Replacing cabinet hardware

MATERIALS: Hardware, bolts

TOOLS: Screwdriver, brad puller, cabinet template, putty knife

Much of a cabinet’s appearance depends on its hardware. Replacing a cabinet’s Early American knobs with wooden ones gives it a Shaker look. Replacing them with bin pulls can give it a Victorian look. Putting on hammered metal pulls can steer a cabinet toward the Mission style. Any of the above, done poorly, can make a mess out of the finest cabinet. To do the job right you must consider two things: fit and appearance. Fit is the simplest: When you remove a piece of hardware, you have to replace it with one that requires the same mounting holes, or one that is big enough to cover the old holes.

Look is a different issue. Mission furniture was almost always oak, and it can be hard to make maple, cherry, or walnut fit the bill. Shaker furniture was plain and unadorned. Most Victorian cabinets would have a hard time passing for Shaker no matter what hardware you put on them. But it’s your house, and who left the art critics in charge, anyway? If you like the way the hardware looks, it’s the right hardware. First do a little reading about the look that you’re trying to create. Then check stores, mail-order catalogs, and old house magazines to see what’s available. Try a knob on a door and a drawer, and live with it for a while. If it works, install the rest.

IT’S LIKE CHOOSING JEWELRY - Cabinet knobs enhance drawers like the right jewelry dresses up an outfit. Replacing hardware can create a new look immediately and can help focus the overall design of the room. You'll find literally thousands of choices in home centers and hardware stores, online, and through mail order. You can also create your own pulls from found materials like old silverware, alphabet blocks, yo-yos, or even copper plumbing fittings. Your choices are limited only by your imagination and interests.

1 BEGIN BY REMOVING A SAMPLE PIECE OF THE CABINET’S HARDWARE. To remove a drawer handle, open the drawer and remove the bolt or bolts that go through the drawer front and into the handle. Then open a door and remove the bolt or bolts holding the handle.

2 DOOR OR DRAWER HANDLES MAY HAVE PLATES, CALLED ESCUTCHEONS, BEHIND THEM. They may be made of brass, porcelain, or contrasting wood, and are held in place with brads. Depending on the door, you may be able to pull the brads with a brad puller or small "cat's paw." If not, work a narrow putty knife under the center of the escutcheon and pry. When prying, always make sure the end of the knife is under the escutcheon. Putting it elsewhere will leave a visible mark.

3 IF ANY OF THE HARDWARE HAD TWO BOLTS HOLDING IT IN PUCE, you need to know the distance from the center of one bolt to the center of the other. Special templates, like the one shown here, help you measure the distance or lay out new holes. If you can't get a template, measure the distance between the center of the bolt holes. Accuracy to the nearest 1/8 inch is sufficient here.

4 TAKE THE HARDWARE AND THE MEASUREMENTS TO THE STORE. Most hardware comes in a few different sizes. Find something you like, and then find the size that matches your center-to-center measurements. Double-check by measuring and by holding the old hardware next to the new hardware to compare the spacing for the bolts.

5 BUY A SAMPLE PIECE OF HARDWARE AND INSTALL IT TO MAKE SURE IT FITS PROPERLY. If the new bolts aren't the right length, you can usually substitute the old bolts or buy replacements in the store's hardware section. Live with and use the new hardware for a few days to make sure you really like it. When you're sure, buy and install the rest of the hardware.

BE CAUTIOUS WHEN BUYING THIN HANDLES SUCH AS THESE "WIRE” PULLS. Their base is so narrow that they can actually slip through oversized or worn bolt holes. They also can expose much of the wood covered by the old pull. Even after refinishing the surface, you may see the silhouette of the old hardware.

SURFACE-MOUNT PULLS, SUCH AS THIS ONE, FREE YOU FROM HAVING TO WORRY ABOUT THE DISTANCE BETWEEN THE OLD BOLT HOLES. Its broad surface covers the bolt holes and often the silhouette of the old hardware.

Replacing cabinet doors and drawers

If a close look tells you that your doors and drawers are a wreck but the cabinets are in good shape, replacing or upgrading them maybe smarter than putting $20,000 into a new set of cabinets. The trick is to find doors and drawer fronts in a matching finish, and to hang the doors. Begin by looking at the hinges: Traditional hinges look like small house door hinges. Hanging doors on them requires some intermediate cabinetmaking skills. If they’re European hinges, such as those shown below, hanging doors on them is much easier— as long as the holes are predrilled in the proper places.

The parts on ready-to-assemble cabinets—the ones that come in a box— are usually interchangeable. Hinge holes are uniform from unit to unit. However, replacement doors on custom cabinets, even if factory-built, may not be uniform. Buy replacement doors and drawer fronts from the company that made the cabinets in the first place. Hang samples to see what problems you may run into. Complete do-it-yourself cabinet refacing is another option. (The extra work comes in applying self-stick veneer over the face frames.) While it may cost more, you can save time by getting custom-made drawer and door fronts that come with fasteners guaranteed to fit your cabinets.

MATERIALS: New door and drawer fronts, double-sided tape

TOOLS: Screwdriver, utility knife

1 REMOVE AN OLD DOOR FROM THE CABINET. European-style hinges have a big, round or square piece, called a hinge cup, that fits in a matching hole in the door. The base that mounts on the cabinet is usually T-shaped and often has sliding parts so that you can move the door up or down to bring it into alignment with other doors. Remove the screws holding the cups in place and take the doors off the cups.

2 DRAWERS ARE USUALLY BOXES WITH DECORATIVE FALSE FRONTS SCREWED OVER THE FRONT OF THE BOX. Remove the screws to remove the false front. If the front isn't removable, you'll have a hard time replacing it. Consider a complete refacing job, in which custom fronts and minor drawer alterations make the upgrade possible.

3 PUT THE HINGE CUP IN THE HOLE IN THE DOOR AND SCREW IT IN PLACE. Slide the arm of the hinge over the base piece inside the cabinet and tighten the screw. Close the door and see how it sits on the cabinet. If the door juts out from the cabinet or binds when it closes, loosen the screw you just tightened, slide the arm along the base piece, and retighten. Slide the arm away from the back of the cabinet to help fix binding doors; push it toward the back of the cabinet to help fix doors that jut out when closed.

4 PUT A COUPLE OF PIECES OF DOUBLE-SIDED TAPE ON THE NEW DRAWER FRONT TO HELP YOU POSITION IT. Close the drawer and bring the new front up to it. Align the edges so that an equal overhang exists on each side and so that the gap between the drawer bottom and door top is constant; then push the drawer front against the tape. Open the drawer carefully, clamp the false front to the box, as shown above, and then screw the new false front in place.

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