How to Sand the Cabinet Doors? A Complete Guide

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How to Sand the Cabinet Doors? A Complete Guide

Skilled woodworkers and DIY enthusiasts can use a weekend to update their cabinet doors to refresh kitchens or bathrooms. Such a project allows you to customize cabinet doors to fit your vision.

You’ll need a plan. We’ve created a guide introducing the sanding methods necessary for success. The guide details how to sand cabinet doors effectively, setting the stage for a striking finish, and provides advice on adding the final touches.

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Table of Contents

Reasons for Sanding Cabinet Doors

Sanding your cabinets might seem unnecessary, but it offers many benefits:

  • Gives a smooth finish.
  • Removes the rough texture of wood grain.
  • Helps paint and primer adhere better, making smoother paint.
  • Fixes imperfections like scratches, dents, and gaps.
  • Creates a smooth surface after applying wood filler.
  • Removes dust and debris that could stick to wet paint.
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Tools & Materials

  • Sander: An orbital sander, a sanding block or a sanding sponge
  • Sandpaper: 120, 180 or 220 grit
  • Vacuum designated for sanding
  • Tack cloth
  • Coverings (to clean and protect your floors and furniture)
  • Finish materials
  • Brushes, rollers or spray
  • Paint stripper and putty knife
  • Wood-grain filler
  • Wood putty
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  • Eyewear: Safety goggles, glasses or face shields
  • Hearing protection: Earmuffs or earplugs
  • Respiratory protection: A simple dust mask for small amounts of wood; A respirator for a larger quantity of dust or chemicals from paints, stains and varnish
  • Gloves

In addition to wearing protective equipment, ensure your sanding and finishing environment is safe. For sanding, choose a location far from children and pets, and make sure the area has good airflow. You could open a window or use a fan. If possible, sand outside to prevent particles from accumulating inside your home.

For finishing tasks, pick areas free from dust, hair, and dirt to keep your finished surface clean. Always follow safety guidelines and keep strong chemicals away from your living areas.

How to Sand Cabinet Doors

Once you have all your materials, you can start the enjoyable part. Here are the steps to sand your cabinet doors:

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Step 1: Take apart the cabinets

If you are working with doors already on cabinets, remove the doors and take off hinges, handles, and knobs. Spend more time sketching your cabinet layout on paper. Assign each door a number and mark it on both the paper and the door. Place the number where the hinge will cover it later.

Step 2: Remove paint or clean the surface

For doors covered with a thick paint or oil-based layer, apply a paint stripper. Follow the instructions for how long to wait, then lift it off with a putty knife. If dealing with bare wood, use a degreaser to clean the doors and remove any leftover residue.

Step 3: Smooth out the wood

If your doors are made from porous wood or have dents and knots, use wood-grain filler or wood putty to make the surface even.

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Step 4: Sand

Choose the appropriate sandpaper grit:

  • For repainting, use 120-grit.
  • For finishes like a topcoat or stain without paint, use 180-grit to 220-grit.
  • For a new door from the factory, use 220-grit.

Use a hand sander or sanding sponge for tight spots and curves. Occasionally tap the sander to remove dust from the sandpaper. If sawdust accumulates, vacuum the surface.

Step 5: Clean the Surface

Vacuum the sawdust off the surface and then use a tack cloth to ensure it’s completely dust-free. If your vacuum has a brush attachment, use it to dislodge any stubborn dust. Open and shake out the tack cloth regularly during use, and replace it if it becomes less sticky.

Step 6: Apply Your Finish

Apply the chosen finish to your cabinet door. If painting, begin with a primer, then sand lightly between applying primer and paint for the smoothest finish.

Use extra 220-grit sandpaper to remove any buildup, like primer or paint accumulations, especially on edges or grooves. Follow the drying instructions carefully for each product used.

Step 7: Assemble the Cabinets

After everything has dried and finished, install the hinges, knobs, and handles, then mount the cabinet doors back on. The final step brings all your hard work together and shows your refreshed cabinets.


Q: What kind of sander should I use on cabinet doors?

1. Random Orbital Sanders

Random Orbital Sanders

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Consider getting a grill with added features like burners for boiling water or a rotisserie attachment for more cooking options. For those who love the taste of charred meat, a charcoal grill might be ideal. And if you’re serious about meats, consider adding a smoker for that extra flavor and tenderness.

2. Finishing Sanders

Finishing Sanders

A finishing sander is suitable for a high level of polish. Such tools have square or rectangular sanding pads. You can find various styles or attachments for hard-to-reach areas.

You can choose between orbital and straight-line sanding. There’s a concern that orbital sanding might leave cross-grain scratches on the final pass. Yet, using a gentle method and fine-grit sandpaper usually prevents this. For more control and a smoother finish, a finishing sander is a good choice.

3. Belt Sander

Belt Sander

If your cabinet doors have a lot of buildup or nicks to smooth out, consider a belt sander. It uses a long, rectangular surface from a sandpaper belt that loops continuously through the machine.

They are good for big, flat areas and can take off more layers than other tools. You should use them only where you need to remove a lot.

4. Hand Sanding

You might choose to sand your cabinets by hand, but often, people hand sand only for final touches or areas that are hard to reach. Flat sanding blocks cover large surfaces, like doing a gentle, last pass over the cabinet.

To work on nooks and crannies, you have several options: sanding blocks with curved shapes, using sandpaper directly, or using a sanding sponge. Steel wool or a kitchen scouring pad can also help with getting into grooves.

Q: Should I sand the cabinets before painting?

Most experts recommend sanding your cabinets before painting. Sanding creates a smooth, clean finish and improves primer and paint adherence. However, some argue that you could replace sanding with a liquid sandpaper deglosser. Such a choice can save time, reduce the need for scrubbing, and notably reduce dust.


Q: What is the easiest to sand cabinets?

To sand cabinets easily, choose the right sandpaper grit, an orbital sander, and a sanding pad. Using too rough sandpaper, like 320 grit, can complicate the task. The wrong grit of sandpaper slows down the process and poses a risk of causing lasting damage to your cabinets.

Q: What if I don't sand cabinets before painting?

That means the surface won’t be smooth or even, which is important for painting. Skipping this step can cause chipping off easily and the appearance of watermarks. Also, the cabinets may end up looking streaky and messy due to the uneven surface.

Sanding before painting improves the durability of the paint job on the cabinets. Therefore, taking the time to sand the cabinets beforehand proves beneficial.


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