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Make old kitchen cabinets look like new

Dear Ms. Builder: I want a fresh new remodeled look in our kitchen, but I cannot afford the $1,500 for new decorator cabinets. My 15-year-old wood cabinets are sound, just outdated and worn. Can I repaint old cabinets? - Paula H.

Dear Paula: Fifteen years of sticky, dirty kid's hands can take its toll on even the best kitchen cabinets. In the past decade, preferred kitchen colors and decor have changed significantly. I would say it's about time for a new look.

If your old wood cabinets were good quality and the hinges and doors still operate well, you can salvage them with a fresh coat of paint and save about $1,400. With several kids needing to go to college, I am sure that you can find plenty of other uses for the money.

Figure on spending about 20 hours total to repaint the cabinets and drawers in an average kitchen. Allowing for disassembly, wood preparation, painting, and reassembly, the job will span about a week.

First you must prepare the doors and drawers. Remove the handles and other metal hardware and wash the wood surfaces to be painted. Clean all the surfaces with a solution of trisodium phosphate. Don't be afraid to really scrub, but make sure to dry them thoroughly - don't let them just air dry.

Now comes the boring, but most important, part - surface preparation. Sand all surfaces to be painted with 100-grit sandpaper. To get around some of the surface detail, a sanding sponge works well. Be gentle so you do not sand off sharp edges. This really detracts from the finished appearance.

For a real professional look, use putty in any small nicks and gaps. If you have raised panel cabinet doors, use caulk at the seams for a brand-new, contemporary look.

Now for the fun part - painting. The hardest, most durable, type of paint is epoxy-modified alkyd paint commonly available in spray cans. Your choices of color are somewhat limited and it takes some skill in applying spray paint evenly, especially from spray cans.

For the inexperienced painter, I recommend a three-step painting process - primer, split coat and final gloss oil-based coat. Gloss oil-based paint can be mixed in any contemporary color, is easy to apply and dries fairly fast. Always use high-quality China bristle brushes with oil-based paint.

Remember the three most important words in painting - CLEAN, CLEAN and CLEAN again. Once you have all the doors prepared for painting, right before applying the primary coat, vacuum them and wipe them with a tack cloth. When dry, very-gently sand this primer coating with 220-grit (fine) sandpaper until the surfaces feel smooth.

Vacuum and use the tack cloth again. Apply a second split (half primer and half final paint) coat. Check for any rough spots and sand them smooth. Apply the finish gloss coating. You will not know until after it dries whether it will need a second finished coat.

If you are in a hurry and the doors have large flat surfaces, you can save some time by rolling the finished coat. You will still have to brush over it, but it does save time overall. Check for any small roller lint.

Here is a cabinet painting tip that professional painters use. You can avoid brush strokes by always painting from the unpainted area to the just painted area. Lift up the brush while your hand is still moving. You will see a small lift-off mark, but it will quickly disappear.

Always strain the paint first, even if the can was just opened. You can purchase a strainer for about $1 from your paint store or just use an old nylon stocking.

Tools and materials required: Phillips and flat screwdriver, 100-grit and 220-grit sandpaper, sanding sponge, tack cloth, putty, caulking, Trisodium Phosphate cleaner, two China-bristle brushes - 1-1/2 in. tapered and 2 in, oil-based paint and primer. Send questions to: Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, Ohio 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.