Cabinet Refacing

Can it work as a business? Pros share business and tech tips. June 17, 2005

Are there any cabinet refacers here? I did a search of this topic and didn't find very much info. I used to do this for a national chain as an independent contractor. I found it hard to make any money that way and after 5 years of not doing it, I am thinking of starting up my own business.

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor T:
I did a few of these when I first started out - pre-glued vinyl (thermo-foil?) on the frames, new doors, drawer fronts, etc. About the third or fourth one, the customer wanted so many things on their existing cabs fixed, I finally just said "I can build you a new set for about $600-$800 more" and that was the last refacing I ever even considered. Oddly, that was about 6 years ago and since then I've never had anyone even ask me about doing one.

From contributor H:
I've been doing refacing for about 10 years now and things are really picking up. I find that refacing is less than half the cost of replacement. I make money and the customer saves. Win/win situation all around.

From contributor J:
If 'refacing' means replacing doors, drawer fronts, countertops, etc., that is what I do, and have started to do well at it. I have enough well-paying work for the next two months.

I believe that it is a question of how the service is advertised, and of getting the pricing right. I advertise in a small, inexpensive local publication that covers the area that I wish to work in. I give an idea of the price I will charge, and that gets me the calls. I see the kitchen, give a price, usually get the job. Then it's all a question of how quickly and efficiently I can make and fit the components.

It's much easier to find customers when you are saving them money, and easier to make money when you are turning jobs over quickly

From the original questioner:
Do any of you do real wood jobs, too (solid wood doors and fronts and real wood veneer)? I have only done plastic laminate jobs and although they looked nice, I thought it was kind of cheesy to have plastic cabinets when I was done.

The outfit that I worked for previously would include plumbing in sinks and faucets and hanging new appliances like exhaust hoods and microwaves for nothing, and since I got paid a percentage of the total job price, I got nothing for doing it! On a lot of jobs, I would spend a half to a full day working for free because of the customer's old, crappy plumbing. I was thinking that if I went at it alone, I could get paid for what I do.

I just need to line up suppliers now. I don't think I will do any plumbing. I have all the tools, but I need to start putting some money away for marketing.

From contributor P:
I worked for a refacing company for a few years. We refaced with 1/4" hardwood finished on one side. It was ordered in the selected species in 3" to 6" widths and ten foot lengths, finished in the shop, and cut to fit at the site. End panels and bottoms were pre-cut to within 1" in the shop, finished, then cut to fit on the job. Of course, any required trim was finished in the shop and delivered with the job package. New doors and drawer fronts were ordered and finished in the shop. Most times, new drawer boxes were ordered by the customer and we built them in the shop and installed them with new slides. We built our own countertops and installed them. At times, a customer would want to add a cabinet or two and we would build the box using cabinet grade plywood and poplar face frames. The box was installed and it would be refaced, and required end panels and bottoms installed along with the other cabinets.

The company contracted a plumber to hook up plumbing after new countertops were installed. If new sinks, faucets, or other appliances were required, it was up to the customer to provide them.

Hardwood on the rails and stiles were installed with Liquid Nails and pin nailed in place. Same for the end panels and bottoms. The company does very good quality work and when finished, the cabinets looked like custom built hardwood cabinets.

From contributor R:
That sounds like a top notch refacing job, no doubt. It sounded like you had to rip each faceframe cover strip to fit. Did you have to sand and stain match the edges? Are there some time saving secrets here?

From contributor P:
Yes, we ripped the stock to fit the face frames. The unfinished edge from the cut was placed around the cabinet openings and stained. A good sawblade eliminated the need for sanding the edge. Cabinet ends and bottoms were installed first so that the hardwood facing would cover the plywood edge. Stiles were faced next to maintain the appearance of the individual cabinet boxes. When facing stiles on a corner cabinet, butt one piece in the corner. Rip the other side of the corner with a 5 degree back cut to fit against the hardwood corner you just installed. This gives a tight, clean fit.

When facing the rails, an extremely tight fit is required. The rails were back cut at 3 degrees to create an almost seamless joint. The fit should be so tight that the material is bent slightly to fit in the space.

To compensate for existing face frames that are not flush, a piece for a rail can be installed with some extra Liquid Nails. After it is pin nailed, use a putty knife to pry the piece back up flush with the adjoining piece. The Liquid Nails will stretch, harden, and provide a solid backing for the hardwood. Most times, prying up the piece 1/32" is all that is needed to achieve a flush surface. One procedure that is helpful is to inspect the face frames before covering them with hardwood. A palm sander will correct any flush surface problems with existing face frames and this aids installation.

Toe kicks are covered with plywood, and shoe mould is installed.

From contributor H:
I mostly do refacing. I will, on occasion, build new cabinets and install them. I also never do plumbing. I will recommend a plumber if the customer doesn't have one. I do both solid hardwood and thermal plastic. All doors are outsourced. I order matching pre-finished psa veneer or plastic foil for the case and faceframes. Also new matching trim and crown mouldings when needed. When finished, it looks brand new. I take my time, work alone, and enjoy what I do.

From contributor B:
15 years ago I worked for a cabinet refacing company. The one thing you haven't mentioned is adding corner hardwood edging for wood jobs. I've preferred this instead of mitred corners on cabinets. Helps with the abuse corners of cabinets get.

From contributor P:
We didn't miter any outside corners. The hardwood facing on the corner stile captured and was flush with the edge of the plywood end panel. I agree that the corner edging would protect the corner, especially on the lowers. We had a customer with little kids ask us to come back and provide that on the corners of an island. To many Big Wheels riding through the kitchen.

From contributor L:
I enjoy refacing. I can do it without employees, the money is good and the customers are always impressed. The biggest problem that I face is the feast or famine of jobs. I do a good bit of advertising.

Quality Door in Texas offers everything you need in both RTF and hardwoods (stained and finished). Their lead time can be long, though.

From contributor J:
The way I see it is, if you are giving people's kitchens a fresh new look and saving them a bunch of money, that's just good business and customers will be easier to find. If people really were cheap, they wouldn't be having any work done at all.

Most of the houses I work in (in the UK) are built of masonry and are quite compact. A different kitchen layout is not feasible, and ripping out perfectly good cabinets just to replace them would be downright wasteful.

From contributor O:
There is no one definitive answer to this topic, but here's my two cents. If the kitchen layout is good and the cabinets are solid, it can make sense to reface. It also depends on location. In the UK where everything is hyper-inflated, it would probably be very cost efficient. In Vancouver, Canada where I'm from, it's become a lost art because of heavy competition in new cabinet construction. The bottom line is if you can make a decent living refacing and your customers are happy, fill your boots!

From contributor N:
I do quite a bit of cabinet refinishing and refacing. Usually the customer prefers to reface because of the mess in stripping to refinish. I take 1/8" plywood, usually oak, and cut all my pieces to rough fit (a little large) and take them to my shop to finish them with precat lacquer. Then take them back to the job and install them with contact cement. At the corners I make a petite corner trim just to cover the edges. The customers seem to really like them. The edges on the stiles I slightly buff with a sanding block and stain them. Be sure to test your stain color because the edges almost always stain darker. Most of my jobs are from referrals from other customers.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor D:
I suggest you check out American Wood Reface for information on pricing and the viability of your business concept. They overlay the existing cabinet face frames with strips of prefinished hardward that they rip and install on site using adhesive and a pin nailer. Over the refinished face frames they install prefinished doors and drawer fronts. You can find them on the internet. I think the question of reface versus replace boils down to cost (what can the customer afford or what is the customer willing to pay?), quality and layout of the existing cabinets. If the existing cabinets are in good stuctural condition and the customer is satisfied with (most of) the current layout, refacing can make a lot of economic sense compared to replacement.