The Perfect Kitchen Cabinet Paint Job Starts Here

If your family is anything like ours, you spend a ton of time in your kitchen.  Kitchens seem to be natural meeting places for family and friends alike.  Invite people to your home and where do they end up within minutes? Your kitchen.  This is especially true if you haven't loaded the dishwasher in a day or two and there happen to be dirty dishes overflowing the sink and spilling onto the counters.

So, if you want to update your home and put money where it really counts, kitchen remodels are the cat's pajamas.  But new cabinets and counters can be crazy expensive.  The answer?  A fresh coat of paint for your cabinets.  Paint provides more bang for your buck than any other improvement that you can make to your home and your cabinets are no exception.

Should you paint your cabinets or hire a pro?  I think we can help answer this question by considering the following:

  • Do you enjoy painting?
  • Are you good at painting?
  • Are you willing/able to put in the time to do a nice job?  Painting the cabinets in an average size kitchen will take three days of committed work, longer if it's full of stops and starts.
  • Will you be replacing the hardware?  If so, will you be using handles, knobs, and hinges that utilize the existing holes? Or will you need to fill the old holes and drill new?
  • What level of quality are you seeking?  Be honest with yourself here... do you want your cabinets to look good from a few feet away? Or do you want them to be so smooth that they beg to be touched?
  • What is your budget?  You know the old adage, "Do you want it good, fast, or cheap? Pick two".  Supplies to do the work yourself will run a few hundred dollars (Paint, primer, brushes, rags, dropcloth, sandpaper, cleaning supplies, etc.).  Professionals will charge much more.  It is laborious work, expect to pay for this.

Should you decide that a DIY route is right for you, below are the steps that we've found to consistently provide good results.

  • Remove all of the doors.  There's no need to fuss over labeling where they go.  It's a simple matter to get them back in their proper homes after painting.
  • Remove all of the old hardware from the doors and drawers.  Put it all in a bucket or coffee can for later.
  • Sand everything.  We typically use 120 grit on a random orbital sander with dust collection.  We hand sand what we can't get with the power sander.  This is a scuff sand, you don't have to remove all of the old finish.  The purpose here is to give the new paint a "tooth" on which to adhere.  Setup the doors in your workshop, or outside on sawhorses and get them sanded all at once.
  • Don't skip this step! Clean with Trisodium Phosphate.  TSP is available at home centers, etc.  You can buy TSP pre-mixed or as a powder and dilute it with water (the cheaper route).  Label a spray bottle and fill it up with your TSP solution and use a rag to wipe down all surfaces.  Another way is to mix up the solution in a bucket.  Keep a clean rag handy to dry the cabinet surfaces after washing.  Buy it on Amazon with my affliate link Trisodium Phosphate.
  • We almost always use General Finishes paint, which is self-sealing and requires no primer, but any time that we paint a light color, we prime with a stainblocking primer first to prevent bleed through.  Bleed through can be very frustrating and you really can't predict when it will be a problem.  It's best to just plan on using a stainblocking primer before painting light colors (white, light grays, blues, and greens).
  • Paint
  • Distress, if desired.  Topcoat over the cabinets with waterborne polyurethane.  We use General Finishes High Performance Top Coat in Satin almost always.  It is easy to apply with a foam brush, 100% nylon bristle brush, or sprayer.  It sprays like a dream.
  • Seal, if glazing will be part of the process.  In order to maintain control of the glaze medium, it is best to apply a clear waterborne polyurethane seal coat before glazing.  This allows you to remove glaze if desired and gives you more working time.  Without a seal coat, the glaze tends to irreversibly stain the paint color as soon as it it applied.
  • Topcoat over the glaze with waterborne polyurethane.

Simply put: Sand, clean, prime, paint, sand, topcoat; or sand, clean, prime, paint, seal, glaze, topcoat.  

*Pro-tips:

  • The key to the best possible results is preparation.  Make sure that the surfaces are prepared properly before painting.  
  • Scuff sand with 120 grit sandpaper, clean well with TSP, fill nails holes, cracks and other imperfections with a paintable filler.  
  • We typically use painter's caulk in a tube for cracks and putty-type filler or wall spackling (drywall spackling) for nail/screw holes.  
  • For larger areas, you may have to use a two-part filler like Bondo. For a lot of fillers, patience and multiple applications are necessary for the best possible result.  Buy it on Amazon with my affliate link: Bondo Filler.
  • Sanding in between coats of paint and topcoat with 220 grit provides the smoothest finish with the fewest bumps, dust nibs, and inclusions that affect the depth and clarity of the finished product.  Adding the additional steps involved with sanding in between coats and applying a topcoat makes the finished product much more luxurious looking and feeling.

Key Takeaways: Since we've begun painting professionally, the things that have had the most profound impact on our quality of work have been:

  • Buy the best paint that you can afford.  It's a small amount compared to the time (labor $$$) spent.
  • Getting an airless painter with spray tips that are designed for the products we are spraying. Larger tips for thicker coatings like latex paints; finer tips for finish coats of poly, etc.
  • Not rushing.  It takes time for the paint/coating to dry.  It's okay to slow down sometimes.
  • Sanding between coats to level dust nibs and other little bumps.
  • Taking the time to fill cracks, nail holes, and other imperfections.
  • Sealing with a washcoat of shellac or a stainblocking primer before painting light colors to prevent bleed through.
Sanding after the first coats of primer and color have been added.  The drawers didn't feel smooth enough, so we went to town on them.  You can see the highs and lows in this progress pic.

Sanding after the first coats of primer and color have been added.  The drawers didn't feel smooth enough, so we went to town on them.  You can see the highs and lows in this progress pic.

Filling screw holes where the old hinges were attached.  This took a minimum of two applications to achieve a smooth enough finish that was invisible once painted. Patience grasshopper!  Once the filler is dry, sand with a 120  - 150 grit sandpaper on a sanding block.  It's tempting to use a putty knife to remove the excess filler first to eliminate sanding, but this usually leaves too little filler behind after shrinkage resulting in a still visible impression.

Filling screw holes where the old hinges were attached.  This took a minimum of two applications to achieve a smooth enough finish that was invisible once painted. Patience grasshopper!  Once the filler is dry, sand with a 120  - 150 grit sandpaper on a sanding block.  It's tempting to use a putty knife to remove the excess filler first to eliminate sanding, but this usually leaves too little filler behind after shrinkage resulting in a still visible impression.

Even these builder-grade oak cabinets can be classy with the right treatment!  The addition of a clear satin topcoat adds depth and dimension.

Even these builder-grade oak cabinets can be classy with the right treatment!  The addition of a clear satin topcoat adds depth and dimension.

Though a subtle change, we also faired the curve of the valence panel above the sink.  It was sporting a country sampler circa 1989 look prior.

Though a subtle change, we also faired the curve of the valence panel above the sink.  It was sporting a country sampler circa 1989 look prior.

from 17.00

GF HPTC is an excellent water-based polyurethane that provides a super durable finish suitable for tabletops, cabinets, and furniture.  Fast drying and easy clean up.  Brush, pad, or spray application.  We totally use this sh@t on everything!

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