Ultimate Cabinet Painting Guide: Part 3
Disclaimer: I am a professional painter who uses equipment & products not found on this guide. These are my recommendations for those who wish to achieve the highest possible quality without production spray capabilities. Professional cabinet painting is done MUCH quicker, cleaner, and often uses higher quality products so if budget allows its worth considering.
Searching for the the best way to paint cabinets can be overwhelming. It brings up information & opinions from professional painters, homeowners, DIYers, and renters with different skills/experience levels & opinions. This guide was created to help the average homeowner looking to paint their cabinets and achieve the most professional finish possible.
PART 1 – Time and patience to achieve a quality finish
PART 2 -Selecting the right products
Today is all about the MOST IMPORTANT PART – Preparation!
There is a reason it’s called prep work, taking the time to properly prepare the cabinet surface will mean the difference between a finish that looks good for years and one that starts to fall apart as soon as its taken any abuse.
Ryobi Random Orbit Sander
Using a sander for this project cuts the required work down by at least half and your arms will thank you later. Without an orbital sander, you have to manually sand between each step.
A basic model costs less than $60.
If you have a sheet sander (square base that uses 1/4 sheet sandpaper) it works well for basic steps. I’d advise hand sanding once you’ve applied the first coat of paint since these sanders leave heavy marks that become difficult to remove.
A random orbital sander moves in circles while also vibrating which creates a consistent and small scratch pattern making it easy to paint over and disguise, sheet sanders don’t have the random pattern so I recommend hand sanding during the final steps of Part 4.
Frogtape is my personal favorite for cabinet painting. They make a delicate surface tape that works wells for this but the multi-surface works great too and is slightly cheaper.
3M with edge lock is another favorite of mine for most projects but since its hard to pull the tape off around base cabinets and drawer fronts when they are still wet I always use Frog Tape for this type of project. It comes up a lot easier and I’ve never had an issue with paint bleeding under or coming up with the tape.
Cabinets MUST be cleaned before any finish is applied or the grease and dirt from years of use will cause adhesion issues and the paint will eventually chip and peel away from the surface.
Unless your cabinets are new this is a required step. If they are a light sanding should remove any residue from being handled & smooth out the wood grain.
TSP will remove any and all oils and residue, even off the oldest cabinets but because of that power, be sure to use gloves and avoid extended skin contact since it is a degreaser.
I find this is often put the painting isle at big box stores, if you can’t find it with the cleaning supplies be sure to check there!
Simple green is another great option.
Gather Your Supplies:
- Painters tape (recommended FrogTape)
- Plastic Bags
- Sharpie or Marker
- Degreaser (TSP)
- Wood Filler (recommended ZAR)
- Cleaning Gloves, Nitrile Gloves, Safety Glasses, Etc
- Sponge/Rags & paper towels
- Sand Paper (Grits 220, 150, and 100)
- Drop clothes, tarp, and/or construction paper
- Screwdriver to remove hardware
- Paper Towels or Rags
Lay down your tarp & tape off any appliances to prevent degreaser from ruining the finish and if you have a removable microwave sitting inside a cabinet hole (like we do) go ahead and take it out since you’ll want to paint inside so it matches the rest of the cabinet fronts and bases.
2. Remove Hardware
Start by removing all the hardware & placing it (screws and all) inside a plastic bag. Tape this bag inside the cabinet on whichever side the door was removed it from.
Example: If you have a double door cabinet, tape the bag from the Right-hand door onto the Right side wall of the cabinet. This step saves you A LOT of headaches when you go to re-install the cabinet doors and drawers. Missing hardware and screws can completely ruin your project.
3. Start Cleaning
It’s time consuming and NOBODY likes this part. Paint won’t properly adhered to a dirty surface. This is why professionals never skimp on this part of the process!
Take your time (and plenty of breaks), do it right, and you’ll be thankful when the cabinets hold up for years!
Follow the instructions for the type of degreaser you’ve chosen and make sure to see if it has to be diluted.
Wear cleaning gloves, long sleeves, and protective eyewear for this part! TSP can irritate skin so you don’t want to get it in your eyes or let it soap into your skin.
Start scrubbing down the doors, cabinet base fronts, and drawers being sure to get into all the crevices and scrub extra well around any area’s that had hardware or were touched a lot.
4. Rinse As You Go
TSP tends to dry quickly and can cause the primer and paint to not adhere in those areas. I just have a bucket or spray bottle with plain rinse water next to me while cleaning to rinse with paper towels to wipe any residual residue off.
If you start to notice a white haze or what looks like a film don’t worry! The TSP often cuts into the old topcoat making it look hazy, cut into old topcoat which then makes it easier to sand away.
5. Remove the Doors and Drawers
Marking the doors helps make sure they get returned to their proper cabinet and hinge set. This is especially important if you have an older kitchen since many of them can look similar but the size and hinge location are often different.
Figure out a way that is easy for you to remember, I use small pieces of painters tape and a number system inside the base cabinet and on the edges of the doors and drawers.
TIP: Check to see if the cabinets have adjustable hinges. If so then you’ll be able to fix any sagging or tilting when re-installed!
If the cabinets have flat faces or shaker style doors then lucky you! If, like most people with older cabinets there are recessed areas or edge detailing its going to take a bit more work (I promise it’s not too bad).To help reduce the sawdust and cleaning required afterwards take the doors and drawers outside or to the garage.
If you don’t have access to an outdoor space for this step of the project then be sure to clear everything out of the space you’ll be sanding in and if possible tape plastic sheeting around the kitchen doorways to contain the dust as much as possible. You’d be surprise how far it will travel and its no fun cleaning fine dust from inside furniture and bathroom cabinets months later.
Start with 100 grit sandpaper working up to 220 (100,150, and then 200). This is a good time to use the electric sander but be sure to hand sand any edges or details to avoid damaging them. Its unecessary to go any higher than 200 grit when applying a paint finish, the small swirl marks will be filled by paint & primer once complete so just ensure the surface is smooth.
IMPORTANT: Defects such as splinters, rough patches, and raised knots WILL show through the finish so be sure to remove all imperfections, splinters, and smooth raised wood knots before priming.
8. Repair Any Defects
If there are gouges, knots, dented corners, etc that need filling then apply a coat of bondo. Wood filler shrinks so its best for small nicks and dents, either applied using a finger or rubber scraper. Allowing filled areas to dry, then gently sand until smooth to the surrounding surface.
TIP FOR NEW HARDWARE: This may require filling in existing holes and drilling new ones. Start by measuring the distance for the new screws since you can sometimes use the existing holes rather than having to fill and drill new ones.
PART 4 – Prime & Paint