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4 Weekend Kitchen Upgrades

Updated: Feb. 17, 2023

Do you want a kitchen refresh? A brighter, more user-friendly kitchen is just four weekends away.

FH00MAR_KITUPG_01-2Family Handyman
Have some time to upgrade your kitchen? Check out these weekend kitchen improvements, including a new sink and faucet, a stainless steel backsplash, classy track lighting and open shelves. Each one will make your kitchen feel brighter and fresher, especially if you have a small kitchen. And you save a ton when you do it yourself.

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Multiple Days

Project 1: Install a New Sink and Faucet

New stainless steel sink and chrome faucet

Replacement is easiest if the new sink is the same size as the old one. If you want to go larger, you may need professional help to cut a larger hole in stone or metal countertops.

We’ll start by showing you how to replace your worn-out sink and faucet. The stainless steel sink we purchased has an extra-large bowl to accommodate big pots and is made of heavy 18-gauge stainless steel with a well-engineered clamping system. This deluxe sink was expensive, but top-quality sinks with fewer features are available for much less.

While the sink is out, it’s an easy job to replace the faucet. We replaced our old faucet with one of the popular new pullout-spout models. Installing a new sink and faucet is easier than ever thanks to the simple-to-cut-and-assemble white plastic (PVC) drain parts (Photo 7) and nearly foolproof flexible water supply tubes (Photo 6). Some plumbing experience would be helpful, but even without it you can replace your sink and faucet in less than a day using a few basic tools that you probably already own. You’ll need a large slip-joint pliers for the drain fittings (Photo 1), a fine-tooth saw to cut the plastic pipe, a set of open-end wrenches or two adjustable wrenches to loosen and tighten the supply tubes, and hex head nut drivers for the sink clips and the clamp on the dishwasher drain. If you have a plastic laminate countertop and need to enlarge the hole for the new sink, you’ll also need a jigsaw.

The key to simplicity: Buy a new sink the same size as the old

Measure your old sink. The standard size is 33 in. x 22 in. and about 7 in. deep. If yours is this size, you’ll have no problem finding a new one to fit the same hole. If you want to install a sink that’s larger or deeper than your current one, first check the cabinet width below to make sure it’ll fit. Then decide how to enlarge the hole. If your countertop is stone, tile, solid surface (Corian, for example) or metal, you may have to hire a pro to enlarge the hole. If it’s wood or plastic laminate, enlarge the hole yourself with a jigsaw.

New sink: Take out the old sink and set the new one

Photo 1: Remove the old sink

Remove the trap and other drain parts by loosening the slip-joint nuts with a large slip-joint pliers or pipe wrench. Disconnect the disposer from the sink by sticking a large screwdriver or disposer wrench into the ring near the drain and twisting it counterclockwise. You may have to tap it with a hammer to break it free. Close the water valves and disconnect the tubes leading to the faucet. Hold the shutoff valve steady with one wrench while you loosen the supply tube nut with a second wrench. Remove any clips holding the sink in and lift it out.

Photo 2: Install the new faucet

Mount the new faucet to the new sink. Follow the instructions provided with your faucet. Protect your countertop with cardboard.

Photo 3: Set the new sink

Set your new sink in the countertop to check the fit, then trace around it with a pencil. Enlarge the hole if necessary. Remove the sink and apply a bead of mildew resistant tub-and-tile caulk just to the inside of the pencil line. Set the sink back in the hole and use a nut driver to tighten the clips that hold the sink down. Tighten the clips just enough to close the gap between the sink and countertop. Don’t over-tighten. Clean up the excess caulk with a damp cloth.

Getting the old sink out is usually harder than putting the new one in. Old plumbing parts are likely to be corroded, and the sink may be glued to the counter with caulk or caked-on gunk. Sinks are mounted in several ways, but here are a few general tips for removing yours:

  • Place a bucket under the trap to catch wastewater while you loosen the slip-joint nuts.
  • Remove the disposer (Photo 1).
  • Use a pair of pipe wrenches to separate drain parts that won’t yield to large slip-joint pliers. Don’t worry about damaging the pipes; you’ll be replacing them with new plastic parts anyway.
  • Add shutoff valves if your hot and cold water supply pipes don’t have them.
  • Working carefully, slice the caulk around the sink with a utility knife, then slip a stiff putty knife under the sink’s lip and gently pry up to loosen it. On some old sinks, you must remove the mounting clips from under the sink before you lift it out.
  • Get help lifting out a cast iron sink.

Installing the new sink

Follow the steps in Photos 2 and 3 to assemble and set your new sink and faucet. Some sinks, like the stainless steel sink we’re installing, require clips tightened from below to hold them in place (Photo 3). Most cast iron sinks are held in place by their own weight and a bead of caulk. Follow the mounting instructions provided with your sink.

Sink and faucet parts and supplies

  • Plumber’s putty
  • Tub-and-tile caulk
  • Two basket strainer assemblies (only one if you’re installing a disposer)

You’ll need the following 1-1/2 in. PVC drain parts:

  • One P-trap assembly
  • One end or center outlet waste kit
  • Two sink tailpieces — only one if you’re installing a disposer. If you have a dishwasher and no disposer, get a special “dishwasher” tailpiece that has a tube to connect the dishwasher drain hose.
  • One special “disposer” waste arm, if you have a disposer
  • Two flexible water supply tubes for kitchen sinks. Match the nuts on the ends to the threads on your faucet and shutoff valves. Also measure to determine the right length. Buy everything at a home center, hardware store or plumbing supplier.

New sink: Reconnect the plumbing

Photo 4: Putty and set the drain baskets

Roll plumber’s putty into a 1/2- in. diameter rope and form it around each drain opening. Press the top half of the basket strainer assembly down into the plumber’s putty on one side. On the other, press the disposer drain down into the putty.

Photo 5: Attach the undersink connections

Assemble the undersink half of the basket strainer assembly and tighten the large nut with the slip-joint pliers. Hold the basket with your hand to keep it from spinning. Reassemble the disposer drain and tighten the three screws. Clean the excess plumber’s putty from around the drain openings and polish the sink with a dry cloth.

Photo 6: Connect the water supplies

Connect the water supply valves to the new faucet with flexible braided stainless steel sink connectors. Hand-tighten the connections. Then turn them an additional quarter turn with a wrench.

Photo 7: Reconnect the disposer and drain lines

Loosely assemble the new PVC drain fittings. Hold up and mark parts needing to be cut. Then saw them with a fine-tooth wood saw or hacksaw. Slope the horizontal pipes down slightly toward the drain in the wall. Hand-tighten all the fittings and turn the nuts an additional quarter turn with the large slip-joint pliers.

Photos 4 to 7 show you how to reconnect the plumbing. When you’re finished with the installation, turn on the shutoff valves and check for leaks. Then run water in both bowls and check the drains for leaks. Most leaks can be fixed by tightening the connection. If this doesn’t work, you’ll have to take the leaky joint apart and inspect it for missing or misaligned parts.

Project 2: Low voltage track lighting

Low voltage track lighting system

With this system you bend the track to fit your kitchen layout and add spotlights or hanging light fixtures anywhere along the track.

Every kitchen needs good lighting, so we’ll show you how to use one of your weekends to install a low-voltage track lighting system to brighten dimly lit countertops. The system we chose is expensive, but is one of the few with a flexible track you can customize to fit your kitchen. In addition, its ceiling mount transformer mounts on an existing ceiling light box, eliminating the need to run additional wires. The low-voltage halogen fixtures mount anywhere along the track and supply bright white light that’s easy to focus on any countertop. The system is easy to install with basic tools, and you’ll be done in less than a day.

Full-service lighting showrooms are the best place to find a large selection of track lighting systems. Take a dimensioned sketch of your kitchen to the lighting showroom. A lighting specialist will help you decide on the number and placement of light fixtures and put together an order complete with all the parts and accessories you’ll need. Ask for an installation instruction sheet to familiarize yourself with the system and double-check the order.

Lighting: Wire the transformer

Photo 8: Remove the old light fixture

Test for live wires. Switch off the circuit breaker or remove the fuse at the main electrical panel to shut off the power to the light. Then remove the screws that hold the old light fixture, pull it down and disconnect the wires. Double-check that the electricity is off by placing the two leads of a voltage tester between every possible pair of wires. If the tester lights up, the power is still on. Do not continue until you find and turn off the correct circuit breaker.

Photo 9: Connect the low voltage transformer

Attach the new fixture to the electrical box using the hardware and instructions provided. You’ll need a helper. Connect the white wire to the neutral white wire, the black or red wire to the black or red hot wire, and the bare or green grounding wires together. If you’re connecting stranded wire to solid wire, let the stranded wire stick past the solid about 1/8 in. Size the wire connectors according to the connector manufacturer’s directions. Align the threaded stud on the fixture strap with the hole in the fixture and slide the fixture up to the ceiling. Secure it by tightening the nut onto the threaded stud.

The track system is easy to install in less than one day, even if you don’t have any electrical experience. Besides basic hand tools like a set of screwdrivers, tape measure, etc., you’ll need a wire stripper, voltage tester (Photo 8), plumb bob or weight and string (Photo 10), 6-ft. stepladder and a drill and bits. Our track lighting system included the Allen wrenches required to tighten the fittings. Check your system’s instructions to see if you need any special tools.

Before starting any electrical work, contact your local building department to find out if a permit is required. Then double-check to make sure the power is off before handling the wires (Photo 8). Don’t hesitate to call an electrician if you’re unsure.

When you get the lighting system, unpack it and make sure you have all the parts. Then turn off the power to the light fixture you’ll be removing and take it down (Photo 8). Photo 9 shows how to hook up the new transformer that fits over the existing ceiling box. With this system, you custom-bend the track to position the lights where you want them, then suspend it from the ceiling with the metal standoffs.


Aluminum wiring requires special handling. If you have aluminum wiring, call in a licensed pro who’s certified to work with it. This wiring is dull gray, not the dull orange that’s characteristic of copper.

Lighting: Install the light bar and hang the lights

Photo 10: Bend the track

Bend the track to the desired shape. Follow the instructions included with the track system. Support the track on the countertop directly under its eventual position on the ceiling. Mark the standoff locations no more than four feet apart and wherever two track sections are joined. Then use a string and plumb bob to transfer these locations to the ceiling. Attach a standoff at each location with the mounting hardware provided.

Note: Position the track far enough from cabinets so open doors don’t hit the light fixtures.

Photo 11: Hang the track

Hang the track from the standoff tubes according to the instructions included with the system. Get help lifting the track.

Photo 12: Attach the fixtures

Attach the fixtures to the track by sliding the U-shaped connector over the track and screwing the light fixture to it.

Before bending the track, use masking tape to create a full-scale plan of your kitchen, including cabinets, on the floor of your garage or workshop. Now mark the location of the existing ceiling light and cabinet door swings and plan the path of the track with masking tape. Bend the track to match your layout. We bent the track by hand using a 5-gal. bucket as a form to get smooth curves. Carefully move the track to the kitchen and support it on the countertop (Photo 10). Then get help to mount the track to the ceiling (Photos 10 and 11) and install the fixtures (Photo 12).

Caution: Make sure all connections are tight. Loose low-voltage connections will heat up, creating a fire hazard.

Project 3: Stainless steel backsplash and utensil rack

Stainless steel backsplash and rack

A stainless steel backsplash brightens and adds pizzazz to any kitchen.

Covering the wall between the countertop and wall cabinets with stainless steel is a great way to quickly jazz up your kitchen. Because stainless steel is difficult to cut without special tools, we’ll show you how to make a precise pattern that a local sheet metal fabricator can use to cut out your panels. Once you get the precut panels back, you’ll be able to complete the job in a few hours.

With the sheet metal being cut by pros, you don’t need any special skills or tools to complete this project. And you’ll still save a lot by measuring and installing the backsplash yourself.

You’ll need a few common hand tools like a scissors, utility knife, tape measure, caulk gun and voltage tester as well as screwdrivers and leather gloves. You’ll need a drill to install the utensil rack. To make the pattern, you’ll need a roll of heavy paper (we used red rosin paper), masking tape, packaging tape and a roll of paper tape normally used for covering the joints in drywall. All these materials are available at home centers. In addition to the metal backsplash material, you’ll need three 10-oz. tubes of 100 percent silicone caulk for every 20 linear feet of backsplash.

Find a top-notch sheet metal shop for a trouble-free backsplash

The success of this job hinges on finding a sheet metal fabricator who’s willing to work with you to choose the material and cut it exactly according to your pattern. Check online for “Sheet Metal Work” fabricators in your area. We used 20-gauge No. 304 stainless steel with a No. 4 polish. Make sure to have the holes cut for switches and receptacles. You can also use copper, brass or galvanized sheet metal as well as “pillowed” or “swirl finish” stainless steel.

Stainless steel: Install the backsplash

Photo 13: Make a backsplash template

Make a paper template. Switch off the circuit breakers or remove the fuses at the main panel to disconnect the power to all the switches and receptacles in the backsplash area. Take rough measurements of the backsplash area. Then cut kraft or red rosin paper about 2 in. smaller than the area you intend to cover and tape it to the wall with small pieces of masking tape, leaving about an inch of wall showing all around. Cut around the outer edge of the outlet and switch boxes. Secure strips of paper drywall tape to the pattern paper to establish precise edges. Mark the “face” of each template, that is, the side that shows.

Photo 14: Glue the stainless to the wall

Glue the metal backsplash to the wall with silicone caulk. Start by unscrewing the switches and receptacles and tilting them out as shown in the photo. Check each one with a tester (see Photo 8) to make sure the power is disconnected before proceeding. Apply a straight bead of silicone caulk around the perimeter and a squiggly bead in the middle. Then tilt the metal into place and press it into the caulk. Use pieces of duct tape or masking tape to hold the metal in place until the caulk grabs.

Photo 15: Caulk the joints

Caulk the joint between the countertop and the metal with silicone caulk. For a neater job, space two strips of masking tape about 1/8 in. apart and apply the caulk in the space. Smooth the caulk quickly with a wet finger and immediately pull off both pieces of tape. Screw on the receptacles and turn the electrical power back on.

The sheet metal must be attached to a smooth, clean wall surface. Prepare the wall for sheet metal by removing all cover plates and other hardware and repairing loose or damaged wall materials. Clean the backsplash area with TSP or other grease-cutting cleaner. Then sand the walls with 80-grit paper to remove bumps and to rough up the surface for maximum adhesion.

Photos 13 – 15 show the steps in making the pattern and installing the metal. Paper drywall joint tape works great to create the edges of the pattern because it’s stiff and straight.

Tip: Temporarily position the paper tape with masking tape. Then secure it to the red rosin paper with package wrapping tape before you remove the pattern from the wall.

Note: The “ears” on the switches and receptacles should rest on the new metal backsplash. Don’t make the holes too big.

Take the pattern to the sheet metal shop and ask them to cut the metal to match. Our metal fabricator smoothed all of the exposed edges and cut perfectly straight lines where two sheets butted, like under the window in our kitchen. The resulting edges and seams fit perfectly and didn’t require metal moldings or caulk. Don’t worry, though; you can order moldings from your metal fabricator to cover edges and seams if you find they’re needed.

With the pattern-making method, any problems you encounter are likely to be small ones. We had to use a grinder with a metal-grinding disc to notch the metal to fit around some small protrusions in the vent hood. We also had to slice the drywall at the inside corner to slide one sheet behind the other. You can also loosen the wall cabinets to slide the metal behind. If the metal simply won’t fit, you’ll have to take it back to the shop for a trim.

Tip: Cover the countertop with paper to protect it from the sharp metal edges.

Stainless steel: Hang the utensil rack

Photo 16: Drill and mount the rack

Drill holes in the metal to mount the utensil rack. Measure up from the counter and mark pieces of tape for the center of the holes. Use a center punch and hammer to make a small divot in the center of each mark. Place the tip of the bit in the divot and drill very slowly with heavy pressure. Use a special cobalt bit to drill stainless steel (buy it at home centers).

The photo above shows one of many handy utensil storage racks you can buy to mount anywhere in the kitchen. The 24-in. bar shown came with screws and wall anchors. There’s no need to find wall studs for anchoring the bar, but use an appropriate wall anchor. The plastic tube anchor shown in Photo 16 works great in sheet metal or solid walls like those made of concrete.

Project 4: Open shelves

Cabinet conversion to open shelving

Converting a cabinet or two to open shelves breaks up that intimidating bank of doors, opens up space and becomes a nice display area for attractive bowls and china.

Converting a few of your wall cabinets to open shelving is a great way to create display space for dishes or to keep cookbooks and cooking supplies within easy reach. Anyone handy with a paint brush can complete this project in a leisurely weekend. Don’t forget to order the glass shelves about a week before you need them.

You’ll need a screwdriver, hammer and tape measure as well as basic painting equipment like a paint brush, putty knife, masking tape, and sandpaper or sanding sponge. Use a drill with a 9/32-in. bit to drill holes for the metal sleeves (Photo 19).

Open shelves: Convert a cabinet

Photo 17: Fill hinge holes

Remove the cabinet doors and hinges. Fill all extra shelf bracket or hinge holes with a hardening-type wood filler. Allow this to harden, sand it smooth, and apply a coat of lightweight surfacing compound to fill low spots left after the wood filler shrinks. Let the second coat dry. Then sand the entire cabinet interior with 80-grit paper to provide a “rough” surface for the paint to grab.

Photo 18: Prime and paint

Paint the cabinet interior. Use masking tape to protect unpainted areas. Prime the interior with white-pigmented shellac to keep the filler from showing through and to provide a binder for the final coats of paint. Sand the primer lightly with a fine sanding sponge after it dries. Remove the dust with a vacuum cleaner and brush on the final coats of latex or oil paint.

Photo 19: Install shelf supports

Support glass shelves with metal shelf pins inserted into holes drilled in the cabinet sides. To prevent the pins from enlarging the holes, drill 9/32-in. holes and tap in metal sleeves. Then insert the metal shelf support pins in the sleeves and apply a self-adhesive round rubber pad to each pin to keep the glass shelves from sliding off.

Some cabinets, like ours, are easy to convert by simply removing the doors and ordering glass shelves. Others may require a little carpentry work, like removing a fixed shelf. Take a close look inside the cabinet to see whether there are hidden challenges. If it looks good, remove the doors and carefully measure for shelves. Measure from one side of the cabinet to the other and from front to back. Deduct 1/8 in. from these measurements to arrive at the glass size.

While you’re waiting for the glass to arrive, paint the cabinet interiors. Choose a color that matches or complements a floor or wall color. Preparation is the key to a long-lasting, perfectly smooth paint job. Photos 17 and 18 show the painting steps. If you’re painting over Melamine or another hard, shiny surface, make sure to thoroughly roughen the surface with 80-grit sandpaper and prime with shellac before brushing or spraying on the coats of paint.

Photo 19 shows the hardware we used to support the glass shelves. If you don’t have holes for the shelf pins, use a tape measure and square to mark the hole locations and bore 9/32-in. holes to accept the metal reinforcing sleeves.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start — you’ll save time and frustration.

  • 1/4-in. Cobalt drill bit
  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Caulk gun
  • Drill bit set
  • Drill/driver - cordless
  • Framing square
  • Hammer
  • Nut driver
  • Punch
  • Slip joint pliers
  • Stepladder
  • Tape measure
  • Utility knife
  • Voltage tester
  • Wire stripper/cutter
  • Wrench set
Fine-tooth saw, disposer wrench, plumb bob, leather gloves, flexible putty knife

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • 1/4-in. glass shelves
  • Caulk
  • Paper drywall tape
  • Rosin paper
  • Sandpaper
  • See "Sink and faucet parts and supplies" for more
  • Shelf pins
  • Shelf sleeves and rubber pads
  • Silicone
  • Wood filler