Cabinets are the core of kitchens and bathroom, essential to both the form and function of these rooms. They provide critical storage and are the major contributors to style and beauty. They’re also among the most expensive and permanent fixtures and, because of this, perform their duties for many years.

Wear and tear is only natural. Doors sag, drawers stick, surfaces get dinged, and finishes wear. This article will show you how to deal with these problems and keep your cabinets operating smoothly and looking beautiful.

Repairing Cabinet Surfaces

Small chips and nicks in wood cabinets can be filled with plastic wood filler, sold in colors to match most wood stains. If the damage is to an area that’s prominently visible, it may be difficult to do a “seamless” repair. Test blending and color matching in an unseen area before attempting a repair where visible.

When touching-up a chipped or scraped cabinet, the trick is to match the color. If you use the manufacturer’s original paint or stain colors, which you may be able to discover from a local distributor or cabinet retailer, be aware that the finish may have faded over time.

You may have to paint an entire surface, starting and ending at a cabinet edge, because spot touch-ups are more obvious on discolored cabinets, such as near cooking areas affected by heat and airborne grease and soot.

If wood cabinets are cracked or split, gluing and clamping can make the repair. Deep gouges and irreparable repairs can take a bit more effort:

1 Use a fine-toothed saw to cut away the damaged area, making smooth, straight cuts. Then cut a slightly oversized replacement piece of the same material and fasten it with glue and, if necessary, small finishing nails or countersunk screws. Sand the repair with fine sandpaper and then stain or paint to match the original.

2 If you’re dealing with a deep gouge, clean away the damaged wood then fill the area with an epoxy wood repair kit. Allow to dry, then sand and stain or paint to match. This material works amazingly well, and the repair is often as strong as the wood. Epoxy filler is waterproof so it can be used where the original wood damage was caused by wet conditions.

Fixing Cabinet Doors

Cabinet doors that get a lot of use can, over time, go out of adjustment for a variety of reasons. If your cabinet doors droop, swing, or shut poorly, take the following steps:

Simple hinge adjustments are easy to make, and many cabinets have hinges that allow you to make micro-adjustments in any direction.

Man’s hands making hinge adjustments on a cabinet, using a screwdriver.
Hinges sometimes need minor adjustment to get doors properly aligned and operating smoothly. Steve Cukrov /


For plain hinges, loosen the mounting screws just enough so that the hinges can move but not so much that the door droops. Prop up the door so that it is square with the cabinet opening, using shims if necessary, and then re-tighten the screws.

Most European-style hinges have built-in adjustment set-ups, and there are several types. One has a single screw connecting the two halves of the hinge. Loosen this screw slightly and you can reposition the door vertically or horizontally, then re-tighten.

Adjusting a European-style hinge using a screwdriver.
With a European-style hinges, adjustments are easy with the turn of a screw. ©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Another type of hinge has a sliding bar with a set-screw for horizontal adjustments and a separate set-screw for vertical adjustments. The newest hinges have snap-on mounting plates that allow you to adjust both height and depth.

Adjusting Cabinet Doors

1 Tighten the hinge mounting screws. If this only helps for a while, or the holes are so worn that the screws no longer hold, remove the screws one at a time, squirt a little white glue into each hole, and then insert toothpicks into the holes. Wipe off any excess glue, and, after the glue dries, cut the toothpicks flush with the surface using a utility knife. Then drive new screws into the refurbished holes (you may have to drill small pilot holes first).

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About Don Vandervort
Don Vandervort has developed his expertise for more than 30 years as a remodeler and builder, Building Editor for Sunset Books, Senior Editor at Home Magazine, author of more than 30 home improvement books, and writer of countless magazine articles. He appeared for 3 seasons on HGTV’s “The Fix,” and served as MSN’s home expert for several years. Don founded HomeTips in 1996. Read more about Don Vandervort