Kitchen cabinets can last for generations with a little care and maintenance from time to time. Even the highest-quality cabinets may need minor upkeep on occasion, such as repairing scratches and loose hinges or patching and redrilling screw holes. In many cases, repairs are simple enough to handle yourself, but for sagging shelves or problematic hinges, it may be time to call a cabinet-repair professional.
Fixes for Scrapes, Nicks, Scratches and Small Holes
Minor scrapes and scratches on kitchen cabinets are simple enough to DIY with very little out-of-pocket expense. If you still have the original literature that came with your cabinets, look for the manufacturer and any information about the cabinets' finish. Check with the original retailer or on the manufacturer's website for a touch-up kit or scratch-repair marker that matches your type of finish. Some cabinet retailers even include these with the cabinets, since minor dings are bound to happen during the installation process, according to Nicole Janes Design.
A fill stick comes in handy for filling tiny holes, such as old screw holes or gouge marks. Rub it over the hole and then wipe away excess waxy matter with a soft cloth or with the edge of a plastic gift card if a cloth doesn't do the trick. To cover minor scratches that mar the finish, use a marker that matches the wood finish and gently color in the scratched area. Wipe away excess marker ink with a soft cloth if necessary before it dries.
If you don't know the name of your cabinets' finish, pick up a set of wood-repair markers from a home-improvement store. These usually include markers in common natural-wood finishes. Some can be blended to get a close color match if no single color quite matches your kitchen cabinets. Start with a color slightly lighter than the cabinet's finish and then layer darker markers until the scratch is no longer obvious. Test markers in an inconspicuous area first to ensure a close color match.
Cabinet Door Doesn't Stay Closed
A cabinet door that doesn't close or that doesn't stay closed is often caused by a problem with one of the hinges. Check the hinges to see if any of them are loose or no longer flat against the cabinet or cabinet door. If a hinge is loose, the most-common cause is a loose screw or two.
Hold the door so it lines up to close properly and tighten the screws with a regular screwdriver, not a cordless drill driver, as hand-tightening allows a lot more finesse and "feel" for when the screw is tight enough. It also helps prevent overtightening or stripping of the screw head.
If the doors and hinges seem fine but the doors automatically open after you close them, the problem is likely due to the house settling rather than a hinge-adjustment issue. In this case, add a magnetic catch. This type of catch includes the magnetic-catch assembly, screws and a strike plate.
Mount the catch under a shelf or under the cabinet so the magnet is flush with the front of the cabinet and would almost touch the closed cabinet door near its top or bottom corner. The strike plate, which is a flat piece of magnetic metal, attaches to the cabinet door so it touches the magnet when the cabinet is closed.
Magnetic catches vary in shape and size, so installation varies slightly from one brand to the next. Read the package label or consult the manufacturer's website for specifics.
Repairing Damaged Screw Holes
If the hinge screws spin in place when you try to tighten them, your cabinet-repair project is simply a matter of filling and possibly redrilling the screw holes. Particleboard and fiberboard cabinets are particularly prone to this problem because any force that yanks screws from their holes can pull some of the cabinet material out with it.
- Remove the hinges, screws and cabinet door, marking on each hinge whether it belongs on the top, middle or bottom position. Some complex hinges may be adjusted differently than the other hinges that fit the same door, so it's important to put them back in their proper positions. (This doesn't apply to old-fashioned hinges visible on the outside of cabinets.) Be sure to mark the holes that are too large for their screws if the damage to the hole isn't obvious.
- Squirt a pool of wood glue onto a paper plate. Dip a toothpick into the glue so at least 1/3 of the pick is covered in glue. The coverage area should be about the length of a screw that belongs in the damaged screw hole. Place the glue-covered end of the toothpick into the damaged screw hole.
- Repeat the process with several more toothpicks until the hole is full and then wait several hours for the glue to dry.
- Break off each toothpick so it is flush with the cabinet surface. A craft knife comes in handy for cutting them if they don't easily break by hand.
- Replace the hinges, screws and cabinet door, replacing the screw in the repaired hole last. If you cannot easily insert and tighten the screw with a screwdriver, drill a narrow pilot hole first to help get the screw started.
Handling Misaligned Cabinet Doors
Cabinets with modern European hinges that attach inside the cabinet usually have screws that can be tightened or loosened to change the door alignment. If your cabinet doors no longer line up like they used to and all the hinge screws seem tight, the hinges may need adjustment.
Check the hinges for a brand stamp and look up your hinges on the manufacturer's website for adjustment information. If you still have your original cabinet literature, it may include details on adjusting the hinges as well. If not, adjustment is easy to figure out on your own.
The adjustment process varies from one brand and style to the next, as do the number of screws per hinge, but you can figure out the basic adjustments by tightening and loosening screws and noting the effect on the door's alignment. Look for indentations near screw heads as an indication of what that screw adjusts. For instance, if the indentation is to the left or right of the screw, adjusting that screw moves the door left and right.
A groove or indentation above or below the screw head means the screw controls the height of the door. In some cases, you'll have to loosen two screws to slide the door up or down and then tighten them once the door is in an ideal alignment. A screw in an area without an indentation usually controls how far in or out the door sits when the door is closed.
When to Seek out a Handyman
For some types of problems, it's better to call a cabinet-repair company or cabinetmaker to handle the repairs. For instance, if a cabinet shelf has warped and it isn't easy to pop it out and replace it with a board of the same size, call a cabinetmaker or carpenter.
If your cabinets or shelves are made of fiberboard or particleboard and have swelled due to water damage, a professional can assess whether they can be repaired or need to be replaced. If a cabinet door or a crucial part of the cabinet box seems damaged beyond a simple repair, it's also a good idea to call a cabinetmaker. When necessary, a skilled carpenter or cabinetmaker can craft a virtually identical replacement door or piece of a cabinet.
If the hinges are damaged and replacements are no longer available, contact the manufacturer or the person who installed the hinges if they've been installed in the past few years. Either party may know of a suitable replacement hinge that works well with your cabinets.
- Nicole Janes Design: How to Repair Cabinet Scratches with a Touch-Up Kit
- Abi Home Inspection Service: How to Fix a Loose Screw in a Hinge or Door
- Better Homes & Gardens: 10 Clever Fixes for Common Kitchen Problems
- Rockler: Titan Magnetic Catch Installation
- Susan Reid Marine Surveyor: Basics to Adjusting a Blum Hinge and Other Brands
Kathy Adams is an award-winning writer. She is an avid DIYer that is equally at home repurposing random objects into new, useful creations as she is at supporting community gardening efforts and writing about healthy alternatives to household chemicals. She's written numerous DIY articles for paint and decor companies, as well as for Black + Decker, Hunker, SFGate, Landlordology and others.