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Hardwood, plastic veneers can give cabinets new life

Sun., Jan. 26, 2014

Q. My kitchen cabinets are finished with an ugly dark stain and I’d like to bring them up to date with a brighter appearance. I don’t want to paint them, if possible. I’ve checked with a couple of refacing contractors, but their prices are too high. Can I reface them myself and what with?

A. One of the easiest ways to reface cabinets is to use self-adhesive veneer, which has a paper backing that is peeled off to expose the glue. Self-stick veneer is sold in rolls, usually 8 feet long and 24 inches wide, and in smaller sheets (usually 24 by 32 inches). It can be cut with a sharp utility knife and straight edge, and if the surfaces of the cabinets are flat and clean, the veneer will stay in place for many years.

Just a few woods are available: oak, ash, cherry, mahogany and walnut. You will have your choice of dark or light woods, and you can also get veneer with a matte-white finish.

Hardwood veneer is usually finished with a clear finish to preserve the expensive appearance of the wood grain. A satin or low-luster finish works well, but test it first on an inconspicuous part.

Plastic laminate gives a tougher surface than veneer and in most cases doesn’t need any finish, but it requires use of an adhesive and is more difficult to cut.

A less common choice is thin plywood, usually one-eighth inch or one-quarter inch thick, with a thin hardwood layer on the exposed side.

Most veneer projects start by covering the narrow front face pieces first, cutting the pieces slightly oversize and trimming them once they are in place. Sides are installed last. Check all surfaces first for bumps, depressions, nail holes and other defects. Use spackling compound to fill defects and sand the entire surface lightly, then remove dust by vacuuming or wiping with a sticky tack rag.

Q. We live in an older townhouse close to a highway and there is a lot of traffic noise at all hours. We had double-pane windows installed and that helped some, but it’s still noisy. What else can we do?

A. Some people try to soundproof the exterior walls, but it is a difficult and often expensive project. Some people “plug” windows with removable panels of foam insulation, usually a foil-covered insulation like Thermax, at least 2 inches thick.

A more permanent wall treatment is to add a layer of half-inch drywall, which is a good noise filtering material, but this means you’d need to adjust baseboard and probably window frames. A simpler approach is so-called white noise, which is soothing sounds such as a babbling brook, soft rain, or just instrumental music. The white-noise sounds are supposed to counter outside noise, especially when you want to sleep. Devices start at $20, but better machines cost considerably more.

Some people prefer an even lower-cost option – ear plugs. I used foam ear plugs for years when I worked in a noisy newspaper office. The plugs definitely helped cut out the din and helped me concentrate.


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