My wife and I love our house, but there are definitely some things we love more than others. One thing in particular was the kitchen cabinets. The doors had a cheap, flimsy feel to them, they made a racket opening and closing them. The drawers are cheaply made and get stuck as the wood slides on bloated wood rails. It was in need of an upgrade.
I’ve been wanting to redo the cabinets for quite some time, but I knew I had to get better at woodworking before I would be able to do the doors myself. For the style that we wanted, I also needed a reliable set of rail and stile router bits and panel cutters. To use those, I’d need a reliable router table. Thankfully, I finished my router table in May (see it here).
The process of putting together the cabinet doors was a long one. It took weeks to ensure all the measurements were exact and figure out how I was going to lay out the design. Even more time to glue each piece up, shape them, then painting, then the arduous task of fitting each piece in place.
First, I made the measurements of the existing cabinets and drawers as best I could. The new doors would be overhang doors (rather than the half-overlay ones), so they didn’t have to be quite as precise. I laid out all the measurements into SketchUp and labeled each piece to help me map the progress.
I then calculated from the measurements the appropriate dimensions of each insert panel, rail, and stile for the cabinet doors along with the drawer fronts.
I ordered some beautiful poplar wood from a local hardwood dealer. I was quite excited, as I had never worked with poplar. From my first test cuts with the wood, I found its tight grain structure to be much more satisfying to work and shape than the heavy grain of red oak.
I cut out each rail and stile using my fancy router table. The poplar wood cut quite smooth and I ended up with a nice, neat stack for each door, labelled appropriately.
Next, I moved to the panels. I had to glue up a bunch of segments to make the panel sizes I required. This took some time, as each panel needed most of my clamps, so I was only able to do one or two panels a day and let the glue dry overnight.
I then cut the panels with my very wide panel-cutting router bit. I love the stepped sides of the panels.
The panels needed quite a bit of sanding and smoothing, but I decided I’d do that after I glued them up. The next process of gluing up the full doors also took quite some time. Like with the panels themselves, I could only do one or two each day.
The painting process was a lot more work than I anticipated. I had a bought a HVLP sprayer earlier in the year and was excited to use it. It did speed up the painting time itself, and ensured a more even coat. However, I had to use about three coats, with plenty of sanding in between to ensure a perfect smooth final texture.
It helped to dilute the paint with about 20% water. This allowed it to spray better. Especially since this was a high-enamel cabinet paint. This of course, means I needed more coats, three seemed to do the trick. I sanded lightly with 220 grit sandpaper between each coat.
Given the size of my shop and limited outdoor space, the painting process took a couple weeks to get both sides of each piece. I then let the pieces sit and cure for at least a week to ensure that there was no tackiness left on the surfaces.
I thought that once I attached the hardware I was done. Mission accomplished. It turns out that fitting the pieces so they look nice and square on the frames is quite a process. I spent quite a few days just trying to get them to sit right, making micro-adjustments. In many cases, I had to add strips of wood to the side of the frames to avoid in glaring gaps. Two of the doors required shaving off a 1/16th of an inch from each side so that they’d fit nicely together. After all this, I have a new appreciation for cabinet work, and why it can cost thousands to have it professionally done.
My wife then painted the frames after I sanded them down. This was a bit stressful, as it felt like we had just moved in. We let the paint cure for at least a week, so our kitchen items were scattered all over.
I then added the hardware to the doors and voila! The kitchen cabinets were completed.