Refinish old maple cabinets


Hi, I am about to refinish my mom's old maple kitchen cabinets. Original from 1964. This is first-time major refinish job for me. Plan is to strip and sand (120grit then 220grit) all 18 doors and 8 drawers and fronts of all cabinet frames. Then I plan to use Minwax Pre-stain Wood Conditioner (red can), followed by Minwax Stain, followed by Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane. However, I do not know what to use to strip off the current finish down to the bare wood. I see that the EPA banned Methylene Chloride, so I need to know what is best alternative. Any advice for this big project is appreciated. Will be starting next week. Thanks!

  16 answers
  • GrandmasHouseDIY GrandmasHouseDIY on Jul 01, 2021

    Hi there, any kind of paint stripper will work. I've never used citra strip though I have heard good things about it. The one I've always used is the Klean Strip brand in a gel form.

  • Lots of folks use Citristrip. I personally like the one that says 2 Minute stripper on the can. Best wishes, this is a project for sure though you'll be very proud when done.

  • Janice Janice on Jul 01, 2021

    HJzht, it sounds like you have an excellent plan and lots of hard work ahead of you.

    One suggestion I'd add is to do a final sand with a finer grit sandpaper than 120; perhaps 180 or finer because maple is such a hard wood you'll end up with a much smoother surface using the finer sandpaper before staining. I hope you will take pictures as you work and post your project for us to admire! I admire you for taking this on!

  • Mogie Mogie on Jul 01, 2021

    Make sure they are clean and dry. Remove the doors and hardware. Mark the doors and cabinets with tape where they go. Lightly sand the doors and cabinets to remove any gloss and roughen the surface for paint with 220-grit sandpaper. Use a tack cloth or damp rag to remove dust after sanding. Prime with a stain blocking primer like KILZ. Acrylic, or water-base, paints are low-fume and clean up easily with water. Alkyd, or oil-base, paints require good ventilation because the paint contains solvents that can irritate your lungs and make you feel sick. Alkyd options require mineral spirits for cleanup, but they provide a hard, durable paint finish. Whichever you use, buy the best-quality paint you can afford for a lasting kitchen cabinet finish. Seal with at least three coats with a water based polyurethane. Use a small foam roller and foam brush for a smooth finish.

  • Redcatcec Redcatcec on Jul 01, 2021

    I always use Citri Strip, it is non-toxic.

  • William William on Jul 01, 2021

    Citristrip. Safe stripper in paste form. Made to remove layers of paint and finishes.

  • Flipturn Flipturn on Jul 01, 2021

    As it is your first time go at this project, I would suggest that you start on a cabinet door that shows the least, rather than one that is out front and centre in the kitchen.

    Go through from start to finish on this one or two doors in entirety first to learn the steps of the process. It is natural that a person improves over time and repetition when learning any new skill. Then when you feel confident that the results will meet with your expectations, work on the doors that show the most in the kitchen.

  • Citristrip is my 'go-to'!

  • Just sand your cabinets using 120-grit sandpaper to smooth it out. Ensure to only work in the direction of the grain to bring out the delicate pattern that maple. And just go over them again with 180-grit sandpaper for a smoother finish. Wipe the cabinets down to remove any dust or grit.

  • Kmdreamer Kmdreamer on Jul 01, 2021

    Go to Home Depot and go to the paint isle take a pic of the cabinets and tell him what you want he will show you all the brands you have to choose from each one does a little diffrent stuff

  • Betsy Betsy on Jul 01, 2021

    Hi JZHT: The first thing to do is clean them quite well. Preparation is the key to a good job. Here are some sites that should help:

    Good luck

  • Cynthia H Cynthia H on Jul 02, 2021

    Hi! Citristrip is the only stripper I use now. Before I start with the stripper, especially on something in a kitchen, I scrub it with a scrub pad and a TSP substitute like Krudkutter. That way, you will be letting the stripper actually work on the finish you are removing. If you are removing the doors, number them so you don't go nuts trying to match them up later. Also remove the hardware before you apply the stripper. Plan on wearing gloves, and have a receptacle for the sludge you will be scraping and scrubbing off. I scrub the wood again before sanding so it is clean and dry. Wipe it down with a damp microfiber cloth to get all the sawdust off before applying your new finish. It's not a weekend job so plan to be working on it for awhile. Good luck!

  • Jzht Jzht on Jul 03, 2021

    Thanks. Should I expect strippers like Citristrip remove the stain in addition to whatever the top coat is? Not sure back in the 60's if they used lacquer/varnish/polyurethane/etc. Or will it only remove top coat and the stain will need to be totally sanded off?

  • Kathy Gunter Law Kathy Gunter Law on Jul 05, 2021

    Mineral spirits is probably the best thing.