How to Remove and Renovate Old Kitchen Cabinets

Learn how to remove and renovate old kitchen cabinets safely to be used again in the kitchen.

How to Remove and Renovate Old Kitchen Cabinets

Q: I’m planning to renovate my kitchen, and I asked three potential contractors about saving the cabinets for donation or sale to a person or organization who might need them for a basement or garage workshop. Two acted as if that would be feasible; the third said they’d be impossible to remove in reusable condition. Exactly how hard is it to remove cabinets?
—Ann Carper, Washington D.C.

A: Kitchen cabinet removal is not difficult at all, although there can be some complications if the kitchen cabinets are built into the wall as opposed to premanufactured boxes. You can easily distinguish between the two by opening the doors and looking inside. If the back of the kitchen cabinet is the same material as the rest of the cabinet, you’re most likely looking at a premanufactured kitchen cabinet box that’s held to the wall by a half-dozen or fewer screws in the wall studs. If the back of the kitchen cabinet is the same material as your wall covering (usually sheetrock in newer homes and plaster in older homes), the kitchen cabinets have been built into the space and won’t be as easily removed.

Generally, when judging kitchen cabinets as reuse candidates, we look at several things: ease of removal, quality of construction, and type of material used. Built-in kitchen cabinets are more difficult because they incorporate the wall as part of the cabinet. However, the kitchen cabinet faces (doors) may be worth saving if they’re solid wood or glass. They could be fitted onto other kitchen cabinet boxes or used in the manufacture of new furniture pieces. Craftsman-style bungalows often have built-in kitchen cabinets made of solid wood and glass and are often worth the extra effort to dismantle.

Many kitchen cabinet boxes have solid wood faces, but the boxes are thin pieces of particleboard with plastic corner braces that fall apart easily. Older kitchen cabinet boxes constructed of thicker plywood and steel or wood corner braces are much more durable. The adage “they don’t build things like they used to” often comes to mind when dismantling buildings.

Kurt Buss is program manager for ReSource, a building material reuse and deconstruction program of the Center for ReSource Conservation in Boulder, Colorado. He also serves as co-chair of the Board of Directors for the Used Building Material Association.

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