Design and DIY

DIY Kitchen Cabinet Upgrade

January 17, 2018

This post was sponsored by General Finishes. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

A month ago I disappeared off the face of the blogging planet. But I promise there’s a good explanation! Within that time I learned how to use an antique miter saw, went out in public with copious amounts of paint in my hair, oh and I UPDATED MY 1970’s KITCHEN CABINETS. You guys have been begging for a tutorial, so I figured it was time to come out of retirement and help you bring your own cabinets into the 21st century! (I may or may not have just googled: What century are we in? Don’t judge me.)

Blinded By The Before

Here’s a shot of the kitchen from when we moved in two and a half years ago. Just look at the linoleum floors, green laminate countertops that doubled as a backsplash, and the strange butcher block the previous owners had installed. Isn’t it just so rustic and chic? (I hope you can sense my sarcasm!)

With practically no money in our pockets after buying our first home, Brian and I decided to put a “band-aid” on the kitchen until we could afford to fully renovate. We installed new appliances, got rid of the butcher block that was a breeding ground for germs, and found the most inexpensive countertop and sink on the market. Then we figured that stick-on backsplash and a value pack of hardware was a good idea.  (Boy were we mistaken!) So when General Finishes offered to partner up on a DIY project, I knew it was the perfect opportunity to put an even BIGGER BAND-AID on our kitchen. And this time we were going to do it right!

The Finished Product

The first question that I know you’re going to ask is, How long did this project take? Well, do you want to know the truth? I have no freaking idea. 😉 I started taking the cabinet doors off on November 26th. However, balancing my full time job, Instagram, and this renovation proved to be quite the challenge. Add Christmas parties and family obligations to the mix – and I’m surprised I even finished at all! I gave myself a December 25th deadline. Why? Because I was hosting Christmas on the 26th and I wanted everything to be wrapped up by then! The good news is, on December 24th we put up the last piece of back splash and our project was complete! But enough small talk – let me walk you through the steps on how to update your kitchen cabinets.

Materials Used:

  • 1 Gallon – General Finishes Stain Blocker Primer
  • 1 Gallon – General Finishes Antique White Milk Paint
  • 1 Gallon – General Finishes High Performance Top Coat in Satin
  • 2 – 1/4 inch thick birch plywood boards ripped into 2 inch strips
  • 1 – 32 oz Elmer’s Probond Stainable Wood Filler
  • 1 Pack – 5/8 inch 18-Gauge Brad Nails
  • 1 Pack – 120 Grit Sandpaper
  • 1 Container of TSP
  • 2 Tubes of Paintable Latex Caulk
  • 2-Inch Paint Brush
  • 4-inch Foam Roller with Handle

Pro Tip: We chose plywood over MDF because MDF shouldn’t get wet. And while I’m not throwing buckets of water at my cabinets, I didn’t want to take the chance! (Plus this is what the workers at the lumber yard suggested!)

Equipment Needed:

  • Random Orbit Sander
  • Drill
  • Miter Saw
  • Brad Nailer
  • Air Compressor

Step By Step, Day By Day:

  • Remove all of the cabinet doors with either a drill or screwdriver. (A drill is much faster!)
  • Label each door with painters tape to remember where it goes! I started with the top cabinets and worked my way left to right. The first door was 1T, the second 2T, and so on. I did the same for the bottom only I used 1B, 2B. This step was a lifesaver when putting the doors back on.
  • Store your hinges and screws in a safe place.
  • General Finishes recommends cleaning the cabinets and doors with a degreasing detergent such as Dawn. I used TSP – Trisodium Phosphate. Be sure to wear gloves and follow the instructions if you decide to go this route!

  • Sand cabinets and doors with 220 grit sand paper. (You don’t have to sand all the way down to bare wood but enough to scuff up the previous finish and give something for the primer to adhere to.) A random orbit sander will cut the time it takes to do this in half! I’m linking my favorite here.
  • Wipe down all cabinet faces and doors with a microfiber cloth to get rid of any residual dust from sanding. (Or if you’re like me, live with dust in your cabinets for months after the project has been completed!)
  • I didn’t fill in the holes from the hardware because the trim covered them. But if you want to, fill the holes with wood filler, let dry for 30 minutes, and sand off any excess.

Now For the Hard Part:

  • If you don’t want to add trim to your cabinets you can skip this and go to the next step in bold! Lowe’s refused to rip down my plywood (even though I laid on the charm) so I went to a local lumberyard: L Sweet Lumber. They charged me $150 to rip two 5×5 birch plywood boards into 2-inch strips. However, they also left me with a ton of tips and tricks. I would go back to them in a heartbeat!
  • Each strip of plywood needs to be cut down to size to fit your cabinet doors. Here is my best advice: Measure Twice, Cut Once.

  • Measure the two longer sides first. Make your cuts with your miter saw (Be sure to put your hair up, wear proper eye protection, and avoid loose clothing!) and then measure the remaining two sides and cut them as well.
  • Ensure that all edges are lined up perfectly. My cabinet doors had round edges which caused some issues. (But we’ll get more into that later!)
  • Attach trim to doors with a nail gun. I used the smallest finishing nails I could find, so that they wouldn’t pierce through the door. No wood glue was necessary! I shot one nail in the center of the trim and then one in each corner.

  • Once all the cabinet doors have trim on them, fill in any nail holes or gaps with wood filler and let dry for about half an hour.
  • Sand down any excess wood filler. At this point, your plywood trim should be smooth – no bumps and definitely no holes!
  • Because my door edges were rounded and my trim was square, they did not look seamless from the sides. I caulked all the edges to fix this. Although they still weren’t perfect when finished.

It’s Time To Prime:

  • Both the cabinet faces and the doors! Because I was using an Antique White Milk Paint and High Performance Top Coat, General Finishes advised that I prime with two coats of their Stain Blocking Primer to help prevent any yellowing. Use a foam roller (less streaks!) to apply and then let dry for 2-3 hours.
  • Lightly sand with fine grit sand paper to improve smoothness and then roll on your second coat of primer.
  • For my paint, I chose a creamy white from General Finishes called Antique White. Why didn’t we go with pure white? Because it had a chance of bleed-through and as much as I enjoyed updating my cabinets, I didn’t want to do it again anytime soon! To ensure maximum coverage and durability, I applied three coats of Milk Paint, with a 2 hour dry time and light sanding in between each coat.
  • Lastly, I rolled on two coats of the High Performance Top Coat in Satin. If you are using a stark white I suggest you skip this and go for General Finishes Enduro White Poly. This will ensure NO YELLOWING. But unfortunately it is sprayable only. Read more about it here.
  • Now all you have to do is reattach the cabinet doors! Brian helped me with this because alas, I cannot do everything alone. Although I try! 😉
  • Don’t like the color of your hinges? I spray painted mine with two coats of matte black to match our new hardware.

And That’s A Wrap!

There you have it – updated kitchen cabinets without breaking the bank! Was it worth all the blood, sweat, and tantrums? Completely. Would I do it again? Probably not. Once was enough to last me a lifetime. To be utterly transparent with you, this was one of the most tedious projects I’ve ever taken on. But if I can do it, so can you! And nothing beats walking into a kitchen that you actually enjoy. Adios stick-on backsplash! Speaking of which, if you want an Under $100 Backsplash Tutorial – leave me a comment. Happy DIY-ing Tribe!

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  • Reply Shirl @swankonline January 17, 2018 at 11:57 am

    You freakin rocked this makeover, Em! You go girl ??

    • Reply emilyeveryday January 17, 2018 at 12:04 pm

      Thanks so much Shirl! Can’t wait to see how yours comes out. 🙂

  • Reply Megan January 17, 2018 at 7:52 pm

    Love the trim. I love power tools. Great job!

  • Reply Stephanie January 18, 2018 at 9:00 am

    Following this tutorial as soon as the semester is over! Love the end result!

    • Reply emilyeveryday January 18, 2018 at 9:08 am

      So exciting to hear Stephanie! Don’t forget to send me pictures. ?

  • Reply Kelly January 18, 2018 at 10:53 am

    This is beautiful! Yes PLEASE share how you did the backsplash!!!

    • Reply emilyeveryday January 18, 2018 at 11:02 am

      Hi Kelly! Thanks so much – I’ll definitely do a backsplash tutorial!

  • Reply Nazia January 18, 2018 at 11:45 am

    Backsplash tutorial please! 🙂

  • Reply Crystal January 19, 2018 at 8:28 am

    Your kitchen looks amazing and so creative using plywood to update the cabinets! Would love a backsplash tutorial!

    • Reply emilyeveryday January 19, 2018 at 9:02 am

      Plywood’s so inexpensive too! The most expensive part was getting it cut. And I’ll totally do a backsplash tutorial Crystal!! 🙂

  • Reply Anita Vera February 5, 2018 at 2:56 pm

    Kitchen cabinets are used more often than dishwashers and stoves. And since they occupy a large space, they more exposed to elements that can help degrade their quality.

    • Reply emilyeveryday February 5, 2018 at 3:00 pm

      Hi Anita, I’m not quite sure where you’re going with this comment?

  • Reply Amanda March 7, 2018 at 5:27 am

    Great work! These kitchen cabinets are so beautiful. I am inspired with your work. I can’t wait to try this. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Reply emilyeveryday March 7, 2018 at 10:32 am

      Yay!! Thanks Amanda – can’t wait to see how yours turn out! 🙂

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  • Reply Jen September 9, 2018 at 4:24 am

    Thanks for this tutorial! Roughly what was the total cost for the project? We have similar cabinets from the 50’s but we rent so we don’t want to invest too much money and time (but obviously some since we are considering updating the kitchen anyway). If you had to cut some corners on this project, which step or material would you?

    • Reply emilyeveryday September 11, 2018 at 1:25 pm

      Honestly, I don’t remember the cost of the project exactly (and some of it was sponsored). If you don’t want trim – that’s the easiest thing to cut out! And just prime and paint. 🙂

  • Reply Ann McFarland February 11, 2019 at 11:48 am

    EMILY I AM SOOO SHOOK BY HOW BEAUTIFUL YOUR KITCHEN TURNED OUT. I’m ( sorry all caps I get excited ?) right in the middle of my remodel and I have the same FUGLY PLAIN FAKE WOOD CABINETS AND I HAD NO IDEA THEY COULD B SO DAMN BEAUTIFUL ? again with the caps eeecks!! So can you also share your backsplash with me? You had green mine is 80s BLUE tile literally stolen from blockbuster video. The guy who owned the house before us built the video store so if u hv seen how ugly they are … well that’s my kitchen! What’s worse is big blue tile on floor little blue tile on counter… no cabinet pulls he was too cheap. I love you and I love learning from you so thanks gorgeous!!!

    • Reply emilyeveryday February 12, 2019 at 8:46 am

      Hi Ann! The backsplash are large pieces of faux brick paneling from Lowes, cut down to size and painted white. If you search “faux brick backsplash” on Pinterest you’ll find lots of tutorials!

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  • Reply Ashley April 27, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    Hi Emily! Everything about this kitchen is gorgeous! Thank you so much for the tutorial as my kitchen is super similar to yours was before.
    I do have one question though. You only added the trim to your doors but not the drawers, does that make the doors stick out farther? Or did you add something to them as well?

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