Sanding Kitchen Cabinet Doors Before Priming

Welcome to our Budget DIY Kitchen Remodel project. Links to each step of the project can be found on our Budget DIY Kitchen Remodel home page.

With the stripping done, the next step is to sand the cabinet doors. Sanding kitchen cabinet doors is easy, even if you’ve never done it before (I hadn’t!):

  1. Sand with a coarse grit to remove varnish
  2. Wipe clean
  3. Sand with a fine grit to smooth everything out
  4. Wipe super clean

Sanding part 1: Coarse Grit (60)

A powered sander (I use a corner sander) is absolutely essential if you’re going to be refinishing your own cabinets. Do not attempt this using sandpaper alone – you’ll go crazy, and you probably won’t get as smooth a finish. My sanders are a Black and Decker and a Ryobi, and both are excellent.

If you’re in the market for a corner sander, this Genesis corner sander is Amazon’s best rated and it’s cheaper than what I paid for either of mine.


The Genesis corner sander even comes with sandpaper pads!

I first used 60 grit sandpaper to remove any remaining varnish from each cabinet door face.

sanding cabinet faces with coarse grit


Sanding part 2: Fine Grit (200)

I did a second sanding pass with a finer grit sand paper (grit 200) to make the faces smoother.

sanding cabinet faces in preparation for painting


I don’t have a scientific method for knowing when to switch grits or knowing when I’m done.  Basically, when the wood looked shine-free (no varnish) and had a smooth texture, I was done.  I did both sides and all the edges of the cabinets before handing them off to Jim for final wiping and drying.

I wiped each cabinet down with a wet towel to remove any lingering dust or sanding debris before moving onto the next step: primer!

Preparing Kitchen Cabinets for Painting: Stripping and Scraping

Welcome to our Budget DIY Kitchen Remodel project. Links to each step of the project can be found on our Budget DIY Kitchen Remodel home page.

My kitchen’s cabinets aren’t anything too special, and they’ve even got a bit of wear and water damage, but they are wood – and that means I can strip them clean and paint or stain them however I like! Preparing kitchen cabinets for painting is a project in and of itself.

The whole cabinet painting process is going to go like this:

  1. Strip existing paint/varnish with Citristrip and a scraper (this post!)
  2. Sand cabinets with an electric hand sander (next post!)
  3. Prime cabinets with a primer
  4. Paint cabinets with a quality enamel 

This step is about stripping the cabinets. I hauled each cabinet door into the garage, smeared them with Citristrip gel, and let ’em sit for a while.

Citristrip stripping gel for kitchen cabinet painting

Below are two cabinet doors coated with paint stripper. Why are they already painted? Let’s just say that was a failed experiment at putting latex paint directly onto the cabinets. Do not put latex paint directly onto the cabinets, it will not stick – it will flake off and look crazy ugly.

preparing kitchen cabinets for painting with stripping gel

I used a plastic paintbrush to get the stripping gel into every nook and cranny.

preparing kitchen cabinets for painting with stripping gel and a brush

Citristrip works fast – after about 30 minutes I was able to start scraping. This was messy and tedious work.

preparing kitchen cabinets for painting by scraping off existing paint and varnish

It took most of the afternoon to strip and scrape each of the cabinet doors, but they are now paint- and varnish-free.

preparing kitchen cabinets for painting ready for sanding

Next step: sanding the cabinet doors.

Budget Kitchen Renovation: Watch Us Wreck Our Kitchen and Put it Back Together

Level Up House's budget kitchen renovation. We repainted our cabinets, replaced our floors, installed a range hood, replaced the dated fluorescents with can lights, and tiled our own backsplash. And we did it for $6000 - WAY less than any contractor would've done it for!

Welcome to our largest project to date: a budget-friendly, semi-DIY kitchen renovation.

Why “semi-DIY”? Well, we won’t make or install the countertop ourselves, and we’re going to let the pros install the floor, but we’ll handle the demolition, cabinet refinishing, cabinet knobs, tiled backsplash, all patching and painting. We’re somewhere between “hand it all off to a contractor” and “cast our own countertop out of concrete”. If you can swing a hammer and know your way around Home Depot, you’re as skilled as we were when we started this project!

To give you a sense of time, most of this project was completed over the course of 2 months (and we both work full time, so we did most of this in our evenings and weekends).

If you’re reading this in 2014, good news: I’ve recently updated these articles to tell you how our renovated kitchen has held up over the past 2 years!

Budget DIY Kitchen Remodel To-Do List

  1. Tear out cabinets – Completed 2/2012!
  2. Strip varnish off cabinet doorsCompleted 2/2012!
  3. Sand cabinet doorsCompleted 2/2012!
  4. Prime cabinet doorsCompleted 2/2012!
  5. Final coat of paint on cabinet doors – Completed 2/2012!
  6. Paint the pantry door – Completed 2/2012!
  7. Install a powerful range hood – Completed 3/2012!
  8. Tear out mix of vinyl and hardwood flooring – Completed 3/2012!
  9. Laminate flooring professionally installed – Completed 4/2012!
  10. Remove popcorn ceiling – Completed 4/2012!
  11. Replace countertop, sink, and faucet – Completed 4/2012!
  12. Update lighting in the ceiling recess – Completed 1/2013! (Yes, we took an 8-month break from the kitchen project)
  13. Add pull knobs to kitchen cabinets and drawers – Completed 1/2013!
  14. Patch the ceiling hole adjacent to range hood duct – Completed 1/2013!
  15. Tile a new 6″ backsplash – Completed 4/2013! 

Kitchen remodel total cost:

  • Countertop, sink, faucet – About $2600
  • Range hood & installation – $1000
  • Electrical fixes – $200
  • Tiled backsplash – About $350
  • Cabinet refinishing supplies – $150
  • Ceiling lights, patching – About $50
  • Popcorn ceiling removal – About $300 for kitchen’s part of it, but we had popcorn removed in several rooms at once
  • Laminate Flooring – About $900 for the kitchen’s part, but we did the whole downstairs

All told, we spent about $6,000 on this kitchen remodel. Some things, like the flooring and popcorn ceiling removal, were actually done to many rooms (not just the kitchen).

What to prioritize in a kitchen remodel?

Make a list of what really irritates you in your kitchen. Maybe everything irritates you, but if you can pick just 3 or 4 things it’ll help you focus your budget.

In my kitchen, those things were:

  • The too-small 2-bowl sink. I went with a gigantic stainless steel undermount sink.
  • Overwhelming “orange and yellow” color palette
  • Bare fluorescent bulbs on the ceiling  – Total eyesore
  • Weak ventilation – I really wanted a rangehood.

When in doubt, prioritize usability. Make your kitchen enjoyable to use with a big sink and flexible faucet. Also, your choice of materials matters a lot – a few $ difference per square foot for a thing like flooring or a countertop doesn’t sound like much until you look at the full price. We were constantly trying to strike a balance between quality and savings.

Things I wanted but didn’t get:

  • A better layout – it was just too expensive to gut the whole kitchen
  • Remove the drop ceiling – too expensive for another 8″ of ceiling
  • New range/oven – Maybe later, the one I have now works fine, even if it’s worn out and not as stylish as a new one

We also didn’t replace any appliances. So many kitchen remodels involve chucking an entire set of perfectly good appliances just to get more modern features or a stainless steel finish. If your appliances are like ours and they work fine, consider replacing them when they break, not when they’re perfectly fine, and you’ll find a kitchen remodel much more affordable.

Can you DIY your kitchen renovation?

Renovating your own kitchen is hell. Everybody loves “before and after”, but not many people like to show off the ugly in-between. A DIY renovation of this scope is not for the weak. But I’m guessing if you’re reading this blog, you’re not a pansy who outsources everything short of dressing yourself in the morning to someone else. If you love rolling up your sleeves and saving thousands of dollars, you might have what it takes!

But here’s some fair warning. Our kitchen – no, most of our downstairs floor – looked like this for over 2 months. 


For various stretches of time, we lived with holes in the wall, torn up floor (for a month!), and tools on every horizontal surface. 


Oh, and at least a few things won’t go as you planned. Your floor will be harder to remove than you’d thought, the electrical won’t be set up the way you need it to be, an installer will get delayed. Be ready for some surprises! I warn you, do not undertake your own DIY kitchen renovation project unless you know you work well with your partner and possess an almost insanely badass work ethic. Tough work lies ahead. :)

Let’s get started!

Okay then! On that happy note, let’s get going!!!


Will I ruin my cabinets?  Will I glue my hand to the counter? Follow along with our budget kitchen renovation and find out! Next stop, cabinet tear-out!

Budget DIY Kitchen Remodel: Tearing Out Cabinets

Welcome to our Budget DIY Kitchen Remodel project. Links to each step of the project can be found on our Budget DIY Kitchen Remodel home page.

They say the best way to begin is to begin, and for us that means it’s time to tear out our cabinets. The first step was simple: we carefully unscrewed each cabinet door from its frame and hauled each one into the garage for stripping and sanding.

Here we are with all the cabinet doors removed.

Next step? Removing the cabinet frames from the range’s wall. The first cabinet was held in place with a bunch of glue and metal.

The microwave was heavy – and its sides were somehow caked with cooking oil, which really grossed us out. Wear your work clothes, kids.

And here’s our scary ugly bare wall, now sans-microwave and cabinet. 

Here’s where we left off. The microwave and narrow cabinet to the right of it are gone, and all of the removable cabinet doors are in the garage, getting stripped, sanded, and primed. The cabinet to the right of the sink is coming down, too, we just need to make space for it and move the toaster oven out of the way.

All in all, removing our own cabinets was easy and straightforward. If you’re looking to cut costs on your kitchen remodel, tearing out some or all of your own cabinets can save you a bit of contractor costs. All you need is a drill and a bit of “elbow grease”.

Meanwhile, in the garage, I started preparing the cabinet doors for painting.

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