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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Kitchen Redo, Step Two: Stripping and Sanding

Following Step One: Design decisions and Shopping list...

Okay, onto the next step!  Preparing your cabinets, doors and drawer fronts.
The first thing we did was remove all the cabinet doors and drawers, then remove the hinges from the cabinets and drawer fronts from the drawers.  THEN we could really get started.  I would recommend organizing them somehow so you know where each came from, ESPECIALLY the drawer fronts.  This will be relevant when you are trying to put them back on and matching the exact position of the old screw holes  in the drawer front to that on the drawer.
I used a stripper.  Not sure if I recommend this route, and I'll tell you why.  It was messy, smelly, back breaking and time consuming.  But the clincher was that we spent just as much time sanding the pieces that I didn't strip as those that I did.  You see, the stripper I used was the cheapest one.  Because, well, I'm cheap.  I was willing to work harder to save money.  So I'm (obviously) not sure how other strippers would do.  My gripe is that the stripper removed the polyurethane, but NOT the finish (i.e., the previous ugly golden oak stain).  I then had to sand off the finish.  Given, you need to sand anyway, but if the finish had come off as well, I wouldn't have had to sand so...thoroughly.  More on that later.  Anyway, perhaps I could have done another round of stripper, and that would have worked.  Perhaps I could have bought a better kind of stripper, and that would have worked.  I don't know.  But here's what I do know if you decide to go the stripper route:
- Buy gloves that fit.  Mine were a little big, and as a result I put a big hole in one of the fingertips because it kept getting caught in my scraping tool.  Annoying as all heck.
- I turned my scraping tool sideways and scraped with the side of it.  It just worked better for me.
- Scrape HARD.  Put your weight into it.
- Leave the stripper on less time than you think.  It doesn't work better if it is allowed to "soak."  It just becomes impossible to scrape anything off!  The cheap stripper I used was designed to sit for 30 minutes before you scraped.  After learning the hard way, I let it sit 10 to 15 minutes, then scraped.
- On that note, don't put the stripper on everything all at once.  Trust me.  Work in batches of 2-4.  I usually put the stripper on the front of one door, then walked away for 10 to 15 minutes.  Came back, put the stripper on front of another door, then scraped the first.  Flipped the first over, and applied stripper to the back, then scraped the front of the second door.  Flipped that second door over and applied stripper to the back, then scraped the back of the first door.  One door done.  Then applied stripper to the front of the third door, and scraped the back of the second door.  And on it goes.  Make sense?  Let me know if you have questions on that...or anything!
- Good ventilation will save your brain cells.  And wear a mask.  I bought this one because again, I'm cheap, but if you are particularly sensitive (or worried), then buy one of these babies.  Spring/summer is a great time to tackle a project like this since you can leave the windows/doors/garage doors open without freezing your tush off!
- For the detailed areas, try using a metal brush, but don't get carried away...scratches are not easily sanded out, and they WILL show up when stained.
Okay, onward!

Oh my gosh, I hate sanding.  Seriously.  HATE IT.  This was by far the worst part of the whole project, I kid you not.  If you can survive this part, you can definitely handle ANYthing else.  I promise.
So first things first, you needsander.  Yes, NEED.  Not a heavy duty belt sander..unless you're a kamikaze bent on destroying your cabinets so your husband will buy you new ones.  No, you need a nice little hand sander.  Something light and comfortable that you can use regular ole sandpaper on.  You will not survive this project without one, I swear it to you.  And this would be a good investment, if you are a DIYer like me.  Seriously, $30 well spent.  Have I convinced you?  :)  I don't, however, recommend a detail sander.  I had one, and for one, it broke.  For two, it didn't do what it was supposed to do.  I.e., sand the details so I didn't have to do it by hand.  Maybe it works for some people.  Not for me.
If you used the stripper, then the polyurethane is gone. You need to sand off the old stain finish.  (If you skipped the stripper, you'll be sanding off both polyurethane AND the old stain finish.)  Any finish that is left will not stain to your new color.
So it has to go.  In my case, the old finish was so light, it could be hard to tell if it was gone or not.
I would do the cabinet bases first, followed by the drawer fronts, and the cabinet doors last.  Bases typically consist of solid wood and panels, all flat surfaces.  Drawer fronts are typically solid wood, no paneling or much detail.  Cabinet doors are usually solid wood frames with panels in the center, and some detail.
Now let's talk grit.  I used a coarse grit, between 60 and 80.  I was just trying to rip that finish off as quickly as possible.  And I though they were smooth enough.  Just not silky smooth.  If you want silky smooth, you'll have to follow up with a fine grit, around 180 or 200.  Or you could compromise, and spend a little more time (but still sanding just once) with a medium grit, somewhere between 100 and 150.  Your choice.  I just couldn't handle any more sanding, thanks to a faux pas I'll tell you all about in my next installment.
So based on all of that information, here are my tips for you:
- My rule of thumb for solid wood pieces was that it is impossible to sand too much (unfortunately, this cannot be said of the panels!).  If you're suspicious, keep sanding.
- Panels are another story.  (You'll know which are panels and which are not.)  They too must be sanded down, but you have to be careful.  Otherwise, you'll sand that top layer right down to ugly underneath...or even put a hole all the way through.
(I would just like to say, here and now, that my husband did that part!)  
- Be careful in your sanding of any curves not to get overzealous.  You could greatly diminish the edges of your drawer fronts or cabinets if you do!
- Don't let the sander bounce around at all.  It leaves marks that are nearly impossible to sand out, and most definitely show up when stained. So just make sure you have good control of the sander before you put it down on the wood.
- Use the sanding sponges for those details.  And for the places you still can't get, wrap a piece of sandpaper around one of those nice rigid emery boards and use that.  It worked like magic for me. Well, magic paired with elbow grease.
- Wear your mask for this part as well, and if you don't want to get super grimy or ruin your eyes with sawdust, consider wearing eye gear and a shower cap!
And hang in there.  Sanding is AWFUL, but once it is done, the worst is over.  And even if you make mistakes (which hopefully will be minimal since you'll be learning from mine!), it's unlikely anyone but you will notice them.

Now just a recap of our shopping list for this step:

Stripper (based on what you decide)
Scraping tool (ditto)
Metal brush (ditto)
Rubber gloves
Hand sander (if you don't have one or can't borrow one)
Sandpaper, coarse to medium grit, possibly fine grit
Sanding sponges, coarse to medium grit, possibly fine grit
Emery nail files (trust me on this one)

Next up, Step Three: Staining...
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