Q&A / 

Kitchen Island on a Budget

DEAR TIM: I'm in desperate need of a kitchen island. They provide so much functionality, but I can't build one nor can I afford a new one. Is there a way to purchase a used kitchen island cabinet with a top? Can you easily refinish the cabinet to match my existing stained cabinets? Or, is there an easier way to save time and money? Victoria B., Racine, WI

DEAR VICTORIA: You're preaching to the choir about kitchen islands! I've got two of them in my own home. They're fantastic utility items to have in a kitchen, and I highly recommend that anyone building or remodeling a new kitchen should try to plan to have one.

Kitchen islands don't have to be enormous in size to be highly useful. The two islands in my kitchen are not big. The tops only measure 26 by 50 inches. However, there's plenty of space at each island for three people to work at each one at the same time!

Here's the good news. If you're patient, you'll be able to find a used one. I suggest using one or more of the online classified websites where homeowners, and some companies, sell used products. What's more, in certain cities, there are businesses that specialize in recycling used building materials from houses.

This is a kitchen island purchased from an online classified ad site. With a little work, it will look brand new. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

This is a kitchen island purchased from an online classified ad site. With a little work, it will look brand new. Photo Credit: Tim Carter

I routinely sell and buy things using the online classified websites. My favorite is Craigslist. You have to look in different categories, as the seller sometimes lists the item in the wrong place. I'd look in Building Materials and Furniture.

Be sure you read all the warnings and tips when using these sites. Don't ever go alone to look at the item. Take a friend or two and tell others where you're going. Be sure to really look the item over checking it for quality and structural integrity. When you buy from another person in these situations, there's usually a no return policy. As they used to say in Rome, Caveat emptor - Let the buyer beware!

Before you go to look at a used kitchen island, be sure you can transport it. If you find one you like from a homeowner or a store, you need to react and buy it then. You want to transport it home at that time. Be aware of how big and how heavy they are. It's your job and responsibility to load and secure it for a safe trip back to your home.

Once you have it home, you can refinish it. Keep in mind if the cabinet is older than 1978, there's a great chance there could be lead in any paint or even clear finishes that coat the wood. This means you don't want to sand the old finish off.

If you're not sure of the age, you can purchase small lead-paint test kits to see if the cabinet has lead in the finish. If the cabinet you buy is painted, it could have multiple layers of paint on it. The original paint may have lead, but it could be hidden under subsequent layers of paint. Just testing the paint on the surface is not a definitive test to ensure there's no lead.

Trying to match stain colors of existing wood cabinets in your home is a really tough thing to do. The first challenge is the actual wood of the island you purchase may not match the wood that's in your cabinets. What's more, you'll not have any test wood pieces of the same lumber the island's made from to do stain tests.

If you're bound and determined to strip the island cabinet and restain it, I suggest you treat the bare wood with a special clear wood conditioner. This liquid helps to prevent stain from soaking in too deeply. It makes for a better finish that really highlights the wood grain.

Matching stain colors is hard for a rookie, that's why I highly recommend you consider painting the wood island you buy. It can look spectacular to have one painted cabinet in a room filled with stained-wood cabinets. I know this as I've done it on countless jobs and the customers and visitors always complement the look.

Painting a cabinet is pretty easy. You can make the job go faster by taking off any doors and removing the hardware. Be sure the wood is clean before painting. If the existing paint has a medium or high gloss, you should use a liquid deglosser to help the new paint adhere to the existing paint.

Purchase a high-quality paint that's made for interior woodwork. It can take up to three days for the paint to fully cure and get hard. Use a high-quality brush to minimize the work and to guarantee that the finished paint will look superb.

Don't try to put the paint on heavily to get the job done in one coat. Two light coats is always better.

You can watch a video about staining wood with the special wood conditioners. Simply click for my wood conditioner video.

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