Bathroom & Kitchen Guide

Your complete guide to remodeling, design and new products.


Renewing RTF Cabinets by Painting


Installing new kitchen and bath cabinets can be an expensive proposition and you want them to look their best.RTF However, you can have like-new cabinets for a fraction of the cost of new cabinetry. Simply paint your existing cabinets and replace the doors to achieve a fresh, new look. Here, we explain the process of renovating standard face-frame cabinets using doors covered with a new material called rigid thermofoil (RTF).

Designed to resemble traditional raised-panel doors, RTF doors have a durable, maintenance-free finish and are made from dense fiberboard. The raised-panel contour is cut into the fiberboard, and the surface is then covered with a special foil that's laminated on using a vacuum process.
RTF DoorsManufacturers make RTF doors and drawer fronts to virtually any size and offer a variety of prefinished colors and styles, including divided-light glazing. However, most makers do not offer the doors through retailers. To get them, place an order with a local cabinetmaker or contractor, or contact the manufacturer.

Overlay doors can be mounted with exposed overlay hinges or concealed, European-style cup hinges.  Overlay hinges are available at most hardware stores and home centers.
Cup hinges aren't as readily available; you'll find the largest selection in mail-order woodworking catalogs. When ordering them, you must know the door thickness, the distance that the door overlays the face frame and how far you want the door to open. You must also purchase a special mortising drill bit (usually 35mm diameter).

Renewing Your Cabinets by Painting
BeforeBegin by preparing the cabinets for painting. First remove the doors and drawers, and clear out the cabinets. Then clean the cabinets thoroughly with a solution of water, ammonia, powdered laundry detergent and trisodium phosphate (TSP) or a citrusoil cleaner (such as Pure Strength from Rust-Oleum). Scrub all surfaces with a nylon pad soaked with the solution. Finish by rinsing with clear water.

Next, sand any rough, peeling or heavily painted surfaces with a sanding block or a random-orbit sander fitted with 80- or 100-grit sandpaper, followed with finer sandpaper. To capture most of the dust, use a sander that attaches to a vacuum. Then apply an undercoat (not a primer) to help the new paint adhere. Use an oil-based undercoat, such as Enamel Under-coater or an alcohol-based product.  Apply one coat to smooth surfaces or multiple coats on heavily sanded or porous surfaces.

Between coats, fill deep holes and large cracks with spackling compound. Extremely porous wood, such as Philippine mahogany, requires wood filler. Sand between coats with a fine sandpaper. Apply enough undercoat and filler to create a smooth surface.

AfterObtaining the Perfect Paint Job on Your Cabinets
Renewing Cabinets requires a high-quality, heavy-duty top coat.  For the best results, try to find a Select a paint color that matches the color of the RTF doors. Ask your cabinet-door supplier, or take a door to a paint store and have a matching color mixed. You may also wish to choose a contrasting color. Whichever paint you use, be sure that the top coat is compatible with the undercoat. Apply the top coat with a foam or mohair roller to give it a texture similar to the door's finish. Use a 3-in.-wide roller on the cabinet face frames. Let the paint dry 24 hours.

Mounting the Cabinet Doors
To install exposed overlay hinges, simply screw the hinges to the back of the door 3 in. from the top and bottom edges. A door that's taller than 2 ft. requires three hinges.

To hang the door, first clamp a straightedge to the lower rail of the face frame. Then stand the door on the straightedge, centered over the opening. Apply a strip of masking tape to the top of the door to hold it in place. Next mark the hinge-screw locations on the face frame with a pencil. Remove the door and use an awl or a nail to mark a starter hole. Finally, bore the hinge-screw pilot holes and hang the door.

If you're using concealed cup hinges, make a mortise-boring jig from a piece of scrap wood. First read the instructions included with the cup hinges to determine the proper mortise location. Then mark these measurements on the scrap and bore a hole at each location. Also attach an edge fence to the scrap to make positioning the jig easier.

Clamp the jig to the back of a door and bore the first mortise. Use a hinge to check the depth of the mortise frequently. When you reach the proper depth, mark the bit with a piece of tape to serve as a depth guide. Then bore the remaining mortises and attach the hinges to the doors.
Next clamp a straightedge to the cabinets. Then with both hinges in the open position, set a door on the straightedge. Mark the height of mounting-hole locations on the edge of the face frame. Remove the door and bore pilot holes for the mounting screws. Then release the hinge's spring clip to separate the hinge leaves.

Attach the face-frame leaves with screws, and then hang the door. Use the hinge-adjustment screws to fine-tune the doors' fit.  You now have renewed your RTF cabinets simply by painting.

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