Q: I would like to update my kitchen without spending a fortune. I’ve bought a gas cook top to replace the electric one now in place. Here are my questions:

1.) When I have the new cook top installed, will they just set it in place so that I can take it out again temporarily when I have new countertops installed later? Or should I wait to have it installed until I’m ready to replace the countertops?

2.) Do you know of a source of information on all the types of countertop materials available? I want to compare costs and relative degrees of resistance to chipping, staining, scratching, etc., and ease of upkeep of less expensive solid surface materials.

3.) My cabinets are stained a medium-brown color. Can I bleach them so I can re-stain them a lighter color?

A: You’ve set out quite a project for yourself, but we’re confident you can do it. The most important thing is to do it in the proper sequence. Start with the cabinets, then the countertop and finally install the cook top.

By all means, have the cook top installed temporarily. Cook tops are secured to the countertop with a few screws or clips that are easily removed. Your installer should secure it in this manner–not just drop it in the hole.

We would suggest that you wait until after you’ve refinished at least the cabinets above the cooking area before installing the cook top. This eliminates the risk of dropping bleach or stain on the new cook top.

Refinishing cabinets is a big job. Stained cabinets usually have a clear finish applied on top of the stain for sheen, protection, and durability. Sheens range from matte to high gloss. This clear coat must be removed before bleaching and re-staining.

This is labor intensive and messy, but it is not complicated. Use a chemical paint remover to remove the clear coat. A multitude of brands are available at paint and hardware stores.

Remove the cabinet doors and the drawers to strip them. This allows you to lay them flat for stripping, bleaching and finishing. Wear rubber gloves and eye protection. You’ll be working with caustic chemicals that burn the skin. Also, consider setting up a work area in the garage. That way you can open the door for good ventilation.

When working on the face frames of cabinets, we use a paste or semi-paste type remover. It sticks to the vertical faces of the cabinets. Brush it on with an old paintbrush; let it sit for a few minutes then scrape it off with a putty knife or paint scraper. It should take two or three applications to remove the entire clear coat. As a final step, dip coarse steel wool into the remover and scrub the cabinets down to remove any residue that remains. Wash with warm water to neutralize any stripper residue.

You can bleach wood to lighten the color. Do not expect the wood to take on a like-new appearance, but if the plan is to re-stain the cabinets in a lighter color, bleaching should do the trick. Wood bleach is available at paint and hardware stores. Closely follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using this product and wear gloves and eye protection.

Once the cabinets are stripped and bleached, lightly sand them with 220-grit sandpaper. Wipe the wood with a tack cloth to remove all of the sanding dust, and then stain the cabinets. After the stain is dry–we suggest overnight–apply a minimum of two coats of polyurethane, tacking and sanding between coats. We like polyurethane in kitchens because of its hardness, scratch-resistance, and durability.

There are a wide variety of solid surface countertop choices available these days. Among them are plastic laminates, soapstone and granite.

To view and compare them all we’d suggest that you go to two places. First, go to a showroom specializing in kitchen and bath remodeling. Salespeople will be well versed in these products and will be able to answer all of your questions. The second place we’d check out would be the kitchen section at Home Depot or Lowe’s.

As for which material to use, each has its pluses and minuses and it’s very much a personal choice based on looks, durability and budget.

Laminates are handsome and clean easily. They are impervious to staining, but a hot pot will burn them.

Soapstone and granite will not burn, but they will stain. Both the latter require regular sealing and maintenance. Once you’ve decided on the type of countertop material you want based on durability and ease of cleaning, let price be your guide.


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