Ultimate Cabinet Painting Guide: Part 4
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 – Skill and patience needed to achieve a quality finish
PART 2– Selecting the right products
These little guys help speed up the time it takes to complete the project! They make it possible to flip the doors after only an hour or so of dry time to start coating the opposite side.
If any marks do happen to show, they are very small divots which will dispear by the second coat of paint.
Critter Spray Gun
If you want to complete the project as fast and smoothly as possible I recommend a paint sprayer. Unlike the rest of the supplies, it’s not necessary to purchase the most expensive spray gun to get the job done.
I was shocked at how well this little guy did when applying product to some long-term durability test boards! Its best for a single project rather than long-term use.
A much higher quality option is the HVLP spray gun from Harbor Freight. It includes all the adjustment points necessary to finally tune your spray pattern in order to properly suit the material you choose. I recommend getting the one that includes a regulator, or picking one up separately. It’s just as equally budget friendly as the Critter (can often be had for around $20 with a coupon) but allows for longer term use and adjustments that make spraying MUCH easier.
TIP: Pick up a bottle of the spray gun cleaner while at HF. The manufacture fills the gun with oil to ensure it doesn’t rust prior to sale and you’ll need to make sure it’s fully cleaned out prior to use.
No matter which spray gun you choose an air compressor is needed. If you don’t own or want to buy one then you can rent from places like Home Depot or a local tool store.
OPTIONAL: Brushing Putty
To achieve a completely smooth grain-free finish on wood cabinets the open-grain must be filled prior to priming. Brushing putty is made by Fine Paints of Europe and doesn’t come cheap ($100+ per gallon) but its a high solids, oil based filler that settles into the grain pattern and completes the task in one easy step.
A more budget friendly method is to use wood putty, bondo, or filler but be you’ll need to do a second coat after the first one shrinks down.
To prevent rollers and brushes from drying out when you’re taking a break wrap them really well with Saran wrap. If you’ll be wrapping paint supplies for more than 15 minutes, place the brush in the refrigerator high-humidity box.
I don’t recommend doing this for more than 8 hours since it will eventually dry out and the high-quality brushes and roller covers can last a lifetime if taken care of properly!
If the roller or brush are causing blemishes in your finish it means that they dried out and need to be thoroughly cleaned before re-coating the blemished areas.
If your cabinet doors slam shut, an easy and cheap fix is to place some of these silicone dampers on each corner of the edge of the door. They make different sizes and types but any will do!
IMPORTANT TOOLS & SUPPLIES:
Just like with paint, I recommend purchasing the highest quality brush and roller cover possible, this isn’t a project to cut corners on.
This is my FAVORITE brush!
Oval Sash brushes holds paint in the hollow center which allows you to finish a stroke without running out of paint and having to re-load.When using a self-leveling paint it’s important to avoid brushing back over a stroke before it’s dry.
If you choose to roll rather than spray then it’s important to buy a high-quality roller. I’d recommend a mohair roller covers in 1/4″ for the smoothest finish. They don’t shed fibers and won’t allow the paint to be overloaded causing pooling or ridges.
Any residual dust leftover will cause blemishes in the finish that have to be sanded down and re-coated. These will pick up even the smallest dust particle to make sure the cabinet is ready for painting. They come in multiple packages so you should have plenty for this project with some left over, just be sure to put them back in the wrapping and don’t set them down on the ground.
TIP: To prevent any film being left behind be sure to lightly brush the cloth over the surface, don’t press down. Store in the plastic bag between uses and continue use until fully saturated with dust fibers
Disposable Brush & Roller Cover(s)
When using a non-water based primer its best to use disposable brushes and roller covers rather than try to clean them afterwards.
I prefer the “shortly” brush for primer. It’s only around $7, high quality, and the handle gets into tight corners.
This is an obvious addition for rolling your primer and/or paint.
TIP: Get the plastic liners OR line the tray with XL tin foil until it overlaps the edges. This makes for quick cleanup or swapping to a new material.
Gather All Supplies:
- Drop Cloth
- Paint Tray and Liners
- Primer (Recommended: Zinsser Shellac)
- Paint (Recommended: SW Acrylic-Alkylid)
- High-Quality Paint Brush (Recommended Picasso Oval Sash Brush)
- Roller cover with High-Quality nap (recommended Mohair 1/4″ nap roller)
- Primer roller cover (Throw away-recommended 3/4″ roller cover)
- Tack Cloth
- Primer Short Angle Brush (Throw away)
- Helpful: Paint Sprayer & Air Compressor
- Helpful: Painters Pyramids
- Helpful: Saran Wrap
1. Prep roller cover
Using a cheaper roller cover during this step will save time and possible chemical reactions from having to clean the oil based paint off with chemicals. I recommend doing all your priming in one day or wrapping the roller and brush up VERY well between work.
Prevent fibers in finish: Put cover on roller frame. Step on painters tape and extend upward. Roll cover up and down tape until it no longer releases any fibers (may need to refresh tape).
Prevent Paint Buildup on Edge (thick lines): Use a lighter to slightly melt the edges until they cave inward.
NOTE: This only applies to synthetic roller covers & not natural fibers. Wool covers will light, smell light burnt hair, and cause small balls of buildup on the edge (I’ve forgotten a few times, its not a pleasant smell).
2. Apply First Coat of Primer
Paint the edges of your cabinet door with the brush before rolling paint on the back so that any paint that overlaps to the face of the cabinet door is later smoothed out and doesn’t cause drips.
It’s not important to get full coverage primer as the primer is coating every surface to prep the wood for proper paint adhesion. Go over knots and repaired areas with a second coat to be positive there will be no issues with the hot spots or bleed through.
Color Bleed: Some woods can bleed through paint causing reddish discoloration, this will happen slowly and may not show up for months. If you’re painting a wood known for problems with bleed through such as redwood, cedar, or mahogany (or not sure what type of wood it is), play it safe and do a second or third coat of primer over the entire area.
Hot Spots: Wood filler will absorb the paint which can cause a difference in the finished paint sheen. To avoid this; place a good coat of primer over the filler. If you find it’s still causing a sheen difference once the first coat of paint is dry then go back with a thin coat of primer before moving on to the second coat.
If you’re using the brushing putty instead of a regular primer be aware that it does NOT self level so its important to make sure your surface is on a level surface and you roll/brush a consistent layer on the surface and don’t apply it to thick. Sanding will eliminate any small imperfections but since the point is to fill any open grains it will easily puddle in corners or details if not applied carefully.
3. Sand Primer
Once the primer is dry, give it a light sanding with 150 grit paper. It should sand off in a fine dust. If the primer balls up during sanding it’s not dry enough to sand yet!
4. Wipe Clean
Take one of your rags and wipe every inch of the cabinet doors clean before applying the second coat of primer. The sanding step will remove any fine dust particles left but if a large amount is left it will goop up in the primer and cause a mess that will then sand down to the wood and have to be re-coated.
Flip & Repeat
When it’s time to prime the other side, remove your tape marking (used to remember which cabinet it goes back on) and gently place it on the edge or completed side that is now dry.
I usually place the markers on the top edge of the uppers and the lower edge of the base cabinet doors since those areas aren’t seen once the doors are back
This is the last chance to get everything perfect for painting so take your time!
After all primer coats are dry, take the 220 grit sandpaper and sand it smooth. Use a light hand to prevent going through the primer. The goal is only to smooth any imperfections such as stray dust or hairs that have settled into the primer.
6. Clean Up
Be sure that all the dust is gone before applying the paint! Any leftover sawdust will create a gooey mess in the paint finish so you want to be sure that they are completely clean & dry before painting.
Use a rag (and denatured alcohol if you have it) to wipe them down and then go over the detailed areas with the tack cloth.
You made it to the last step, I’m giving you a virtual high-five!!
- Start on the back of the doors: This is especially important if using a new spray gun so you only risk messing up the back of the doors.
- Paint in the direction of the wood grain: This ensures that the paint levels correctly and you get the smoothest finish. If your cabinets are anything like ours the wood grain will still show through slightly in the finished product but it’s very minimal.
- Allow the paint enough time to fully cure: Give each side at least 24 hours to allow the paint to cure enough to be handled. Paint usually takes about 20 days to fully cure but after 24 hours the surface has hardened enough to be gently handled. If you used a paint sprayer this step is even more important since the coating is thicker than a brush or roller.
- Paint in thin layers: It’s better to do 3 coats than 1 heavy coat! Paint cures by releasing the water or solvent into the oxygen and leaving behind the binders and color which cross links and forms a hard barrier. If it’s not allowed to cure or is too thick, the undercoat will remain damp which results in chipping, peeling or cause doors and drawers to stick to the base.
This is when the painters pyramids come in VERY handy. Never set a newly painted surface on the ground, small particles and dirt can easily get embedded in a non-cured paint finish even if it feels dry to the touch.
1. Lay Doors Out
If you have the recommended painters pyramids now is the time to use them! Just lay the doors on top, elevating them slightly off the drop cloth.
2. Paint the Edges & Recessed/Detailed Areas
Using a high quality brush loaded up with paint from your tray try to make a single stroke down toward your body along the outer edges and allow the paint to level out. If you have inset doors or details that need painted repeat the process making sure there isn’t too much paint on the brush so it doesn’t puddle into the cracks.
3. Roll The Remaining Areas
Overlapping the still wet edge creating a single layer finish. If using a paint sprayer; be sure to practice on scrap wood first to make sure the spray pattern and thickness is correct before spraying the paint on your cabinet doors.
If using a self-leveling paint- be sure to only roll down and not back up. This can take some getting used to since we do this when painting walls and other surfaces, just leave the paint alone and any areas will most likely level out.
4. Paint The Base Cabinets
Paint these in the same order as the doors/drawers. Start on the outside edges and small drawer divider pieces with a high-quality paint brush.
5. Lightly sand with 220 grit sandpaper
After each coat has dried, lightly sand it with 220 grit sandpaper to remove the dirt and dust that has settled on the surface while it dried. Clean all the sanding dust away with your wet towel/shop vac and finally brush over with the tack cloth.
This step is important! Dirt and dust is in the air and its attracted to the wet surface and will cause the finish to feel rough or contain bumps if not sanded out. Fixing any errors after painting means sanding through the paint finish and re coating.
6. Apply Second Coat
Once the first coat has been given time to dry completely and you’ve sanded and cleaned the surface its time for the 2nd coat! Most of the time this is plenty but if you feel a 3rd is necessary than complete the steps after sanding your second coat. DO NOT sand after the last coat!
REMEMBER: Cure time is different from dry time! It’s better to be safe after all the work you’ve put in to get it right. Be patient and allow the process time to cure to a durable finish. The results are worth the wait!
7. Removing Tape
Remove any painters tape from the cabinet , drawer sides, etc before the paint has fully dried. This prevents the paint from curing on the tape which causes the paint to peel up when pulled off. Pull the tape up at as close to
Pull the tape at 180 degree’s or as far in the opposite direction as possible rather than 90 degrees. If paint does start coming up with the tape then stop and use a razor blade or sharp knife to cut along the edge of the tape and break the seal.
Place all the hardware back on the cabinet doors and drawers. If you’re installing new hardware wait until everything is put back so you can make sure they are in the right place before drilling new holes. Drill from the front through to the back of the drawer so any splintering and chipping. Be sure to take your time drilling and don’t force the bit through causing splinters.
I recommend keeping the hinges that came with your cabinets, they are hard to replace and is usually more work than it’s worth. You can always update the finish with spray paint if you need to change the hardware’s look.
2. Reinstalling Doors
Screw the hinges (you taped to the inside of the cabinet bases) back on the correct door. Test the opening and closing of the doors to verify they are working correctly.
If your doors slam closed you can place the recommended bumpers on the inside corners of the doors to dampen the sound.
3. Be Gentle!
The paint will take up to 30 days to fully cure. Since you allowed the each coat of primer and paint to dry your cabinets will be hard enough to reinstall (and gain some sanity back) 24-48 hours after your last coat.
Be gentle with your cabinets for at least 30 days to make avoid marks and dents. While it’s possible to fix some things that may happen, it’s difficult to do and after doing all this work its best to just be careful!
Celebrate & Enjoy
Grab a glass of wine & stand back to enjoy your hard work! It’s amazing what a simple paint job can do to transform an entire room!
I realize this is A LOT of information but I hope it helps some of you achieve a fresh and new kitchen without having to remodel.
If you make it all the way through be sure to share your new kitchen, I love seeing how much a simple paint job can completely transform a space!