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Help Wanted: Painting Kitchen Cabinets

I think of myself as a good guy. And my wife is an even better person than I am. I wonder though if there is something wrong with us. We have taken the time to meet with four different contractors, going over our needs for renovating our home and not one of them has given us a quote. This makes me wonder if we are off-putting in some way or the work we need completed is undesirable for some reason.

With the first two painters, who came recommended to us by a real estate friend, we went over all the things we needed for our whole home, inside and out, from the roof to the basement. I think we scared the first two off. Or to better describe it, our job is not as appealing to them as the other jobs they can choose from. Which is part of the problem – there is more work for painters than there are painters to do the work, so they can pick the preferred work and pass on more complex jobs. I can understand this, part of our job would be removal of popcorn ceilings in various rooms in our home as well as filling in exterior window glazing where some has dried and fallen off after 38 years of existence. Two projects I would hate to do.

With the third painter who is actually a remodeler (more than a painter), we decided to focus primarily on our kitchen renovation and a renovation of our master bath. Hopefully, the smaller scope of the project would not to scare him off. After meeting with us, we never heard from him again. Which is a curious thing to me. All three made time to meet with us, have at least some time invested in our job, but I guess if the work is harder than they want, I shouldn’t think of the situation as odd.

Then a fourth meeting happened – this time another remodeler; actually a state licensed home builder. I was careful to break the project down into even easier segments, looking for a way to make the project less intimidating. After three weeks, we are still waiting for a quote.

I know that I am at least a part of the problem. When I discuss with these people the work which needs to happen, I include the story about how I made the kitchen doors and drawers. I know for a fact that this drove away the third guy. He called me a “craftsman” which meant that I was going to have higher standards than most people. So, I am giving our fourth contractor another week and then I’ll be looking for someone else.

I wrote the previous paragraphs as a lead up to this point: It is looking like I am going to have to do this work if I want it accomplished any time soon. But it won’t be accomplished soon due to my limited time to devote to the project.

But, I am having fun getting my yard in shape. A nice break from the year-long kitchen woodworking project. We have had beautiful spring days here in Alabama (but it seems severe weather is almost a weekly occurrence). I’m enjoying the time outside and I hope you are as well.

Making New Drawers for my Kitchen Cabinets

I’m jumping ahead a little bit (a lot really) bypassing the process for making new lower kitchen cabinet doors because the construction method is exactly the same as shown in this post. So I’ll spare you the repetitive nature of making seven more cabinets doors. But, I did build them so with the base cabinet doors completed, I am finished with the door part of this kitchen cabinet renovation project!!! Let’s pause to let this sink in a little. Completing all 29 doors was a big moment for this project and took OVER A YEAR. I knew this would take a while, but not more than a year. Now I can turn to building the five drawers still needed in this project.

When contemplating how I would build these drawers, I thought of things like incorporating hand cut dovetail joinery. I’ve never made hand cut dovetail anything and drawers are so perfect to show off this very impressive joinery method. Remember this kitchen cabinet renovation is part of a larger project to get our home ready to sell. I thought it would be a bodacious thing to leave the next owners of our home hand cut dovetail drawers. But I am not skilled at cutting dovetails by hand which means this joinery would be slow and tedious. Most all tedious tasks cause me to look for alternatives. In the end, I decided to use my typical method for drawer joinery which is through dowels. These can look nice when the dowels are a contrasting wood and this is a joinery method has proven to be strong, especially when the drawers themselves roll in and out on slides.

Before I get into photos of drawer construction, I’d like to show you the joinery found in the old drawers…

Crude joinery – small staples.

Our home was built about 1984 which means it is 38 years old. I’m replacing the original drawers. Their joinery is via small staples (and probably glue) and they have not failed after almost four decades of use. This is a reminder that even though many people (me included) wouldn’t dare assemble quality drawers this way, rudimentary joinery like this can be effective. I can only conclude that a nailed or stapled drawer box will work for many, many years as long as the drawer rolls well. And the material is of good quality. I once had to repair some drawers for my brother which used staples shot into veneered chipboard. The chipboard didn’t hold the staples well and the drawer components had pulled apart.

A photographic journey – building five new drawers…

Drawer construction, exploded view.
Parts: the basic parts for each drawer box cut to final size.

Above, the drawer box parts are 3/4″ pine and the sides are 3/8″ ash. I chose ash for the sides because I like hardwood drawer sides when using dowel joinery and I have some extra ash that I’d like to get rid of.

Dowel joinery underway.
Dowels in place; they get trimmed flush and planed flat.
Five drawer boxes completed. The drawer bottoms are 1/4″ MDF. I sprayed them with polyurethane. There is a repair visible in the top drawer – more on that below.
The drawer fronts are wide enough that each is a glue-up of two boards.
Just like the doors, the drawer fronts get a cove detail.
A completed drawer with a coat of primer and knob.
I reuse the old drawer slide hardware. Pretty simple: this wheel rides in a metal channel and there are two small wheels mounted inside the lower corners of the drawer opening.
The base cabinets with new doors and drawers, a coat of primer on them.
Walnut dowels and ash drawer sides – a good color combination.
The stove base cabinets (note the chipped paint on the corner of the cabinet).
The new sink base cabinet false drawer fronts and drawers.

A few notes: I had a big error on one of the slender drawers; I made it too wide. I took the drawer bottom out, then using my table saw, I cut the drawer box in half. I then cut about 3/4″ out of the front and back and using biscuits, glued the box back together. A good repair since the front and back of this slender drawer will be like 95% out of view.

I thought about buying new drawer slides since the original ones were squeaky and old. But I decided to simply re-use the original slides and try to lubricate the rolling parts. All this went well. Saved a lot of time and money.

I mentioned above the chipped paint seen on some of the cabinets. This has been a big problem for long time. Years ago we had our cabinets painted white; they were originally stained a medium brown. The paint would regularly chip away here and there, requiring a fix prior to family gatherings at our home. But I eventually got tired of this and just let them be. If some additional paint chipped away, I stopped trying to repair it. The next step in this renovation will be to sand and prep these cabinets for a fresh coat of paint and rid our cabinets of all the chipped paint areas. A project which will be some work and to be honest, I’m dreading. But the end is in sight. With some final hard work, I’ll be able to turn this total kitchen renovation over to the painters who will remove the popcorn ceiling, paint the cabinets and the rest of the room, counter top installers and flooring mechanics among others. Then we will be able to enjoy our new kitchen for a few months until we sell our home (maybe longer depending on our ability to find a new home).

Making Custom Crown Molding

After completing all the doors for my upper kitchen cabinets, the next step is to add crown molding (see all the posts in this series here). This is a step in this project I have been looking forward to because crown instantly improves the look of a project. Plus crown molding is the last step in construction for the upper cabinets.

This cabinet design has a very specific requirement for crown molding. The available vertical space is only 1-1/2″ which is a tiny, tiny area. The first design called for a larger crown and smaller doors, but the doors seemed too small making the storage space behind them less effective. So, larger door openings means smaller crown molding.

Most small crown molding available at the home center is too big for this space. I did find a potential crown at the Home Depot, but something I learned from my coffered ceiling project is this: a small crown molding looks less small if it can extend outward more than normal. After looking at the options, I decided to make my own crown molding.

The custom two-part crown molding profile.
The custom crown molding rendering.

To obtain the broad cove seen in the upper half of my crown design, I would have to form it using my table saw, a task I have never attempted. I researched methods for creating this type of cut and found examples where a special jig was used. I chose not to use a store bought jig, or to make a special jig for this step. I simply clamped two boards to my table saw adjusting the angle a little. I made repeated cuts taking just a little material off with each pass. The first attempt yielded a good result and I used this test piece to make a sample of what the crown would look like. And it looked good.

A test piece of the crown molding profile.
I chose the simple way to create a cove: clamping two straight boards to my table saw.
After repeated shallow cuts, I have the needed profile. Note the cove is not centered on the board. Ideally, the cove would be centered, but in this instance, what you see here will do just fine.
This process creates a lot of saw dust.
So much saw dust, it was clogging up the bottom of my shoes.
The saw marks are significant, so the cove needs a lot of sanding (by hand).
Cutting the cove along its center yields two pieces of molding.

Notice in the photo above, the crown moldings are in short lengths. This is due the need to make diagonal cuts across my table saw and the limited outfeed area. If I had more space, I’d be able to create longer lengths of molding. Each upper cabinet will require two lengths of molding.

Mounting the first row molding

I had to determine the best way to attach this wide molding. I could have come up with a way to drive nails or screws from behind the upper cabinet face frame, but this would have been very difficult and also error prone. And I was concerned the crown would sag a little as it extended outward. I really needed a way to keep it tight to the ceiling. I decided to attach this first row molding directly to the ceiling using sheet rock anchors.

Note the enlarged mounting holes with the counter sink.

The mounting process went like this: first, position the crown and drill a small pilot hole through the molding and into the sheet rock which marked the needed screw location. I then added the sheet rock anchors. The molding itself then received enlarged holes, much larger than the diameter of the screws. This enabled me to move the molding slightly and adjust its fit if need be. Each screw got a washer which fit into a counter sink. As I tightened the screw, the washer helped pull the molding tight against the ceiling. This worked well. There were a couple of instances where I was able to align a screw with a ceiling rafter eliminating the need for the ceiling anchors.

First row crown installed.

Above, you can see the left part of the miter got a screw driven directly into a ceiling rafter. In this example, it took two attempts to get the crown positioned correctly. Note also that there is a pocket screw in the cabinet face frame (barely visible above the door). I positioned all the face frame pocket screws so they would not be visible. The second row of crown will completely hide these pocket screws.

Second row crown

Next, I had to create a broad round-over on some square stock. This was a simple process of taking square stock cut to final size and then rounding over one corner.

Square stock formed, ready for the round-over.
A 45 degree cut and then the round-over.

After making the 45 degree cut removing a lot of material, I zeroed in on the final shape using my block plane and sand paper.

The completed custom crown

Installing the second row crown molding was achieved using my pneumatic brad nailer.

The sink wall upper cabinets.
The stove wall upper cabinets.
The fridge wall upper cabinets.

This completes the construction of the upper cabinets. I still need to prep the cabinets for paint and I am thinking about adding a small piece of molding to the lower edge of these three runs of cabinets. Some of the lower edges have gotten banged up over the years and I am playing around with the idea of covering this slight damage with a slender piece of molding.

Next will be doors and drawers for the base cabinets. Significant work lies ahead before this project is completed, but at least roughly half of the project (construction) is finished.