Finally the “Paint Your Cabinets” post you’ve been waiting for! Let’s Jump right in!
A Clear Finished Wood Door
We’re working with a door I had laying around in my shop. It was a beautiful solid maple door already.
But we have other plans for it!
Since this door had a clear coat of lacquer on top of stained wood, it really needs to be “roughed-up” before we can begin the process of painting it.
It’s almost never okay to paint a slick surface without some sort of sanding or other abrasive to roughen the surface.
I’ve found that if you’re going to be doing much woodworking, it makes sense to invest in a power sander! Trust me!
The main workhorse of my sanding fleet is this Random Orbital sander from DeWalt. This thing just won’t quit! I’ll include a link at the end in case you want to buy one!
It wasn’t my goal to get every bit of the original finish off. I just want to scuff the surface to make it more ready to accept primer.
I did get all the way through in some places and that’s a good thing. But you can imagine that this large sander didn’t do the best job with the little cracks and crevices in the door profile. I had to get those by hand, using sandpaper and/or steel wool. When I was done sanding, it looked like this:
When you sand, it’s very important to make sure that you take special care around the edges. The finished paint will rarely have problems in the center of the door. The edges, on the other hand, are very prone to getting whacked with all sorts of damaging objects such as pots and pans. By sanding the edge well, you can be more sure that the primer will get good adhesion where it counts most.
Apply The Primer
When you’ve finished sanding, clean and vacuum the door down to get rid of all dust. I use a rag dampened with a little bit of mineral spirits.
Water works, but the mineral spirits seems to do a better job of collecting the dust. Just don’t use too much. You only need a slightly damp rag and you want the paint thinner to evaporate completely, which it will do if thinly applied.
A bit of side info here: Mineral Spirits and Paint Thinner are the same thing, but not all “Paint Thinner” is 100% Mineral Spirits…I guess for the cheap stuff they use “thinner thinner”…? Always get 100% Mineral Spirits.
Go To A Real Paint Store
The most important part of painting, especially painting something other than just a regular wall, is getting the right paint for the job. That requires a real paint man. As you can see in the picture, I found one of those.
Even though I’ve been a contractor for … awhile…, I still took my door to a real paint store and showed it to a real paint man and asked him…”what should I use?” This is the way you should do this. Take your cabinet door, be it Formica, or wood, or whatever you have and show it to them. get some feedback. You’ll be able to tell if the person doesn’t know diddly squat.
If that happens, just go with what the great folks at Port Charlotte Paints told me to use.
Benjamin Moore paint has always worked well for me and according to the man, this primer here will allow you to paint just about anything, even Formica countertops! The key is to let it cure properly before applying a top-coat.
I would normally use a little bit of a sheen on for the paint, rather than the flat we have here, but the winner of this work of art in the making said that shiny paints caused her to feel ill, so I went with the flat.
In general, the more sheen a paint has, the more durable it will be. Knowing that this was for a cabinet, the paint man sold me a special “Matte Flat” that should be very durable.
I primed the back first so that I could leave the front untouched to dry well.
It didn’t take long at all for the primer to dry enough for me to flip the door over and work on the front.
Both sides require a little bit of patience when dealing with the corners. Paint tends to build-up a little in the corners and that’s especially true with the front.
Small amounts of paint build-up are easily solved by brushing away from the corner with an “empty” brush.
I had to work pretty quickly because it was very hot (mid 80’s) and I was in the bright sun. It would have been better to do this indoors, but you haven’t seen the inside of my shop.
You don’t want to see the inside of my shop. I’m Remodeling Guy, not Mr. Clean.
I’m not talking about the band. If I were talking about the band, I would have to show you this video here. And then I would have to ask you to pray along with me every day that my sons’ love of music never causes them to look like that guy. Not even for one day…no matter how much they pay them.
I’m talking about the primer. You have to let it CURE. This is different than DRY. Dry happens pretty fast. Cure doesn’t. The curing process adds hardness to the finish and in the case of cabinets, the harder the better. This will really make a difference in the durability. The time requirement for this primer, used this way, is three days.
So I can’t finish this until next week. I’ll have to find something to do in the meantime…
I hope I find at least a few hours to spend out here… but I digress again.
The Cabinet Boxes
I’ve shown you a door, which you should do just as I showed it, off of the cabinet, with hardware removed. But there are also the cabinet boxes that have to be done in-place.
The process for these is essentially the same, just a little more difficult. You’ll probably need to put some plastic up to seal off the area so you can do the sanding. Don’t cut out that sanding step! You really want the durability that can only be had by sanding.
After that, the process is the same. If you think you might be changing the size or location of your hardware, you want to fill in those holes. For this application, I would use Bondo.
Yes, the car Bondo…you can even buy it at the auto-parts store if you want to. But they have it at the big building material stores as well. Since you’ll be painting over it, the color match that wood putty strives for isn’t important and Bondo is easier to get smooth and not as prone to crack, shrink, or fall out later.
Then you can just drill new holes for your new hardware.
You should take your drawers off before you paint! Better yet would be just the “drawer fronts”. Many cabinets have a couple of screws inside the drawer box which, if removed, release the entire drawer front. If you can do this, it’s the way to go because it will make the drawers much easier to work with.
If not, you can still remove the drawer from the cabinet and take the whole box outside and work on it along with the doors. You might even decide you want to paint your drawer boxes too. I would just be careful not to paint the hardware.
Misc. Other Mumbo Jumbo…
- I used a medium-fine grit sandpaper… 150 or 220 grit. If you use a grit that is too coarse, you’ll do more harm than good.
- I had the primer tinted to the same color as the paint. This will allow the paint to cover better and hopefully in one coat.
- In the areas that I couldn’t get to at all with sandpaper, I scuffed it up with a little bit of steel wool to give the primer a better surface.
- If you want one of those awesome sanders I use, you can get one at this link: DEWALT D26451K 3 Amp 5-Inch Random Orbit Sander with Cloth Dust Bag It will cost you $70.00 and I promise you’ll be saying that was money well spent. This is the sander to buy…I’ve tried most of them and this one is great! It uses a velcro-like system to hold the sandpaper on which makes changing sanding disks a breeze.
Want to see the front? You’re going to like it! There is more to this project than just painting. Check back tomorrow so you can see how I did this:
Pretty cool, huh! The bird came out great. For you newcomers, this whole thing was instigated by a cool picture Kim found that inspired me to do an impromptu giveaway. The first post about that is here. If you like the bird, you might also like the coffee cup and the flamingo.
By late Friday I’ll have a post up showing how I made the bird pattern…it is so cool! Early next week, I’ll finish this cabinet door and publish Painting Kitchen Cabinets Part Two – More Sanding and Finish Painting.
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So, I’m sure there are some questions on Part One…let me hear them and then check back…I’ll answer right in the comments! Thanks!
Before doing this work on your kitchen! Make sure you read Part 2 about Plan B.
One comment was such an important question that I didn’t address in the post…the question was “did I use oil-based or latex-based paint, and is it okay to use latex (water-based) paint?”
The answer is that I used an acrylic latex primer and paint. Both are top-of-the-line Benjamin Moore products and if used properly will provide an excellent finish. It is all water clean-up material. Here are links to the product pages at Ben Moore.
Thanks to Amy for asking this… I think others will want to know that as well. There are a few other questions and answers in the comments as well. And you’re welcome to add to the discussion!