Restoring cabinet veneer may take more than elbow grease – Washington Post

Q: My kitchen cabinets have a veneer that has rotted from moisture in certain places. How can I restore the cabinet panels to their original finish?


A: If indeed it is a veneer issue — and there is some doubt about that among several professional cabinet refinishers who looked at the picture you sent — it would be easier to buy replacement door and drawer fronts rather than try to replace the veneer. “Veneer is really hard to remove,” said Joe Henel of Pro Refinish in Fredericksburg (703-853-9665; “And if you put on new veneer, you still have to sand and finish it. So it’s better to just get a new drawer or door and stain that.”

Plus, as Peter Simonello, owner of Cabinet Restoration Company in Manchester (443-292-5650; ), pointed out, buying new doors “would be more cost-effective and in the end a better product.” If your cabinets do have a wood veneer, they are almost certainly not solid wood underneath; they are much more likely to be a manufactured product, such as medium-density fiberboard. But when you buy the replacement parts, you can upgrade to solid wood and never have to worry about veneer peeling again.

The style you have is flat-panel Shaker, which almost all cabinet companies make. It’s hard to tell from your pictures, but if the surface is veneer, it appears to be cherry or mahogany — also common cabinet options. So you should be able to find replacement pieces fairly easily.

And what if it’s not a veneer problem? You wouldn’t need replacement parts.

Simonello said he is “99 percent sure” that your issue is water damage , which you can determine by running your finger across the surface. If you feel a jagged edge where the cherry color stops, it’s veneer. Otherwise, Simonello’s hunch is probably right. When water damage strips the color from a cabinet, he said, “what is usually the case is that all of the color was put into the finish rather than a stain that would have been wiped on to the raw wood and penetrated into it.” A manufacturer might do that to create a specific look or just to save money, because it’s faster. But because the tinted finish sits on the surface, if the finish is damaged, all the color comes off. “So what they’re seeing is raw maple beneath the finish with no color beneath.”

Whether you need replacement parts or just refinishing, your big challenge will be getting the color to match your other cabinets. Because the color is likely to wind up slightly different, you might want to start by taking a door or drawer front with you to a company that has a kitchen cabinet showroom and seeing whether they have Shaker-style cabinet parts that closely match the color you need. If so, even if it’s not a perfect match, you might want to go with that.

Otherwise, you will need to custom-mix stain or seek help from a company that’s experienced with refinishing cabinets and is willing to do small jobs. Some companies take on only whole kitchens. Cabinet Restoration Company does accept small jobs, but Simonello cautions that it is nearly impossible to get a perfect color match if you work on a single cabinet. “What we typically do, because it’s hard to refinish one cabinet and get it to match, is to do all the cabinets, or at least that section,” Simonello said. For example, the crew might refinish all cabinets on one side of a kitchen. But redoing lots of cabinets gets expensive; Simonello said his company’s average price for a whole-kitchen job last year was $7,900.

If you’re willing to accept the chance that the color might wind up slightly different, Simonello’s company will custom-mix stain and apply it and a clear, protective finish. Refinishing a door or applying finish to a new one typically costs $125 to $175 per door and $75 to $95 per drawer front, provided you take the pieces to the company’s shop. For an extra price, often about $750, the company will go to your house to remove and then reinstall the pieces. That would save you the hassle of having to adjust the new doors and align the drawer fronts.

If you want to tackle the work yourself and scraping off existing veneer is something you’re willing to do, you can buy replacement veneer at a woodworking store. Woodcraft (, which has a store in Springfield, sells veneer one-sixteenths of an inch thick in a package that covers three square feet. For cherry, the price is $15; for mahogany, it’s $11. The store also carries adhesives suitable for veneer work, as well as cherry and mahogany veneer with a pressure-sensitive adhesive backing.

Q: We installed attractive concrete countertops in our kitchen 18 years ago. I admit I did not properly care for them, believing that kitchen counters would not require care. Especially next to the sink, the surface is pitted, which is unsightly and unhygienic. I promise to do better. But is there someone or some way to refinish them?


A: Your countertops are the “pressed” concrete type, said Bill Kulish, owner of Kulish Design Co. in Springfield (703-451-4859;, which started out making concrete countertops but now focuses on training installers and doing forensics investigations when there are problems with a job. Pressed concrete countertops are formed in a mold, upside down, using a stiff concrete mix. When the countertop is removed from the mold and flipped over, relatively big air gaps show on the surface. These are then filled with a concrete slurry that’s typically tinted a different color from the main mix. In your countertop, these gap fillers created the yellow accents. Kulish does not repair existing countertops, and he knew of no area company that does.

However, Tim Seay, owner of Decorative Concrete of Virginia (434-851-3510;, said his company does do this work. But it’s not cheap. Even if a kitchen has relatively little countertop space, refinishing the counters usually runs about $2,000, Seay said. “It’s expensive because it’s a two- or three-trip deal,” he said.

It’s possible to resurface concrete without creating dust, by using water to turn the dust into a slurry. But spattering your kitchen with water and concrete slurry would make a mess. So, unless there is a way to remove the countertop and refinish it outside or in a shop, the crew would need to use dry grinders with vacuums. Even then, they would need to install plastic sheeting to confine any dust that the vacuum doesn’t trap. Your family probably wouldn’t be able to use the kitchen for several days.

The crew would start grinding with 50-grit abrasive, which is very coarse. Once they had ground down the concrete to the bottom of the pits, they would then go over it four more times with finer and finer abrasives, ending with 400-grit. (The larger the grit number, the finer the abrasive.)

Sometimes, the surface is smooth enough after grinding that it is ready for a penetrating sealer, and it’s then good to go. But often the concrete has air gaps, which can be filled with a slurry of cement, pigment and a liquid similar to white glue, or with epoxy. The filler might need a day to cure, and then the crew could lightly sand it and apply the sealer.

Some refinishing jobs are even more complicated. For example, if a countertop has an epoxy coating — which Seay said yours does not appear to have, based on the picture you sent — his crew would need to strip it off with chemicals, which would add a day’s work to the job.


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