have, in most cases you can replace them with
overlay doors that use modern, fully adjustable cup hinges.
And that’s the situation we’re showing here.
To size the doors, you’ll need to decide how much of the
door you want to extend past the face frame opening. This is
called the overlay distance and is determined by the hinges
you install. To keep it simple, Joel gives his customers a choice
between 1/2-in. overlay, which is the most common, or 1-1/4-
in. overlay. Depending on the hinge, you can choose a different
overlay if you like. The 1-1/4-in. overlay doors hide more of the
face frame for a more contemporary look. But the extra door
width can cause problems. You have to measure carefully at inside corners and between doors to make sure there’s enough
room. And remember, the new drawer fronts will be the same
width, so check at inside corners to make sure there’s clearance
for the drawers to open without handle conflicts. Also,
there’s usually not enough space to add the extra 1-1/4 in. to
the top and bottom of both doors and drawer fronts, so you
may have to customize these overlay distances.
For our kitchen, Joel ordered doors that overlay the cabinet
1-1/4 in. on the sides and bottom, but reduced the top overlay to
3/4 in. Then he reduced the top and bottom overlay of the drawers
to 3/4 in. to avoid conflict with a built-in breadboard. If you
decide to order an overlay greater than 1/2 in., you can check the
fit by applying tape to the face frame to represent the outside
edges of the doors and drawers. This allows you to visualize the
doors installed and alert you to any problems.
The most critical part of the cabinet refacing job is measuring
for and ordering the new doors and drawers. Start by making a
sketch of each wall of cabinets showing the doors and drawers.
Then measure the openings and write down the measurements—width first, then height (Figure A). Double the overlay
distance and add this to the opening size to get the size of the
door or drawer. For example, if the opening is 18 x 20 in., the
door size with a 1/2-in. overlay would be 19 x 21 in. If you want a
pair of doors to cover one opening, add two times the overlay to
the opening size as usual. Then subtract 1/4 in. for clearance and
divide this number by two to get the size of each door.
Calculate drawer front sizes the same way. Add two times
the overlay distance to the opening size to arrive at the drawer
Inside corner cabinets with or without rotating shelves can
be a little trickier. Joel finds he can replace most existing corner cabinet doors with a “scissors-hinged” door—that is, a pair of doors hinged together and hung from one pair of hinges (see below). Ask your cabinet door supplier for help figuring
the size of corner cabinet doors.
Double-check all your measurements and calculations
before you place the order.
Figure B: Cabinet Door Types
If you have inset or lip doors, you can convert them to
overlay doors for your refacing project just by using the
correct overlay cup hinge.
Where to get your materials
In addition to new drawer and door fronts, a typical cabinet
refacing job includes covering the face of the cabinet frames
with veneer and the end panels with 1/4-in. plywood to match.
While it’s optional, most cabinet refacing projects also include
a new cove molding at the top of the cabinets and a thin layer
of matching plywood to cover the cabinet toe-kick.
Joel orders doors, drawer fronts, veneer, plywood and moldings
prefinished from the manufacturer, but his supplier only
sells to professionals. You can search online for cabinet-refacing
supplies to find companies that will provide all the parts
prefinished, or you can buy unfinished parts and finish them
yourself. One online source for prefinished doors and parts is
Refacedepot.com. A few sources for unfinished doors are Distinctivedoordesigns.com and Rawdoors.net. At Rockler.com,
you’ll find doors and 2 x 8-ft. sheets of veneer with pressure-sensitive
adhesive (PSA) on the back. Ask at your local lumberyard
for 1/4-in. hardwood plywood and moldings.
Measure and make a list of the veneer strips you’ll need to
cover the face frames. From this list, figure out how many 24 x
96-in. sheets of PSA-backed veneer sheets you’ll need. Allow
extra material, though. There are a few inches on the outside
edges of PSA veneer that are unusable. On average, one sheet will cover face frames for about 15 doors. Expect to spend
about $90 per sheet for the veneer.
Then measure the end panels and make a list of the sizes you
need. You can order the plywood cut to rough size from some
online suppliers, or figure out how many 4 x 8-ft. sheets of 1/4-
in. plywood to buy from the lumberyard. The face frames on
most modern cabinets overhang the end panel slightly. Rather
than cut off this overhang, which is messy and time-consuming,
Joel creates a flush surface by gluing a filler panel to the end
first (Photo 2). Joel says most cabinets have either a 1/8-in. or a
1/4-in. overhang, so check yours and buy the appropriate thickness
of plywood or hardboard to fill the space. Finally, make a
list of the moldings you’ll need, including the toe-kick cover.
You’ll also need denatured alcohol, rags, medium-grit sanding
sponge, construction adhesive, 3/4-in. brad nails and a stain pen and colored putty to
match the new stain color.
Prepare the cabinets
Since the sanding involved creates a little dust, Joel recommends
emptying the cabinets before you start. Next, remove
the doors by unscrewing the hinges from the face frame. Also
remove or modify the drawer fronts. There are two types of
drawers. On most new cabinets, the drawer front is a separate
piece and can be taken off by removing the screws from inside
the drawer. But some drawer fronts are attached to the drawer
sides. If you have this type of drawer, you’ll have to take the
drawer out and remove the overhanging parts of the front by
sawing them off. Then you’ll screw through the old drawer
fronts to attach the new ones.
Test the fit by placing the modified drawer back into the cabinet
and pushing it in to make sure there’s enough clearance
behind the drawer for the drawer front to sit flush with the
surface of the face frame. If the drawer protrudes, you’ll have
to order or build new drawers. In addition to removing doors
and drawer fronts, pry off any moldings you plan to replace.
To ensure that the pressure-sensitive adhesive on the veneer
and the construction adhesive for the end panels bond well, the face frames and end panels must be clean and scuffed up
slightly. Start by cleaning the face frame and end panels with a
rag dampened in denatured alcohol. Then scuff all the surfaces
with a medium-grit sanding sponge (Photo 1). Don’t use a
power sander or sand to bare wood. The PSA-backed veneer
won’t stick well to bare wood. Finally, clean the surfaces again
with denatured alcohol to remove the dust.
Joel doesn’t bother to fill small screw holes or other small
imperfections. The veneer is thick enough to span them without
a problem. But he uses a two-part hardening-type wood
filler to fill large dents and chips. Joel said he sometimes
encounters a face frame stile at the end of cabinets that’s
rounded or beveled. He fills the bevel or round-over with the
two-part wood filler after installing the new end panels but
before applying the face frame veneer.
Cover the face frame and end panels
With the cabinets prepped and cleaned, it’s time to start
making the transformation. The first step is to install the end
panels. If the face frame overhangs the existing end panel, add
a filler to create a flush surface. Joel attaches plywood with
construction adhesive and uses a few 3/4-in. brads to hold it in
place. Next, measure and cut an end panel to size so its front
edge is flush with the surface of the face frame. Hold the end
panel in place and mark the notch for the toe-kick. Cut out the
notch. Then install the panel with construction adhesive and a
few brads (Photo 2). Cover all the end panels before starting on
the face frame veneer.
There are two methods for applying veneer to a face frame.
You can cut and install oversize strips and trim them in place
with a sharp razor knife. But Joel prefers to cut the strips to the
exact width and length needed before applying them. He does
this easily with a special tool called a laminate slitter. The tool
is intended to cut strips of plastic laminate, but it works great
for veneer, too. To use it, you set the depth and width of the
cut. Then simply slide the tool along the edge of the sheet to
create a perfect-width strip. As we show below, you can also
use a table saw to cut strips of veneer.
Measure the width of the stiles and rails and cut strips from
the sheet of PSA-backed veneer (Photo 3). Then measure the
height of the end stiles and cut strips to length with a paper
cutter (Photo 4). Start by applying veneer to the outermost
stiles in a run of cabinets (Photo 5). Smooth and bond the
veneer by pressing it with the veneer applicator (Photo 6). Next,
measure the distance between the stiles and cut strips of
veneer to cover the long horizontal rails. Check the fit before
you pull off the paper backing. Then apply these strips and
press them down. Cover the remaining stiles, and on the lower
cabinets finish by covering the drawer rails.
If you have any veneer that overhangs the face frame
slightly, carefully sand it flush. Finally, use a matching stain
pen to touch up the unstained edges of the veneer and any
You can also cut veneer on a table saw using a
Another Way to Cut Veneer
The slitter shown above isn’t the only tool you can use to
cut veneer—you can use your table saw. For the best results,
build a simple veneer-ripping jig. Cut a 3-in. strip from a
24 x 24-in. piece of particleboard or plywood and glue it to
the edge of the remaining piece. Add 3/4 in. to the width of
the veneer you wish to cut, and set the fence. Then send the
jig through the saw, stopping about halfway through. Clamp
the jig to the table saw fence and you’re ready to cut veneer
strips. The jig keeps the thin veneer from sliding under the
fence, and the narrow slot left by the saw blade supports the
veneer to help prevent splintering.
Back to Top
Hang the doors and install the drawer fronts
Start the door installation by mounting the cup hinges in the
doors. Simply line up the hinge and press it into the large
round recess. Then tighten the supplied screws to anchor the
hinge. Prepare for hanging the doors by marking the center of the top hinge on the face frame stiles (Photo 7). You don’t need to mark for
the lower hinge. Hang the door from
the top hinge (Photo 8). Then drill the
pilot hole for the lower hinge screw
and drive the screw to finish the job.
Photos 9 – 11 show how to attach the
drawer fronts to the drawer boxes. The
key is to measure the distance from
the drawer box to the face frame and
add the overlay distance. Then transfer
these measurements to the back of the
drawer front, align the drawer and
attach it with four screws. To make the
drawer front adjustable, drill oversize
screw holes through the drawer and
put washers under the screw heads.
With this method, you can loosen the
screws and move the drawer front
slightly to align it perfectly.
When you’re done with the door and drawer installation,
adjust the hinges to align the doors with each other. Now
you’re ready to install your new cabinet door and drawer
hardware. For great tips on installing door hardware, see How to Install Cabinet Hardware.
Finish the project by installing cove molding along the top
of the wall cabinets and covering the toe-kick with a thin
strip of plywood finished to match the rest of the wood.
You may need special hinges for corner doors.
Corner Door Need Special Hinges
Talk to your door supplier if you need corner doors like
these. They require special hinges. If your doors have
a 1-1/4-in. overlay like these, you may have to cut
3/4-in.-deep notches in the face frame stile to mount