Surface inside of new cabinets

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Forum topic by NewbieInWV posted 06-27-2017 12:05 PM 824 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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18 posts in 1367 days

06-27-2017 12:05 PM

Topic tags/keywords: cabinets resurface plywood

I need some advice from your collective genius.

We’ve finally moved into our newly built house. We had the builders put in our kitchen cabinet lowers. My intention is to add the face frames, counter tops and upper cabinets at some point (after lots of reading on this site).

They installed 3/4” plywood carcasses with a 3/4” top to make them useful until we install the counter top (over the plywood).

My question is what to do with the inside of the cabinets. Here are the options as I see them, in no particular order:

1) Paint them. I’m not keen on this, because our house is very wood grain-centric.
2) Leave them alone. They used regular plywood. So while it’s not OSB, it’s still just plywood and I don’t know if that’s something people are ok with having on the inside of their cabinets.
3) Resurface them. I have a feeling this is what I want to do, but I have no idea what options are out there, or how difficult it will be.

I’m also wondering if there’s a particular order I need to get the work done.

  • Resurface inside
  • Counter tops
  • Face fronts
  • Shelving
  • Drawers
  • Kick boards

Looking forward to some guidance from those in the know!


-- Mike H, Elkins WV

13 replies so far

View jonah's profile


2122 posts in 4076 days

#1 posted 06-27-2017 12:15 PM

So you’re going to be building/buying the drawers and doors as well? That sounds like a lot of work.

You will definitely want to put some kind of finish on the cabinets. Ideally, you would have had them use pre-finished plywood for the boxes, but that ship has obviously sailed.

I would put a clear finish on the inside of the cabinets. My preference is Arm-R-Seal semi gloss, but most anything will do. Working inside cabinets is going to be a bit of a PITA. Assuming you don’t have some sort of HVLP system to spray finish, you’ll want to apply it with a foam brush so you can get finish into the corners. Don’t get finish on the front of the carcasses so you can successfully attach the face frames later.

View bondogaposis's profile


5791 posts in 3129 days

#2 posted 06-27-2017 12:28 PM

The insides of cabinets are normally finished prior to assembly. Very difficult to do after the fact. I would let it go and not worry about the inside as mostly filled with drawers.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

6249 posts in 3271 days

#3 posted 06-27-2017 12:50 PM

Bondo is right, it will be a PITA job at this point. If they are filled with drawers, there’s little reason to put your self through the agony….but if they have shelves, cleaning them will be a b%$#h unless they are finished in some manner. DO NOT use anything oil based, it will smell foreveer, but a good waterborne (probably brushed) would give you a reasonably durable and cleanable surface.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View Nubsnstubs's profile


1723 posts in 2507 days

#4 posted 06-27-2017 01:11 PM

IMO, the only cabinet that it is imperative to paint is the sink cabinet or any cabinet that has a water collection device in/on it. The cabs with drawers not so much. When you do paint, again, IMO, paint after the rainy season. Make and install your doors and drawers during the rainy season. That way, you won’t have to go back and adjust them when things dry out.

You really should have used something other than “regular” plywood. Sounds like it could have been “cdx”. MDF or Melamine would have cost more, but a much more stable product, and easier to finish. My 2 cents worth ?? ......... Jerry (in Tucson)

-- Jerry (in Tucson)

View 000's profile


2859 posts in 1677 days

#5 posted 06-27-2017 01:11 PM

Use what you got and replace them with finished cabinets when you are able.

Sounds like the builder just put in something temporary for you to be able to use.

If your going to make the frames and everything else you should also just build new boxes,
using pre-finished plywood or melamine for the interiors.
I wouldn’t keep plywood for a newly built home.

View Mike_D_S's profile


605 posts in 2992 days

#6 posted 06-27-2017 01:24 PM

At a minimum I would suggest at least finishing the bottoms and some of the sides. It won’t be a high visibility spot anyway, so a quick brush job of reasonable quality and I’d call it done.

It’ll help with cleanup in case anything ever gets spilled. And I would consider this mandatory for a sink cabinet, including making sure that all the seams are tight and sealed as well.

Edit: Missed the toe kicks in the list above the first time. Those will need to be sealed as well as they are going to get dirty and if not sealed will be a pain to clean.

-- No honey, that's not new, I've had that forever......

View PPK's profile


1750 posts in 1587 days

#7 posted 06-27-2017 02:40 PM

Ditto to what’s said above. Face frames could be pocket screwed from the inside while the glue sets, as they won’t be able to be clamped, most likely. Please don’t face nail them on ;-)

I think your order of construction is right, except for counter tops usually are the very last thing. Easier to work on cabinets with the tops off.

I’m NOT a big fan of the whole resurfacing thing. It is harder than it sounds to cut and fit sheets inside a cabinet and make them look good. You’ll still end up with some gaps that dust/water can collect in unless you go along with some sort of caulk or sealant. Plus, resurfacing seems to scream “cheap” more so than just plain doing a good job of finishing the current material. That’s just my opinion. I’ve seen some resurface jobs that look Okay.

-- Pete

View PPK's profile


1750 posts in 1587 days

#8 posted 06-27-2017 02:44 PM

It hasn’t been mentioned here yet, but depending on how much you think you’ve got invested in your base cabinets, I’d strongly consider starting out fresh. If they’re truly just a plywood box with no frame/finish/no nothing, you’re out a few sheets of (standard, not hardwood veneer?) plywood. You can use them while you work on building real ones. Just a thought.

-- Pete

View AlaskaGuy's profile (online now)


5812 posts in 3087 days

#9 posted 06-27-2017 03:27 PM

I’m in the camp of making all new and use pre-finished plywood for the boxes.

-- Alaskan's for Global warming!

View magaoitin's profile


249 posts in 1727 days

#10 posted 06-27-2017 04:48 PM

Your builders lost a fair amount of profit on the casework, so it sounds like they shafted you with the cabinet carcasses, to the absolute minimum allowed to make it a sale-able home.

Everybody in the residential builder market in my state has a masters degree in shaving, cutting, gouging, every penny possible out of a new home build or remodel. It seams like, if it isn’t built cheap they didn’t do their job.

I would hit the plywood with a poly sealer, and install temp drawers and shelves in your plywood carcasses, and not even bother with face-frames and doors (it will motivate you, and your wife will motivate you even more to replace these fast).

After you finish your uppers, start redoing the lowers one cabinet at a time with prefinished plywood or a melamine faced ply, or even melamine faced MDO all depending on your budget.

In the long run you will be less frustrated, and end up with a longer lasting interior cabinet finish if you completely rebuild the bases.

-- Jeff ~ Tacoma Wa.

View Robert's profile


3748 posts in 2258 days

#11 posted 06-27-2017 04:52 PM

If you can use those cab boxes in your shop or garage, and you’re going to build cabs anyway, then I’ll 3rd with AKG and PPK^^

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4425 days

#12 posted 06-27-2017 05:01 PM

I’m for rebuilding the carcases because you’re
probably going to want to look at corner
cabinet hardware, appliances, and these
days a lot of people want a lot of drawers
instead of shelves. Shelves are way less
hassle to build which is why the standard
base cabinet is a single drawer on top with
a door below. That’s the cheapest and
fastest to build cabinet.

View NewbieInWV's profile


18 posts in 1367 days

#13 posted 06-28-2017 01:45 AM

I appreciate the advice SO MUCH. A big THANKS to all!

It looks like ripping out the cabinets and replacing them is the most-recommended plan. I have to admit, however, that it seems a bit out of my league given all that was involved in installing them the first time. Plus my wife is really anxious to get a counter top installed asap. Happy wife, happy life.

It also sounds like adding some sort of nicer layer to the existing boxes is a non-starter. I couldn’t figure out how to do it anyway without using trim to cover the gaps in all the pieces I’d have to use.

So I think I’ve resigned myself to do a lot of crawling inside to install drawers and shelves. Here’s my new plan:

1) Poly the inside of the existing lowers.
2) Install shelving and drawers on lowers using nicer materials than they used for the cabinets. Drawer fronts will stick out 3/4” beyond the current fronts to accommodate the 3/4” face fronts. I’ll attach nicer drawer fronts over these later.
3) Build and install the upper boxes using prefinished plywood.
4) Add side panels and face fronts to uppers.
5) Add face fronts to lowers
6) Add drawer fronts and doors to lowers.

#’s 4, 5, and 6 will be on a schedule dictated by the boss.

Side note, for the exposed areas I’ll be using maple and cherry from trees that were cut down to make room for our house. Already milled, kiln-dried and ready for planing and jointing!

Thanks again, all.

-- Mike H, Elkins WV

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