Introduction: Cabinet Refinishing with Fusion Mineral Paint
Updated: Feb 8
I bought a house that is older than I am. It's not fancy old. It's just 46 years old while I am 42 years old. I bought it because, unlike other houses on the market at the time, it had already been through a lot of renovation. It had new HVAC, a lofted living room, new ceilings and refinished walls. It had a new septic system, newer flooring, newer doors. Most of the work that needed to be done was cosmetic, and that was in my wheelhouse.
A year ago, I had the doorway between the living room and kitchen knocked down and rebuilt to a half wall, to create some openness between the two rooms where my son and I spend a lot of our evenings. I did some of the demolition. There were cabinets on the kitchen side of the wall that didn't match the rest of the cabinetry. I took those out. I had professionals do the reconstruction and wall refinishing (they're textured), my mom painted, and my dad made the bar top. I love it. The only problem is that now everyone that enters my living room can see the black hole that is my outdated kitchen.
But it's fairly big. That's another reason I bought this house. I have 19 cabinet doors and 8 drawers in there, and that's after removing three cabinet units that filled the wall between the living room and kitchen.
The cabinets are good, solid cabinets. I took a door into a local hardwood specialist, and they're solid ash. I simply cannot afford to replace them with something of equal quality, but they also look horrible. They looked great in the "for sale" photos online. But then the Old English Dark Oil wore off (an educated guess), and I was faced with cabinets that I find to be an eyesore.
To get this out of the way, I wanted to stain them. I wanted to strip them, sand them to bare wood, and stain them a light gray. My dad thought I was out of my mind for wanting to do this, but he stuck with me. We even tested stains on the center part of a cabinet and found a mix we loved.
But. In all the good work that was done to this house over the years before I bought it, there was also some shoddy work. New hinges were installed poorly on all the cabinets, so the cabinet faces are pretty torn up with holes. I couldn't imagine doing all the work to restain those cabinet doors only to hang them on cabinet boxes with visible filled holes.
Another issue is that the cabinets had something like Polyshades applied to them over the original finish, but they don't seem to have been cleaned well before. It was applied over adhesive pads and some sort of spaghetti sauce incident. So there are spots where the finish has popped off, there are dark spots where the new finish went through holes in the old finish. And the hinges were applied before the polyshades, so -- it was pretty uneven when stripped.
We stripped one entire cabinet door, front and back. It took forever. Once we got it sanded, we had difficulty getting the stain out of all the portions of the door evenly. They're not overly intricate cabinets, but there's some detail. And there were stripes that were related to the stain and not to the grain. (For example, at the bottom of the picture above, you can see three horizontal lines on the unstripped part of the cabinet. The top two are grooves; the bottom one is just a stripe. It wouldn't go away.) We tried lots of chemicals, even though I wanted to use as few as possible, and we just couldn't get that cabinet looking even enough to apply the light stain I wanted to use.
I have the same cabinetry at the end of my hallway and in my bathrooms, so I have been able to practice refinishing to see what worked before I took on the large kitchen. This has been a huge blessing. I tried General Finishes Milk Paint on a bathroom cabinet. I tried Benjamin Moore Advance on my interior doors (see photo below). I tried Fusion Mineral Paint on a piece of furniture. I sat back and watched what happened to the three finishes over the course of six months in my bathrooms, where the moisture level is the highest.
Fusion is my favorite of the three products. All three had a learning curve. All three needed more than one coat. All three can be cleaned up with soap and water. The Advance gave me headaches when I painted inside, and the finish looks like plastic. I love it on my doors, but I didn't want it on my cabinets. At the end, I just preferred the finish, process, durability, and smell of the Fusion.
There are lots of cabinet painting blog entries out there, but I haven't found one with the level of detail I wanted. Prep is important, but how much prep? How long does proper prep take? What does it entail on difficult old cabinets? Which primer? What does it look like when it's primed? So I'm creating the blog I wanted, piece by piece, as I renew my kitchen cabinets.
I also want to share that I have four values going into this process that led me to make the decisions I made about prep and paint and process.
1. My son. I need to be able to do this project, as much as possible, when he is sleeping or out of the house. I don't want him to have to "don't touch that!" in his own home. And I don't want him to breathe in things that will harm him.
2. My time. I'm a single mom. I'm a pastor. I'm busy. I need to be able to do this when I have free time, and I need it to be a time-efficient process.
3. Care for creation. I don't want this to be a totally wasteful process. That's one of the reasons I'm refinishing instead of replacing (also, budget). The process is more wasteful that I want it to be, paper-wise, and some parts of it (prepping the grungy cabinets above the stove) uses more chemicals than I would like. I'm going to switch to cloth towels for my kitchen use during the process to try to cut down on other household waste. I also have a brand-spanking-new septic system that I can't wash harsh chemicals into, so I use things I can wipe off and throw away.
4. My home. I love and value our home. I want it to be the best home it can be, and I don't want to do a shoddy job on any of my DIY projects that will cause me or future owners to have to refinish what has already been refinished. Like I'm doing now. If some future owner wants to repaint these cabinets, I want them to repaint over a quality, well-prepped paint job. Also, I don't want to have to do this again in two years. It's a lot of work.
I probably don't have the answers to most of the questions you'll ask. I'm not a professional refinisher. I'm a sloppy painter. I don't even take good photos. I didn't try every product known to the DIY community. I don't know what to tell you if your cabinets are melamine or veneer or MDF. But I can show you what I have, what I did, and how it worked. I hope this will help someone take on the project of putting new life in their old kitchen, learning from my mistakes and successes.
Read the next step: how I prep the greasiest cabinets in my kitchen.