Refinishing Plantation Shutters

Here's advice on how to handle the refinishing work on movable louvered shutters, and how to charge for the complicated labor that's involved. January 2, 2012

Just finished a kitchen and a bathroom in a condo. The owner asked me to give a price on refinishing interior plantation shutters. They are in good shape, just need to change color. It looks to be a fair amount of detail/labor, louvers, slats, tiltrod, and making sure parts still move after finishing. Any tips?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor M:
I try to cover the labor of removing the shutters ($1.50 per sq. foot), removing the hardware, and reinstalling ($2.00 SF). This is in addition to the repainting charges ($8 to $10 SF).

Also be aware that many shutters have been painted with lacquer paint, and this could be a problem with refinishing. They may have been cleaned with oils or waxes, which is another problem. I always include repriming the panels to be sure I get good adhesion with my new finish.

Be sure you number or code the panels so you know where they go. I write the number on the side of the panel, then back at the shop I stamp it into the wood so my sanding, etc., does not cause me to lose it. I also put the old hardware in a Ziploc bag and label it so the hardware goes back to the original panel, in the original location. I mark the hinge with a sharpie on the side that is not exposed. During installs, we sometimes spring the hinges for a final adjustment and others do this too, so if you mix up the hinges, it will require you to do more work when hanging them back up.

You may want to consider painting any frames in place with a brush, versus taking the frame down and risking any damage. Using sanding pads or sanding blocks is the best way to scuff the profiles during the prep procedure.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the tips. My first pricing thought was a little lower until I took into consideration the amount of detail and how to keep all the moving parts moving after final finish is applied, i.e. tilt rod, bushings, shutter staples, as there is no way to mask these parts. This shutter system covers a 12' sliding glass door. The shutters are done in a bi-fold door system of six door panels right and six door panels left. Each panel measures 1' wide x 8' high. With both sides refinished I'm around 3 grand for the job. Again, my main concern is all the moving parts and the new applied finish. I'm thinking of spraying the new color.

From contributor M:
You definitely should spray them. Do you have a shop where you can do this? We find the best way to prep them is on a table top with two parallel rails set up on the top. You could use two 2x4s for this, set just far enough apart to support the shutter panel stiles. This way you can open and close the louvers for sanding or scuffing, without the louvers hitting the table top. When spraying the panels, we use a spacer or hold off piece that is screwed to the top center of each panel. This is usually a piece of wood about 5/8 x 5/8 and 3" long. A screw is run through the center of this piece and is then used to attach to the panel top. This piece holds the panel off the wall when being sprayed.

If you were to brush paint the panels, you run a high risk of locking them shut or making them difficult to operate. Our panels have a tolerance of 1/32" between the louver end and the inside stile edge. This doesn't leave much room for paint to build up.