How to Reface Cabinets with Decorative Laminate
For many years I refaced kitchen cabinets with decorative laminates like Wilson Art and Formica. The modern self-adhesive veneers
hadn't been invented. Unless they've been replaced, those laminate kitchens are still out there and look just like the day they were
finished. Laminate is very durable and easy to keep clean. Decorative laminates are still made in beautiful wood grains, textures, colors and even metals for vertical grade applications, which means for cabinets. With laminates you can create a very exotic looking kitchen. From
cottage white to brushed chrome or stone, nothing is beyond your imagination! At the end of this article I'll show you a much easier way but
with less choices. But for now, here's how I did it a thousand times...
To reface a kitchen cabinet with a decorative laminate you will need:
1) A laminate trimmer (small router - an offset router is best) to trim the
laminate after it is applied.
2) A solid carbide 1/4" shank laminate trimmer bit. A 1" 2-fluke straight
bit. A 45 degree bevel bit with guide bearing for inside cabinet openings
after laminating the stiles and rails.
3) A good contact adhesive (recommend Hybond 80F)to apply the laminate. A 4"
fine textured oil paint roller to apply the glue.
3) A pair of tin snips to trim strips of laminate to length as you apply
them. (Or a paper cutter.)
4) An all-purpose file (one side fine, the other medium)to finish edges.
5) A table saw to cut side (end) caps and rip stile and rail strips of
laminate from a 4X8 sheet.
6) A block of wood about 2"X4" to rub/press down the laminate after you
apply it. (Or J-roller)
7) A 2' X 8' glue board of 1/4" hard board to glue strips and caps on before
8) 1 sheet of 80 grit sand paper.
9) Paint thinner (mineral spirits) for glue clean up.
10)An organic vapor face mask and rubber gloves.
11)Vertical grade laminate.
1) Remove the doors (with hinges) and drawers.
2) Prep the cabinets.
a) Route the scribes off the exposed ends of the cabinets with the 1"
2-fluke straight bit or fill in behind the scribe with 1/4" masonite to make
the cabinets square and flush.
B) Lightly sand the sides, stiles and rails.
2) Cut end caps for the ends of the cabinet boxes 1" larger than needed.
Cut stile and rail strips 1/4" larger than needed.
3) Hold up each end cap at its location and mark a line on them holding a
pencil against the wall and then cutting along the line with the tin snips
to scribe the end cap to the wall. You may have to do this several times
until the cap fits perfectly to the wall (and ceiling).
4) Lay the glue board on the counter top and glue up the end caps. Then
glue up the sides of the cabinets using a scrap piece of laminate to protect
the wall as you apply the glue. Wait for both to dry until the hair on the
back of your hand won't stick to the glue. USE PLENTY OF VENTILATION AND
5) Apply the end caps in their respective locations. If you mess up and
stick it before it's in position, use a long carving knife to carefully
scrape along the back of the laminate to free it. You may lose the end cap
by breaking it. So practice putting up the end caps before you glue them
up. If you mess up, just chip or peel the laminate off, cut another end cap
and do it again later after the rest of the caps have been applied.
6) Route of the excess overhanging laminate along the cabinet edges with
your laminate trimmer bit. IMPORTANT! HOLD THAT ROUTER PERFECTLY FLAT
AGAINST THE BOX! (You may want to practice laminating a board first.) Your
router will only get so close to the wall so you will have a piece that will
have to be removed with the tin snips (I like to use a set of dikes) and
carefully file the laminate flush with the cabinet edge. HOLD THAT FILE
7) Clean up the mess. You don't want router filings in the glue on your
next step. (Actually you should do this after each step above, too, if it's
8) Lay out your stile and rail strips on the glue board. Glue up the
cabinet fronts and the strips with the roller and let them begin to dry.
You should be able to start applying within 5-10 minutes.
9) Apply the strips on each section of cabinets in this order. Along walls
first, then along the top rail of cabinet (If it's against a ceiling or
counter top, scribe the strip to fit), then apply along the bottom rail, and
last the vertical stiles between the top and bottom rails using a pencil to
mark them and cutting them to length with the tin snips or a paper cutter.
Rub down the laminate with the block of wood. (Be careful along edges, you
can break the laminate easily until it is routed.)
10) Route off the excess laminate on the stiles and rails with the laminate
11) Carefully file around the edges of the cabinet to remove any sharp edges
or left over lips.
12) Route out the cabinet door and drawer openings with the 45 degree bevel
bit and guide bearing. Only remove about an 1/8" or less of the wood under
the laminate. NOTE: IF YOU ARE GOING TO USE HIDDEN HINGES, DON'T 45 DEGREE
ROUTE THE HINGE SIDE OF THE OPENING, JUST LIGHTLY FILE OFF THE SHARP EDGE.
13) Remove any excess glue with a cloth and mineral spirits (paint thinner)
NOT LACQUER THINNER. WEAR YOUR RUBBER GLOVES TO PROTECT YOUR SKIN.
14) Prep your drawer boxes by cutting off the overhang of the drawer front.
15) Hang your new doors.
16) Install the new drawer fronts to line up with the doors.
Is I mentioned in the beginning, here is an much easier way. Use self-adhesive RTF laminate veneer and
order RTF doors to match. See How to reface your kitchen with self-adhesive veneers.