Wednesday, February 16, 2011

This Crazy-long Cabinet Refinishing Project: How to do a "distressed" painted finish

This is certainly the biggest home project I've ever undertaken... and I would never undertake it again... BUT the end result is (to me) show-stoppingly beautiful and exactly what I wanted, so it was worth it.

Here is a picture of what the kitchen looked like before we moved in. Not bad at a distance, but what this picture doesn't show are the roaches, the grease stains, moldy grout, and cracked tiles. (yes, the counter-top is tile too. yuck.)

(You'll notice in the later pictures, we added cabinets above the sink and put in a microwave over the stove.)

Thinking of trying this yourself? Here's how it went:
So, first, before doing anything to the kitchen, I drew a diagram of the doors and drawers and numbered them. Then, because we were painting them, deeply chiseled the number into the back of each corresponding door. THIS IS REALLY IMPORTANT to do because some doors look exactly the same size, but they hang differently. Then, with gloved hands, I removed all the doors and hardware and scrubbed both (doors with a strong degreaser - TSP substitute - watch it, that stuff burns. keep your gloves on.). Next, I tightened loose frames and let everything dry.

Here is some grease for ya... it's actually roach poop grease. Yeeeah, I didn't know that stuff was greasy either... until we moved into this house. (which besides this little detail, i love)

Then we removed some of the contents of cabinets and scrubbed all the cabinetry with degreaser. (Note: don't use strong anything on raw wood. It will swell. Just sand away any grime.)

My hero.

After all was scrubbed, we taped up the walls and appliances, lightly sanded the old finish so the new layers would stick well. And then it was PRIME TIME! Say goodbye to the (hiss!) PEACH. Priming preps the surface to grab the paint well, so don't skip this step if you want your finish to last! We primed everything with a tinted primer because the color we chose was so deep. And when you choose that primer, if you're going to distress the finish, keep in mind that it the primer will show some, so, if you can, request that they tint using your paint color.

 So that I could be lazy and not empty my baking supplies cabinet, I covered the opening with heavy poster paper. It worked so well I just kept moving the paper around as we primed so I didn't have to empty most of the cabinets. I highly recommend using a mini roller for almost all the priming and some of the painting (depending on the finished look you want), because it's just so much faster. You'll still need to use a small brush for all the angles and crevices. Don't forget the underside of those cabinets!

I used baby dixies to prop the doors up off the ground while I primed 'em. (NOTE: Prime the backs of doors first so when they dry and you flip them to do the other side, if there is a ring where the cup presses in, it's on the backside that no one sees much.)

More priming indoors because of the August heat. My floors are very forgiving. We have 26 doors, so this was back-breaking work. Gotta stretch!

The delicious deep brown latex paint* we chose looked good enough to eat!
(*if i were to do it all again, i might have chosen oil-based instead of latex; some instructions online said it was better for long-term wear and tear - tho it's a beast to clean up and it takes longer to dry)

After painting the cabinetry with two coats of espresso, you could really begin to tell how beautiful it was all going to be!

The doors stood at the ready for their first coat of beautiful...but unfortunately at this point in the project everything came to a halt as we made the good decision to wait and have our friend Shawn use his paint sprayer to do the top coats, cutting our labor significantly. However it did take a few months to coordinate schedules, so my kitchen looked like the picture above with no doors until almost Christmas. (Gah! Such visual chaos!)

Blessedly, once we found a date that worked, the doors where painted both sides, both coats in one day! Thank you, Shawn! Without a paint sprayer it would have taken several days to roll all those doors. Below, they are "curing" for a week before the fun of roughin' 'em up began. (Allowing paint to "cure" or harden is really important before you significantly sand it like I was planning on doing. If it hasn't hardened, it may peel when sanded rather than sanding off in a fine dust.) Don't they look delicious already?!

Next, here's the best part, it's time to give them that rough, aged look. There are a couple ways to do this, and it really depends on your preferences. Some interesting methods I found online that you might try: beat the doors with a chain, use a drill to boor small series of holes like woodpecker handiwork, drop a handful of rocks on 'em, take a leaf rake to 'em (I'm not making these up folks), sand the edges were you might find natural wear, paint a second color on top and wipe it off with a dry rag, etc. The Husband's preference was to not do any "damage" to the doors in case someone some day wanted to repaint them and didn't want a distressed look. (Okay, Crazy.) So I elected to use an electric orbital sander with 220 grain paper to gently "brush" away the layers of paint (and primer) around the edges of the doors and drawer fronts.

I worked only on the edges too because if you use the sander in the middle of the doors it will leave circles of wear which don't look natural at all! I didn't even try to "weather" any of the doors' center panels because of that - did think it would look like natural wear. Think about the places you touch most on your cabinets - around handles, across the tops of lower doors, bottoms of upper doors, some corners - those are the places to maybe remove more paint for that look. I just went along and did what I thot looked good to me.

I suggest practicing on the back of a door with your sander and different sand papers to see what effect you like before "committing" to the front side. Note: You need to get down to that raw wood for the next step, but watch out that you don't completely sand down the cut edges of your cabinet doors.

Next comes a step that I added, but is not always needed/wanted. Desiring a "dirty, lived-on" look, and wanting to dull the brighter primer lines, I chose to stain all those raw edges with a medium brown wood stain. Below you can barely see the difference, but the stain made the wood look so rich and "worn" as opposed to the unfinished look of the raw wood.

Finally! We're coming down the home stretch! ... or so it felt, but the last step was a big one and an important one to do right, so tho the home stretch was the last one, it was a long one. Using a water based polyurethane in low gloss and nylon bristle brush, Adam and I sealed the doors all over - two coats for most, three for high use or abuse doors (above stove or below sink). We lightly sanded (with finishing or "scuffing" sand paper) and wiped 'em down between coats. We had a terrible time with bubbles appearing all over, but since the whole look of the finish is rough, the end result really didn't look bad. (if you want tips on avoiding bubble in your finish, check out this very nifty info on woodweb)

After that we called 'em done, replaced the hardware, hung 'em, and enjoyed the view. Now it's your turn.  : ) Voila! The pictures below don't really capture the deepness of the color or the rusticness of the final finish, but it gives you the idea.

This one shows a bit of the tumbled marble backsplash.

The Peninsula Bar

One more look at the before......aaaaannnd....

Tada! The finished project. I think if you click it you'll get a bigger shot of it all.
(up above the cabinets is my idea of decorating: sticks from the woods. more on those later.)
It's quite satisfying to be done with this central room of the house, and very delighting to have it pretty much just as I'd like. We figured out that by doing this ourselves we saved over $2000, (project cost was roughly $200) but it did take 4 months from when we started to finish with maybe 2 1/2 weeks worth of actual hands-on time. (mostly me by myself) The sweat and time were worth it, but I recommend asking for a lot of help and setting aside twice or three times as much time as you think you'll need if you plan to try this in your home!