Okay I need to start this post with a very clear caveat: We cannot paint our cabinets, and we cannot stain our cabinets. Ahhh… that feels better to get that out in the open first thing. Okay, so the reason that is the first thing in bold red text, is because I know I am going to get comments “Why don’t you just paint your cabinets?” BUT our Realtor advised us not to paint because we decided to rent our home and not sell it. And rental homes/cabinets get beat up, but it shows less with wood than paint, she knows this from LOTS of experience. AND we only had 4 weeks to finish our entire house, there technically wasn’t time anyway.
Sidenote: Since I feature a lot of painted kitchen remodels, I get a LOT of comments about how people can’t paint their cabinets, usually a spouse is not okay with painting for one reason or another. So this post will hopefully show you that you can update the look of your cabinets without painting them…
Update Builder Grade Cabinets:
1″ x 6″ Oak, or matching lumber in needed length (see diagram below)
Oak Crown Molding (we used vinyl composite oak look moldings)
Pine 5/16″ half round molding, same length as header plus an inch or two. (use oak if available)
Natural Oak Stain (or matching shade to your existing cabinets)
Polyurethane spray paint (or regular polyurethane in matching finish to your cabinets – satin for us)
Scrap blocking wood, for cleats and backing blocks
1. Finish Your Wood
The first thing that we did was stain the new wood to match the existing color of the cabinets. Take your oak 1 x 6, small pine molding and crown (ONLY if real wood) stain them to match the color of your cabinets. It is a good idea to use a small test piece to see if you need one or two coats of stain, check it against your kitchen in the actual space, to make sure it looks right.
Follow the drying instructions on the stain before applying polyurethane to the boards. Spray(or brush) with Polyurethane and allow them to dry. Lightly sand with 250 grit or higher sandpaper and wipe dust away with a tack cloth before you apply a second coat. (You can decide if you need a third coat, a light sanding between coats is a good idea for a professional finish).
2. Measure and cut the boards.
Once they are stained, lacquered and completely dry, cut them to the length of the cabinets. Don’t forget you will need mitered edges on any outside corners, where the two boards meet, to keep it looking professional.
Measurements you will need, the front length of your cabinets (measurement 1 and 3) and you need the return to the wall measurement (4 and 2)
3. Glue and Nail the Header Pieces Together:
It is easiest to secure the molding corners before installing them above your head. Place your wood on a level surface. Then glue and nail the mitered corner of the header together, be sure to keep the corner square. (Piece 1 to 2, be sure to keep the finished side of the wood out)
Because the length of our cabinets was longer than the wood, we did a scarf joint (shown below). Try to place any scarf joints in inconspicuous places. I did mine as close to the wall, above the fridge, to avoid it being noticeable. Once it is placed and cut, glue and nail the joint together. Wipe away any excess glue with a wet rag. Allow glue to dry.
Mitered Corner Joint
Glue and nail corner before installing
Scarf joint, miter the edges so they lay flat together
Glue and nail together
4. Nail Cleats to wall
Use 4 small scrap pieces of wood (1″ x 3″ no more than 5 inches tall) as cleats for the header. Set them back the same thickness of your wood on the ends of your “L” shaded header space. Make sure the cleats are level up and down the same as your cabinets.
(Sorry the picture is fuzzy, it is the only one I took! UGH!! So, I created a location image to give you an idea of where these pieces go, below)
5. Attach the Header to Your Cabinet Top:
Place the header on top of your cabinet. Open the doors to your cabinets and use a clamp or two to hold the header in place. Before tightening the clamps, be sure that you line up the front of the header exactly with the front and side of your cabinet, then tighten clamps to hold the header in place.
Pre-drill holes for screws to avoid spiting wood or breaking drill bits. With the door of your cabinet open, pre-drill a hole straight up through the face frame of your cabinet into the header piece. Screw in a wood screw to hold it in place. Repeat the pre-drill, screw process about every 3 feet, down the length of your cabinets, or where it seems necessary.
6. Nail the Header Ends to the Cleats
Now that the header is secured to the cabinet body, nail the ends to the cleats near the top of the header. (We nailed where we knew the crown would cover so that no holes were visible)
This is what they will look like with the headers installed:
If you are piecing the board together.
For crown moldings .
Cut the backing blocks from any solid scrap wood, 1×4 or 2×4, like shown below.
When installing the crown it will look like the images below:
How to piece cove and chair rail molding.
For regular crown molding.
9. Nail Cleats to Header Board
Because we wanted to add as much height as possible to the crown, we installed our cleats to extend above the header board. To make sure they were all level in the easiest way, we held a spacer in place to to set the height of each cleat, and secured the cleat in place with the nail gun. The spacer was not secured, and we used it for each block. See the diagram below. Install cleats about every 2 feet.
10. Install the Moldings
Now just install your moldings. For our project, we started with the cove molding. Miter all outside corners.
After the cove molding is in place, nail on the chair rail molding and miter the edges around any outside corners. Be sure not to butt joint any seams in the moldings, always do a scarf joint like shown above in the header.
Here is a look of how it is all coming together.
Now just as a reminder, here is the before:
And here is the after shot. I think that it is a big improvement! All told the project took about 4 hours. (not including drying times)
I’ll have the final kitchen tour up in the next few days so please come and check it out! If you want to see where we started, the first few changes, and installing the new back splash tutorial please check out those links. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this project!