Coping: A Kitchen Project Looms

Oh boy…time to call the UrbanSurvival Board of Directors into special session. If you got this far, you’re on Board so consider attendance mandatory.

Elaine and I want to redo the kitchen. We have four different ways we can to this and I want to get some input on this:

Option 1: We keep the existing (cheap) cabinets and reface just the doors. Pros: Cheap, easy, quick. Cons: Doesn’t look as good as either of the two competing options. Black frames, black doors.

Option 2: We pull off the doors and take the existing framing down to wood and then re-face both the frames (to a stained birch) and then build new doors which will be stained dark to match. All this would be a kind of dark chocolate color. Pros: Easier than ripping out all the cabinets, looks better, and would really dress up the kitchen. Cons: The drawers would still be rough slide/friction, not the fancy ball bearing 100% extending drawers. But more time and money.

Option 3: Run up to the cabinet/home builder closeout center and buy all new cabinets. Pros: Great looking finished product. Cool drawer slides. Cons: Three to five thousand of them. Then there is the hassle of mounting and redoing all the counters…and then a new sink and then a new dishwasher and then…OMG it just goes on…

Option 4: Tear out the whole kitchen, cook on the BBQ for a month, eat off paper plates and have George build up cabinets the right way. Pros: Justifies all the tools in the shop, is a little cheaper than commercially made cabinets, would give me a chance to dovetail join to my heart’s content. Cons: Count the fingers. This is a lot of saw work and time on top of the rest of life. Not that much cheaper than check writing because time is worth something.

This option really eats time like a muther-whater. On the other hand, a new table saw might be snuck into the budget…

In all cases we would redo the counters, though in one case using the epoxy paint approach…

Please feel free to post a comment – advice and experience at this level of decision is a valued thing.

Radioactive Granite?

As long as we are doing a kitchen make-over, I invited my chum from the PNW to come back down for a visit. You’ll recall his last visit was when the left eye got buggered up…so we never completely got around to the ham radio projects.

He wisely declined to enroll in Ure’s School of Carpentry (where tuition just happens to equal the cost of cabinets…you know I was a higher ed. mgt. geek before retiring, right?). So we really will do the ham radio projects.

But in the meantime, I learned something fascinating from him. You remember he’s into subtle energy medicine, right?

Well….he says to check the granite for radioactivity before installing….,


Well, hell: I didn’t know this, and I am supposed to know everything to I went looking. In the archives of the Dr.Weil website (here) I found this part of the radio/radiation from granite discussion that I was looking for:

“The Marble Institute of America (MIA) sponsored a study of 13 granite samples said to be representative of 95 percent of the countertops on the market. Conducted by a geologist from the University of Akron, the study showed that 10 of the 13 samples tested emit only insignificant amounts of radon; of the other three, one added only about seven percent of the amount of radon the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deems “actionable” (in other words, the levels you should do something about, by installing venting systems for example). The other two granites tested added only one percent of the EPA action level.

On the other hand, according to the Times, preliminary results of another study at Rice University suggest that all of the 55 samples tested emit radiation at higher-than-background levels, some at 100 times background levels.”

The answer seems to be simple enough: Stick to the none striated exotic types of granite and all should be well.

Or, if the Kitchen “doo” turns to just refreshing the faux granite paint (like  GianiTM Countertop Paint Kit, Sicilian Sand from Amazon ($80) which we’ve had on for four years, or so) then the radioactivity issue is off the table.

There are a bunch of granite looking tiles out there, too. And since Labor Day is when many husbands/chief laborers sit down with She Who Trumps All, this is valuable to know. The condo we rented up in Tacoma this summer had “fake” granite tile. And that has me thinking about where to bury a wet-saw for tile in the project budget.

Good luck mdeeting with your She Who Trumps All.. I know how hard it is to sound convincing about being due on a conference call at 9:00 AM on a Holiday Monday. (My success rate with this approach is >13% although now that I’m older, celibacy isn’t such a …well you know who wins all the deal points.)

Short N 2 Dah Point


I figure you need to get a lot done today so you can zoo-out early tomorrow.

We will have a single column mash-up Monday but with market’s closed we may be limited to the “Wit and Wisdom of Zeus the Cat.”

It would be an upgrade.

See you then and write when you get rich,

48 thoughts on “Coping: A Kitchen Project Looms”

  1. I’ve been thinking about redoing my condo kitchen and decided the following.
    1) Replace the Formica covered counter with a zinc sheet covered plywood. A lot easier to do than one may think, exotic looking and has health benefits. Many bar tops are zinc. Cost of zinc for my small 10×10 kitchen is less than $200.
    2) Replace external cabinet hinges with hidden euro hinges.
    3) Repaint the cabinet frames and doors with chalk paint. It covers heavy grain wood like oak in one coat and has a great look when waxed.

    Also take a look at RTA (ready to assemble) cabinets. Higher quality and cheaper than what you can get at the big box stores and cost effective. Easy assembly for someone with moderate diy skills.

  2. If you are contemplating selling and going back to the PNW, why spend the time or the money on the upgrade. Find out what will sell and go that route, considering return on the $. Some upgrades give a better return than others.

  3. SELL ALL the crap/toys, the hillbilly double wide”ranch” , plane etc…Buy a real home with kitchen to Elaines well as a new Lexus…BTW how may expensive hobbies/toys does SHE have?? None I would bet, and she surely needs a major reward for living with your ego…

    • Forty years ago I was working at a major appliance dealer writing orders in the backroom with the other clerks when one of the floor salesmen walked in on us and said, “I want you to take a look at somebody”, so we all got up and peeked around the corner at a little, old, grey-haired guy who was looking suspiciously at a modern dishwasher and poking it with his cane . . . so we sat back down again and one of us said, “It was just a guy . . .”

      ‘L’ then said that the guy had come in to buy his wife, who was in her nineties – a new washing machine as her old one that she’d had for almost forty years had broken – at this point one of the older clerks butted in – “Oh, that’s sweet! She’ll love the convenience of a modern washer – and he can get a dryer too. That’s so nice!” And all us women were basking in the idea of thoughtful, practical hubbies . . .

      ‘L’ however, wasn’t finished. At the time one of the most well known manufacturers still made the old style washer that you had to push by hand the clothes through a wringer (Mind your fingers!) and the water would be wrung out in multiple steps . . . it was horribly expensive and cost twice as much even the washer/dryer combo combined.

      ‘L’ tried to sell the guy the modern set and he was fixated on getting his wife (he was younger by some years) – exactly what she had before. All of us were shocked by the idea that this guy should not allow his wife the choice of whether she wanted the ‘new’ set or not . . .

      Sorry, long winded . . .

  4. Being in (cold) Illinois, I’d chose granite for it’s heat-holding ability. Some people have concrete countertops- which sounds hideous but looks good in the photos.
    I wonder if it has any piezo-electric properties that could be utilized for…another project!

  5. George, I worked as an architectural draftsman and assistant for 45 years. This even included construction observation for the rebuild of an entire floor of the county courthouse. I also am an avid fan of all the Mike Holmes videos where he corrects and completes effed up work in homes by other contractors.

    Since you are a self-proclaimed handy bastard, I suggest the following:

    1. If the cabinet interiors are melamine, wash them with detergent and hot water. If wood, use plastic sheeting and tape to mask around them and then finish interiors with an enamel applied with a rented airless sprayer. After you use one, you will want one.
    2. If you want painted exterior, wash them with a good degreaser, lightly sand and do the same paint method as above.
    3. If you want a wood grain appearance, the easiest thing to do is use hinges that permit “full overlay” style doors (you will see these a lot in commercial application; architects love this style). Have a cabinet shop make the doors to your dimensions and hang them yourself.
    4. As far as the drawers are concerned, you can remove the old wood guides and go to a cabinet shop or architectural hardware distributor and buy top quality drawer glides in the style that will best fit the design of your drawers.
    5. The apartment community where I live refinishes countertops with the epoxy you mentioned. They look great and wear well. Just don’t use abrasive cleaners. There are countertop companies that can place a new one over your existing using all sorts of materials. You could even get stainless steel fabricated.

    IMO refurbishing your existing is the way to go unless there is damage. Ripping out and installing new may strain your marriage as much as your wallet. Watch some of Mike Holmes videos and then decide. I hope this helps.

    • This is my favorite post, so I will tag on here.

      I designed high-end bathrooms and mid-range kitchens on two different jobs years ago.

      First off — dark cabinets — will require more light in the kitchen. Get some black poster board, or spray some black, and put it up over all the cabinets to understand the tremendous increase in light you will need to see well in a black cabinet kitchen.

      Secondly, off gassing of formaldehyde from the chipboard in new cabinets. Not good for your health — don’t you have asthma?

      Third — granite or tile — do you have quality china plates and nice glasses — or do you use inexpensive stuff and plastic? Granite and tile are unforgiving surfaces when you drop something — more chipping. Laminate and Corian/solid surface are more forgiving. With laminate, ordering a pre-fab top is not hard, especially for galley kitchens, but you do have some gas-off from the chipboard. Corian and solid surface should be left to a contractor, unless you have straight lengths that do not require seams. Don’t do Corian around a range top, and don’t do a Corian sink. Otherwise the stuff is a great surface. However, always use a cutting board.

      Fourth — as someone has already mentioned — perhaps more than once — just get drawer glides or rebuild just the drawers. You are paying fine furniture prices for chipboard boxes to hold up the pretty doors and drawer fronts. Unless there is a functional reason to change the cabinets, just use the existing boxes — they have already gassed-off.

      One thing I have noticed is that sometimes people create such a beautiful kitchen they do not want to cook in it and mess it up. Do you need your shop to be beautiful? Stupid question right? Well, a kitchen is a workspace, and to my mind should be function first and decorative second.

      Lastly, it is MERCURY RETROGRADE. You might just want to continue to PLAN, instead of ACT, until this retrograde is well over.

  6. did this project 5 years ago. Down to the studs, rewired, rebuild. did the new knockdown cabinet route. assemble and hang top and bottom I built the cabinet faces, bought a corian counter from HD. counter material may be dated but it fit the budget. satisfied with the cabinets that route took a year as it was a weekend time availability and planned for 8 weeks. But the floor was sanded at the same time, ceiling also done. Better set your limits in advance or you will put the government changes orders to shame. when the kitchen gets to the point it is falling apart you don’t have much choice except to move ahead. My limits considered a move possibility and how it would look for a buyer.

  7. P.S. on the countertops: I HATE tile because of the all the grout lines. Even if you use an epoxy grout, it still is a cleaning challenge. There are other options, including pouring your own concrete (requires special application techniques), excellent plastic laminate that looks like stone, solid plastic made by the major plastic laminate manufacturers, lab grade countertops and the best of all quartz (it doesn’t require any maintenance like granite does but it costs more.)

  8. George, I’m sure the old ranch house with which I’m knee-deep into redoing a bathroom is more extreme than the more modern house you’re about to rehab but always remember regardless of how much fun you think it’ll be there’s always something in the mix that’ll make you tear your hair out along the way. Like you implied above once you start it’s nearly impossible to know where to stop aside from your pocket book rolling over and dying. Merely re-doing a bath has lead to the discovery of roof problems that need fixing before insulation and ceilings go in as well as finding the entire service entry electrical system needs an upgrade according to the utility company. Woop…ee. Beware of Pintrest, my friend. Be very aware! You have been warned!

  9. Go the whole way on the kitchen. You will get something to be happy with and increase resale. But more, think of all the toys you get to buy for yourself, here is a little payback for the wife!

  10. You don’t have to do any kitchen demo before you build new cabinets (Option 4). You can take your time to get the fit and finish right while they’re in the shop (just have lots of clamps handy), then do a weekend demo/install.

    I’m looking at the same project and options, and have found that with Option 3 I’d have to use more units of mis-matched smaller sizes to fit my walls, resulting in a choppy/random appearance, less useful capacity, and significantly higher costs. Two smaller units adding up to a little less than the size you really need cost a lot more than one unit of exactly the size you need (but they don’t make that size), and then you find there’s no place big enough for the big roasting pan or your giant platter. DIY and enjoy the benefits of your learned skills.

  11. George, lots of things are radioactive that no one ever realizes. If it is “naturally occurring” it is not regulated. There are parts of Grand Central Station in New York that if it were located at a nuke plant would have to be controlled as a radioactive materials area. Large coal plants emit a curie a day of radon/radium byproducts to the air. Take an alpha survey meter to the ash pit of your average coal plant and the readings will freak you out. A RM14 with a HP210 or HP260 probe (commonly called a frisker) will identify the hot granite. Typically I saw 150-300 counts per minute above background which usually ran around 100 cpm. Typically it is the igneous rocks that can show readings above background. Sedimentary rocks are usually OK.

    James Johnson, ex-nuke

  12. don’t do the epoxy on the counters. it does not last and it is not durable at all. we tried that with ours in order to make it look good to sell. but it was flaking/wearing off within a month or two.

  13. There are a million ways to look at the investment involved. I gutted the kitchen in my 1870’s house five years ago and spent an obscene amount of money never to be recovered unless the house is sitting on a mountain of gold.

    On the other hand, it turned out very well. I like my house very much and have lived in it 15 years now. It has good Karma, I’m sure it appreciates the attention we give it.

    Next week, new metal roof.

  14. After pondering these posts, I came to the conclusion that there is only one solution.
    Research the best carpentry group locally, write the check while you spend time with Zeuss in the workshop, munching cheese and wine….

  15. We faced the same dilemma in redoing our kitchen. On one hand were the “stick built on site” existing mahogany cabinets–which the husband considered practically sacred. Me–not so much. Lousy drawer glides, blah doors, and a functional design that suited homemaking in the late 1950s. In the interest of marital harmony, we compromised. We kept the existing cabinets but stripped them down and painted them white. Since we were expanding the kitchen footprint, we also added new cabinets. Unfinished from the local emporium cost us about $600 for 10′ of lowers and 5′ of uppers. The husband did modifications to make the standard cases custom. Painted them white to tie everything together.

    In living with this compromise… Lipstick on the pig didn’t make the pig any more pleasant to live with. The gussied up old cabinets are still old cabinets.

    We also put in granite countertops. Lovely to look at and we get points for being trendy, but when we tackle the next phase of remodeling this old building, my new kitchen is going to have stainless steel or zinc counters. And all new cabinetry.

    My advice, George… Whether you stay or you head out to the PNW, it’s kitchen and bathrooms that sell houses. A kitchen that will make Elaine happy will make a prospective buyer happy, too. Take a deep breath, let Elaine make the decision, and then write the check.

    My two cents. You asked.

  16. Not everthing is denominated in time or money. Keeping one’s skills sharp and engaging is different types of physical activities is good for the body and brain. Rip it out I say.

  17. The one thing I can tell you is that the tile has to be done just right or it looks BAD.

    We went over to some friends’ house after they had ‘done their kitchen’ and so my husband went in to look at it with his friend, and came out – giving me a look of ‘watch what you say’ and when I went in with his wife – the little fiddly parts around the sink were not done properly at all . . . I realize that not everyone is/was married to a machinist, but couldn’t they tell what it looked like?

    So George – if you decide to use tile on the counter or you have to cut it . . . make it look good!

  18. Hey there….We love our hillbilly double wide…10 miles out of town & no one around here holds their nose. Doesn’t hurt that because of that hillbilly double wide we live very comfortably far below what other people are shelling out. Btw we have/are doing remodeling projects & visitors don’t know it started out as a hillbilly doublewide. Personally it feels like financial freedom everyday

  19. Go with Option 3.
    A happy wife is worth much more than the cost of a new kitchen, and she is likely to be less than happy about any of the other options …including having her kitchen turned into a mess for months on end, especially if she has to drag you off to the body and fender shop at some point, missing fingers and such.

  20. Agree with almost everything Sherlyn Lampe said above. Only I would go with Quartz countertops. They are somewhat pricey but for the beauty, durability and ease of maintenance they are worth every cent — based on my personal experience using ours nearly 9 years now. They were available in two thicknesses (when we bought ours) and I chose the thinner one which is nearly a one-inch thick solid layer, color throughout with a highly polished shine.

  21. I always go for option 4 when I can to build the tool selection or jig selection. Craftsmanship is a skill that has to stay refreshed, and you wont find any cabinets made that would go through the time you would to do dovetail joints and other techniques to get a solid piece of cabinetry.

    You could split the work, where you build the boxes, and let someone build the doors to save on time. This would also allow you to ensure your hinge attachment is “solid” in good quality wood.

    I am also married for 25 years and as you know… “Yes Dear, what ever you want!” goes a long way too.

  22. 1 Measure and Plan kitchen down to 1/16″ and make layout drawing.
    2 Order boxes. Try or like.
    3 Pick a door maker: search [cabinet doors custom prefinished texas] and order doors to fit. Also order drawer fronts.
    4 After you fit the doors to the boxes and are sure everything fits in the house tear out the old and patch up the walls, floor, etc.
    5 Buy Metabox drawers . After you figure out how they work it will take about 15-20 minutes to make and install a drawer.
    6 Don’t do epoxie over laminate. Any tile is better. Counter tops other than tile, require skills and equipment that will make it difficult to compete with a pro on a one-time basis.

  23. My vote would be new, classic cabinets and quartzite counter tops… it’s so low maintenance compared to anything else, and looks phenomenal. I have lots of friends who have done all kinds of refinishing to their cabinets & counter tops to try to save, and honestly they just aren’t all that happy. I might get burned at the stake for suggesting this, but Ikea has (in my opinion… I am a millennial after all, lol) gorgeous cabinets, fantastic euro-close drawers, every clever space-saving design option you could ever think of, etc, and they are pretty cheap comparatively.

  24. Are U tired of the suggestions yet? Mine is Buy 1/2 build 1/2,nice compromise keep some fingers do some dovetailing keep skills up AND get to compare yours to theirs :)

  25. 1 Measure and Plan kitchen down to 1/16″ and make layout drawing.
    2 Order boxes. Try or like.
    3 Pick a door maker: search [cabinet doors custom prefinished texas] and order doors to fit. Also order drawer fronts. Beware of what dimensions your chosen hinge requires.
    4 After you fit the doors to the boxes and are sure everything fits in the house tear out the old and patch up the walls, floor, etc.
    5 Buy Metabox drawers . After you figure out how they work it will take about 15-20 minutes to make and install a drawer.
    6 Don’t do epoxie over laminate. Any tile is better. Counter tops other than tile, require skills and equipment that will make it difficult to compete with a pro on a one-time basis, not that there aren’t hacks claiming to be pros.
    7 Do all that and you might as well hang the kitchen remodel business shingle if it looks good when done to recoup the investment.

  26. back in the 90’s we ‘redid’ the kitchen in our 1930’s home in Magnolia. Painted all the cabinets white (labor and time intensive); new pulls on them, new sink, new formica counter tops –
    it did us o.k. and was functional for the time we lived there (4 years) – HOWEVER, the ‘bones’ of the kitchen were still the ‘old’ kitchen, just with a new coat of paint.

    Now we live in a neighborhood that has a higher turnover (over 55 community – people moving to warmer parts of the country that are less expensive or following their kids/grandkids). I have seen far too many invest $$ redoing kitchens and baths to get ready to sell (new counters, floors, plumbing fixtures) in homes that are under 10 years old but show some wear. It turns out that mostly, it is a wash as to if those ‘investments’ really returned $. And ultimately, 95% of the new buyers end up redoing everything anyways.

    It might help to sell and get you $5-10,000 more on the price, but it is an investment that isn’t guaranteed.

    That said, do the changes because you WANT to do them. If you are truly planning to stay in your home for at least 5-10 years, then go all out and do the full ‘real time’ redo – new cabinets, sink, fixtures, countertops.

  27. George, if you & Elaine are thinking of selling, why would you want to sink more money into the place? Yes new kitchens increase resale value, BUT only 70% or so ROI. And consider now that Panama & his bride are off on their own, the two of you will be all alone….who’ll feed your cats?

  28. Consider the height of the counter-tops…a level for slicing/dicing, one for stirring. How high the burners if one stir-fries? How far down to the bottom of the sink for mature backs? How many drawers of what depth?
    Really HARD maple is a great surface for part of it. Scraper for the final finish.

  29. I just love your angst on “do-it-yourself” syndrome. I don’t have a solution for your dilemma, of course, but I can relate to you our home improvement event. I wrote you several years ago regarding your water pump replacement for your old pickup truck and how it took you several days and extra money etc. For the same task I chose to let my money work for me, at my age 65, and went to Pep Boys to replace mine.
    Anyhow, we came into a little inheritance, about $30,000, when my wife’s mother passed and we decided to replace our kitchen cabinets, old Formica counter tops, toilets, bathroom counter tops, replace a fiberglass tub/shower with a standup tile shower, replace vinyl flooring in two standard baths with tile. Quite a lot of work actually. I’ve done quite a bit of furniture woodworking with my Sears radial arm saw, end tables, hutch, secretary, entertainment center, bookshelves, corner desk. Did plenty of drawers too, but not with dovetails. Built my own drawer rails out of oak and they work great. I seriously thought about doing the work myself.

    About several months after we got our idea a good friend of mine had a water line bust in his house and he asked me for some help. He had a contractor over to assess and estimate the repair work. I asked my friend about the contractor and he told me “this guy is great, he rebuilt my fathers house after it was totaled by a fire, he’s really good”. That was all I needed to hear. ADVICE #1: Get a good contractor.
    This contractor is small time, but very busy so we had to wait for about 4 months for him to free up time to do our job. He gave us an estimate of $16,000 for the whole job. We decided to keep our kitchen cabinet doors, which are solid oak. We cleaned them with wood detergent and finished with Old English wood oil/stain and replaced hardware with stainless steel handles and hinges to go with our SS stove, refrig etc. Man they looked brand new when we were done! We put in Uba Tuba granite 1″ thick, this type is the most popular and is supposed to be lowest in radioactivity, ADVICE #2: Don’t sweat the Rads man you’ll surely die of hardening of the arteries way sooner than radiation poisoning. We also, put the Uba Tuba in two bath counter tops and a half bath. ADVICE #3: Replace all toilets with the new American Standard 1.28 gal/flush toilets. We did three of these at $230 apiece, but I found my water/sewer bill dropped by $30 a month. These babies paid for themselves in 2 years time and flush like liquid tornadoes. I saw a Youtube video of these two American Standard engineer Geeks gleefully flushing a bucket of golf balls down my very same toilet and then dancing around in glorious victory at their success.
    My contractor was true to my expectations, he did the work in four days!! All the work was top notch and professional and within budget. That was 5 years ago and everything has held up fine, I didn’t cut off any fingers either. Good luck with your adventure whatever you decide to do, we couldn’t be happier with our investment and choice of a pro to do the work.

  30. Hi George – I vote for Option 1 or 3. It sounds like you are after an aesthetic upgrade, not a complete remodel, and minimizing the torn up phase of the project will pay off hugely. Living with a mess is not going to be new for y’all. If you go with #3 quartz, is everything granite is and more. I agree with the comments about leaving it for a new owner if you really are looking to move.

    On another note, I don’t understand why you wrote off Sequim so quickly – how many roads do you have out of your driveway? Sequim has tons of water access if the roads are blocked.

  31. Either new cabinets installed by pros and finished by you or built in place either by yourself or a pro.

    I picked up a set of cabinets from a manufacturer locally and went to install them myself. What mistake. Took 3 times longer than it should and I found that the cabinets were crooked out of square worse than the old house here in town.

  32. Installed by pros. Take the saved money and buy new ham gear. Save your old cabinets to install out in the shop.

  33. Re: Granite counter tops [perhaps also applies to quartz]. In the Dr’s waiting room this afternoon, a few of us, including one of the nurses, were discussing granite counter tops. The nurse, who had recently moved from a house that had them, told us that she broke so many plates and glasses on them that she vowed “never again.” She now has something that appears to be granite, without the hardness that caused all the damage to her dishes and glasses. She also said they were hard to keep looking nice since they often appeared “smeared.” Somethings to consider.

  34. I am the refacing queen. I have done it now I
    3 times in different homes. There is stick on veneer that matches the doors you use. It holds up well and is easy to apply. No sanding involved. I used the products from kitchenreface. Com I turned a drab
    80,s bath with ugly Formica into a show piece. In areas where I couldn’t get to the back I stuck on door panels with. Quick set 5200. Worked great. I did it again here I our guest bath. Raised the vanity and refaced it since it was made to fit the space. Looks beautiful. I also used colored siliconCaulk to fill in spaces.

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