August 2012 Archives - 4/8 - Bob Vila

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How To: Refinish Cabinets

How to Refinish Cabinets


Having expensive cabinets hanging on your kitchen walls doesn’t mean much if you don’t like the color. That’s why many homeowners think about refinishing cabinets with a stain color of their own choosing. It is a big job, but there is a big payoff. Before you begin, however, it’s best to do a little detective work.

If your cabinets are painted…
Before embarking, remove one of the doors and sand off a small area of the finish on the back. Do the same to an area at the back of a rail or stile (horizontal or vertical framing member). If you find hardwood, proceed to the next step. If the doors and drawer fronts are fiberboard, forget about refinishing them with stain. The only way you’re going to get the cherry, oak, or birch tones you love so much is by applying a veneer or buying all new doors and drawer fronts.

If the doors and drawer fronts are made of hardwood, remove them and take off all the hardware. In a well-ventilated room (or outdoors), use a paint stripper to remove the existing finish. The job is messy and potentially unhealthy, but if you’re careful, it’s better than blowing thousands of dollars on new cabinets.

Removing paint from cabinets, or any wood furniture, requires patience. Not all of the paint lifts off after the first application of remover, and maybe not after the second or third, either. It’s imperative to work in a ventilated space, to wear a respirator, to wear protective gloves and a long-sleeve work shirt. Use a sharp scraper to remove as much finish as possible and use whatever you have on hand (old spoons, dental tools, etc.) to scrape contours and crevices.

Fill dents and deep scratches with wood filler, then sand thoroughly until all finish is removed and the wood is super smooth with no scratches. Make your first pass with an orbital sander using 100-grit paper, your second with 180-grit paper, and your last pass with 220-grit.

Next, apply a sealer (sometimes called a wood conditioner). A sealer does just what it says: It seals the surface with a light, thin coating so that when you apply stain, the color goes on evenly. I prefer Zinsser’s Bull’s Eye Seal Coat, an alcohol-based sealer that’s easy to apply and dries fast. Before applying it, thin out the sealer to 50-50 concentration with denatured alcohol. When the sealer dries, lightly rub with 000 steel wool, then clean the surface thoroughly with a tack cloth.

How to Refinish Cabinets


Apply stain using a soft cotton rag, a brush, or a brush in combination with a rag. Experiment until you find a combination that allows you to apply a consistent tone. If the stain is going on too dark, rub some off. Too light? Don’t worry. You can apply another coat after the first one dries. Once the stain has dried, follow up with another very light rubbing with 000 or 0000 steel wool before cleaning with tack cloth.

Now you can apply a protective coat of clear polyurethane varnish. Applying any clear coat must be done in a dust-free environment. Read the directions on the can and follow them, but when it comes to thinning, you may need to deviate from the product literature. Most makers say you won’t have to, and maybe that is the case under perfect conditions, but I find that it’s usually necessary to pour in a little mineral spirits to keep the polyurethane flowing smoothly and drying without brush marks.

If the cabinets are stained…
If you want a darker tone than the one you currently have, you may be able to simply tint the existing finish. Begin by thoroughly washing grease and wax off the cabinets with TSP and water. Next, lightly sand and wipe off the dust with a tack cloth. Now experiment with a tinted polyurethane varnish (such as Polyshades by Minwax) to see if you can achieve the tone you desire. Tinted polyurethanes combine stain and varnish in a single product.

If you want a lighter tone, remove the clear coat finish using the same method as described for paint. It should be a lot easier than removing paint, but you may have to use an aggressive stripper or chlorine bleach to remove the old stain. Follow up with sanding, sealing, re-staining and clear-coating as described above for staining a previously painted finish. It’s always wise to experiment on the back side of a single door before committing to the project, just to be sure you’re going to be pleased with the results.

DIY Projects Anyone Can Do

All of the Best Hands-on Tutorials from
Get the nitty-gritty details you need—and the jaw-dropping inspiration you want—from our collection of the favorite projects ever featured on Whether your goal is to fix, tinker, build or make something better, your next adventure in DIY starts here.

For more on refinishing cabinets, consider:

Bob Vila’s Guide to Kitchen Cabinets
Painted Cabinets: 10 Reasons to Transform Yours Now
A Glassy-Smooth Enamel Finish for Old Kitchen Cabinets

Kitchen Trends to Bank On

Kitchen Trends

Photo: National Kitchen & Bath Association

Baked-in obsolescence is the last thing you want in your kitchen remodel. Classic  layouts, finishes, and styles are much more likely to appeal to tomorrow’s buyers, even if that tomorrow is a decade away. Based on ongoing research by the National Kitchen and Bath Association, here’s what to include and what to avoid if you’re undertaking a kitchen renovation:

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Bob Vila Radio: Basement Waterproofing

There’s no such thing as a waterproof basement.  The key is to minimize the water that gets in and get it back out again before it affects your home.

From Basement Finishing and Family Space: Keep Water Out of the Basement, Season 17 Episode 11

CM_BVNOTES-1234-7 Basement Waterproofing

Listen to BOB VILA ON BASEMENT WATERPROOFING, or read text below:

There’s no such thing as a waterproof basement. Special waterproof paint on the walls or coatings on basement floors may keep leaks from showing for now, but if the hydrostatic pressure in the earth around the foundation is great enough, water will find its way in. The key is to minimize the water that gets in and get it back out again before it affects your home.

Often, a basement is wet because it’s the next stop for rainwater after it leaves the roof. If gutters are clogged and overflowing or downspouts dump water too close to the house, and especially if the ground slopes toward the foundation, water is literally funneled into your basement. Gutter maintenance, downspout extensions and re-grading may go a long way toward a drier basement.

Inside the basement, digging a perimeter drain and installing a sump pump is the most common way to remove any water that comes up through the floor or through the walls. Since flooding can happen suddenly and is often accompanied by a power outage, some systems even include a second pump to handle extra volume and a third battery-powered backup pump.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day. 

For more on basements, consider:

Keep Water Out of the Basement (video)
How To: Dry a Wet Basement
Know the Rules for Finished Basements

Bob Vila Radio: Garbage Disposal Care

While they’ll grind and send most kitchen scraps down the drain in small batches with a good strong flow of cold water, there are some things that you can’t expect your garbage disposal to handle without problems.

Photo: davidking via

CM_BVNOTES-1234-6 Garbage Disposal MTC

Listen to BOB VILA ON GARBAGE DISPOSAL CARE, or read text below:

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Bob Vila Radio: Kid’s Stuff Storage

Kids grow so fast, it doesn’t take long before their rooms can feel pretty small… but before you plan an addition, here are some simple solutions that might help.


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Listen to BOB VILA ON KID’S STUFF STORAGE, or read text below:

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DIY Deals: Desk Accessories


Whether you’re focused on going back to school or getting back to organizational sanity, the desk is a great place, maybe the best place, to begin. This time of year everyone seems to be scrambling to get their workspace outfitted, but luckily there are deals to be found on products that will help you maximize the storage potential of your study or office area. There’s spring cleaning and then there’s fall organizing; we’ll help you accomplish the latter without straining your budget.

Lighting. Adequate lighting is a must-have, and of course desktop lamps come in all shapes and sizes, but it’s hard to beat the utility of a lamp with an adjustable neck. This weekend Target is offering a basic, attractive model for just $12.00 (reg. $14.99).

Adjustable-lamp desktop task light

PB Teen, $59.00

In the market for something more elaborate? Consider PB Teen’s task light (pictured above). It features iHome technology (for playing digital music) as well as storage crannies for pencils, clips, and other supplies. At only $59.99 (reg. $69.99), this lamp meets the requirement—adequate lighting—and then delivers much more.

Desk Chairs
One of the most obvious ways to upgrade your workspace is with a comfortable chair, and a new one need not cost a small fortune. The model below from the Container Store, sporting Bungee cords for comfort, is on sale for $149.99 (reg. $189.99).

Container Store, $149.00

If you’re looking for something simpler, PB Teen has a contemporary stationary wood chair, ergonomically designed for comfort, which has been marked down to the reasonable sum of $79.00—swoop in and snag it!

Whether on top of your desk or just below it, additional storage is always welcome. For the smaller stuff, desk containers like these from PB Teen, on sale for $9.99 (reg. $25.00), will help keep your pens, paper clips, and USB cords all neatly corralled.

Container Store, $7.99

Another great way of keeping your desk organized is to use standing folders. Those pictured above are from the Container Store and cost only $7.99 apiece; invest in a set and your desk surface will remain clutter-free and actually usable for projects (instead of buried under papers).

For heftier items like portfolios or textbooks, storage at the foot of your desk may be in order. This weekend, stackable bins from the Container Store are available for $12.99.

For more on home offices, consider:

Creating Your Home Office Plan
Bob Vila Radio: Dorm Room Storage
Designing a “Green” Home Office

5 Things to Do with… Apple Crates

Wooden crates used to be the way to get everything to market, from fruit and produce to soda bottles. These days, those same lovely vintage crates are popping up at garage and estate sales, local antiques stores and salvage yards—they seem to be everywhere! In addition to being decorative, they are great for storing all kinds of housewares. Here are five DIY-friendly ways to enhance their appeal:



DIY with Apple Crates - Baileys Home and Garden


Baileys Home and Garden shows how, from a stash of equally sized crates, you can create wall-mounted storage for virtually any space. Planning is key; lay out your crates on the floor to determine the best arrangement. If you can’t find a cache of crates the same size, consider building a more organic Tetris-style formation. Locate the wall studs and then start securing crates to them, having a helper hold the crates level while you work.

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Bob Vila Radio: Flat Pack Furniture

It’s not just for dorm rooms anymore:  the stylish design, low cost and ingenious construction of lots of today’s knock-down furniture is making it hugely popular.


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Listen to BOB VILA ON FLAT PACK FURNITURE, or read text below:

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How To: Drill Straight 90° Holes (Without a Drill Press)

How to Drill a Straight Hole

My homemade drill guide. Photo: Chris Garner

Except in special cases—when you intentionally choose a specific angle or bias—it’s important to keep all drill holes perpendicular to the surface. This is easy to accomplish with a drill press, but there are plenty of occasions when you need to use a hand drill/driver to complete the task, like drilling into a wall or cabinet door. Many drills have a bubble level, but those can only help in certain situations, and most walls are not exactly flat or straight.

One option is to buy a specific type of jig—a portable drill guide. You can also whip one up at home with some wood scraps for an easy, no-cost alternative.

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“Green” Paint: Sherwin-Williams Emerald

With its new eco-minded Emerald paints and ColorCast Eco Toners, Sherwin-Williams gives homeowners more high-performing, zero-VOC options.


This summer, Sherwin-Williams broadened its eco-friendly offerings with the introduction of its high-end Emerald interior and exterior paints.

The company, which received the EPA’s prestigious Presidential Green Chemistry Award in 2011, plays up the “beauty, washability, and sustainability” of the new zero-VOC line. The finishes emit few odors during or after application and have built-in antimicrobial properties that inhibit the growth of mold and mildew on the paint.

The interior paints also received Indoor Air Quality Certification from GreenGuard, a third-party nonprofit certifying products that meet strict chemical emission limits, and which contribute to healthier indoor air.

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