Evolution of Style: How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets

Hello Friends!

I promised a tutorial on how I painted my kitchen cabinets, and I'm making good on it (finally).  I apologize for the delay, but these things take time, right?  (Or maybe I was just trying to forget the experience altogether before reliving it in tutorial-form).

If you're interested in reading about this project in process, you can read about it here and here.  You can see the kitchen reveal here and the full evolution of the kitchen in photos here.

If you're in the Dayton/Cincinnati area, and want a quote for painting your cabinets, contact me.
UPDATED (January 20, 2014)
More tips and tricks for tackling oak cabinets, including how to hide the grain, and some great go-to paint colors!  Click here for all of the details!

UPDATED (June 24, 2013)
Are you painting oak cabinets?  Take a look at the builder grade transformation I did for a client here.

UPDATED (June 11, 2014)
Are you concerned about prepping your cabinets?  Are they unfinished or previously painted?  Check out this post on 5 Cabinet Painting Problems Solved.
I apologize in advance on the length of this post, but I wanted to make sure I covered everything in one fell swoop.  That said, I'm sure I forgot something, so feel free to ask any questions you may have.

I did a great deal of planning and research before tackling this project, and I hope you're able to learn from my obsessive-compulsive tendencies.

First things first.  These are some of the most important things to know and consider before taking on a project like this.

1.  Unless you have hired help (or a household that will take on all of your responsibilities while working on this), the rest of your house will suffer during this process.
Ok, maybe I'm being a bit dramatic here, but this was my personal experience.  However, I should preface this by also mentioning that I work full-time (outside of the home), and spent just about every non-working moment on this project in order to get it done.  So, for me, this meant that my typical laundry "pile" turned into a laundry "mountain".  The entire house was a wreck, and the hubby and kids had to fend for themselves for the 2-3 weeks that I spent focused on painting.  My kids may or may not have eaten cereal out of the box for dinner several nights in a row.

2.  Invest in help from the experts.
I had three big questions in researching this project:

  • How do I best prep my cabinets for painting?
  • What kind of paint do I use?
  • How do a I choose a paint color?
I looked at a lot of different kitchen cabinet projects online, which was helpful, but I urge you to talk to the pros at your local paint store.  I'm not talking about the teenager that is working at Lowe's.  I went to a paint store where the guys working there knew their stuff.  I brought in one of my cabinet doors and they could tell me immediately what kind of prep work I needed to do and the best paint to do the job.

I also went to a builder's supply center and looked at different cabinet finishes to find the color/finish I wanted to have in my own home.  I took cabinet samples home and decided on colors based on those samples.  The awesome guys at the paint store did a color match on the samples, and I'm thrilled with the result.

Here are the samples I used and had color matched for the island and the kitchen cabinets.

UPDATED: January 2, 2015
I have gotten a lot of questions about the color that I used on my cabinets.  As I mention above, I had the cabinet samples above color matched for my kitchen paint colors.  Below is the formula for the white I used on a bulk of my cabinets.  This is a formula for Benjamin Moore paint, and I used their Advance paint product for my cabinets. Don't use this formula for other paint manufacturers.

3.  What is the best method to get the job done and make it look professional?
I know there are a lot of opinions and methods out there, but after painting the kitchen island, (using a sprayer for the doors, and hand painting the frame), I knew that painting the cabinets with a brush would not produce the look that I wanted.  Everyone is different, but my cabinets have a lot of raised panels and nooks and crannies, just screaming for drips and brush marks, despite my best efforts.  

The clincher for me was seeing this video of someone painting kitchen cabinets with an HVLP sprayer.  HVLP = High Volume, Low Pressure.  It is a dream for a project like this since you have so much control over the spray in terms of volume and area.  You can dial it down to a targeted, narrow spray for corners and small areas, or you can open it up to give you a much broader spray as well.  I didn't buy the sprayer in the video, but the seed was planted.  I knew this was the way to go (for me).

However, these paint guns can be expensive, since they hook up to a turbine.  But, I did some (more) research, and found one that I could hook up to our air compressor (ours is a 6 gallon 150psi, which was more than enough power) for a fraction of the cost.  Enter Gleempaint.com and this Wagner HVLP Conversion Gun of Awesomeness.*  

(*I don't get paid for recommending this spray gun, nor is it called a Gun of Awesomeness.  I just think it is.)

So, let's get to the details.  How did I prep my cabinets?  What kind of paint did I use?  What finish did I choose?

Paint Prep
Since my cabinets didn't have a glossy finish on the to begin with, I started by giving them a light sanding, and then used Krud Kutter Gloss-Off, which is a great all-in-one cleaner AND deglosser.  So, you can kill two birds with one stone with this product. 

You can see the primer and paint that I used here as well.  Fresh Start Superior Primer and Advance paint by Benjamin Moore.  Again, I'm going on the advice of the experts here (he recommended a different primer for glossy surfaces, but I can't remember what).  I cannot say enough good things about this Advance paint.  Oh. my. goodness.  The paint store guy/expert said, "It's revolutionary."  He said that it's basically an oil-based paint that acts like a latex (even though it is a latex paint).  You get all of the good points of an oil-based paint, with none of the negative.  It hardens like an oil, wears like an oil, but cleans up like a latex and it doesn't smell like an oil!  See?  Revolutionary.

But, before you can get moving with your actual priming/painting, you need to remove your cabinet doors and drawers.  I highly recommend putting together some sort of numbering system so that you don't lose track of what goes where.  While it all seems to make sense when you're planning, trust me that you will be glad you did this when your paint-weary brain goes to put the doors and drawers back.

TIP:  I started out my labeling like this, but ended up putting the post-it notes INSIDE the cabinet door and drawer frames and taping the number (with a little description) with painter's tape on the actual door/drawer.  The description came in handy - i.e., left bottom, right of stove.  Just trust me on this.

Below, my cabinet coding translates to - Right of stove, cabinet #28, right bottom (RB).  Believe me, when you're exhausted and swimming in a Sea of Cabinets that need to be put back in their proper place, you'll be thankful for this little extra help.

You will also need to tape off the insides of the cabinets, the countertops, floor, even some of the ceiling.  If you're planning on painting the walls, do it after you paint the cabinets - you'll save some time and trouble in taping off the walls in addition to everything else.  This was, by far, my least favorite part of this project.  Taping off the insides of cabinet frames is harder than it sounds.  But, I can offer you some advice that I learned along the way.  

TIP:  Tape off the bottom, sides and top of the frame first (newspaper works well for this), and then tape off the back of the inside frame.   

You can see what I mean here:

Versus here where I was trying to tape off right at the edge of the inside frames.  Don't ask me why it took me so long to figure this out, but it was a maddening process.  (And don't mind the water spot on the contractor paper - it's from the water dispenser in the fridge.  I swear.)
TIP:  When you take off your cabinet hinges, put them in Ziploc baggies and tape them to the inside frame of that cabinet.  This makes rehanging much simpler! 

You will need to go all Dexter-like and tape off any open areas in your kitchen to avoid spray particles from floating through your house.

And really, if you want to paint the frames with a brush, you could do that and save some of the trouble.  But, since my frames had a lot of raised panels, I wanted the clean look that the HVLP sprayer provides, and it was worth the extra prep work.
You will also need to set up a staging area and a "spray booth" for painting your cabinet doors and drawers.  If it's warm enough, you can do this in your garage.  I ended up setting up shop in our basement storage area.  The great part about this space is that there are doors that lead to the outside, so I could open them up for ventilation.  Plus, it gave me room to create my little spray booth and space to let my cabinets dry.
You can see that I have a little table set up here, with a piece of MDF (that is actually a large storage shelf).  I nailed five finish nails on this board so that I could easily maneuver around the cabinet door to paint and not worry about the door sticking to anything when I had to move it.  The same holds true for the area outside of my spray booth, where the cabinets were set to dry.  Since I was painting both the front and the back of my cabinets, I wanted to keep the drips to a minimum, as well as the possibility of them sticking to anything while drying, and the nails allowed for this.
Note:  I obviously removed the hardware before doing this, and also used Elmer's wood putty in one of the holes since I was going with knobs vs. pulls on the cabinet doors.  Make sure you plan out the placement of your knobs and pulls before you start painting, to avoid wasting time at the end of the process making adjustments that would require more priming and painting.
Now the fun begins!  Priming and painting!
Before you begin spraying your cabinets, practice on a large piece of cardboard or an old box so that you can get the hang of the spray gun and figure out how to best adjust the settings.  It's really very simple to use and I promise you that it doesn't take long to get the hang of using it. 
You can easily control the flow of the paint, direction and diameter of the spray and the amount of air pressure as you go along.  It just takes some experimenting to get used to it.  This was my first time using it, and you saw my results!
Some diagrams from gleempaint.com to help explain what I'm talking about here (and again, I'm NOT getting paid!)
 Paint pattern size:
 Air and paint flow control:
TIP:  If you're going to paint both sides of your cabinet doors, start by painting the inside of the cabinet first.  That way, if you make any mistakes or have problems, you'll learn early and it will be on an inconspicuous part of the cabinet.  Plus, this way the cabinets will end up drying with the outside of the cabinet facing UP, and you don't have to worry about any potential scratches or indentations from the nails that are used to balance your cabinets for drying.  You will have a freshly painted cabinet surface when you rehang your doors.
Start by priming the outside edge of the door with a narrow spray, making sure that you cover the outside edges of the door.  
 Then, fill in the center area, ensuring complete coverage.
Carefully pick up the door and move it to the drying area.  Lather. Rinse. Repeat. ;-)
Once you get into a rhythm, you can blow through the doors relatively quickly.  The priming probably took the longest, because I only used one coat of primer and wanted to be sure I covered the doors really well.  I followed the primer with two coats of paint.  Once you get started, it's a hurry up and wait kind of process.   For the primer, I gave it a good 24 hours to dry for each side.  For the paint, it's a 16 hour wait time in between coats, which essentially amounts to a whole day for each coat.  For each side.  
TIP:  Clean your HVLP spray gun after you're done for the day.  It's really easy, so don't be intimidated!  All I had to do was empty the paint out of the spray cup, fill it with warm water, and spray it out until the water ran clear.  (Of course, instructions are provided with the spray gun).  Also, you don't need to clean the needle every time, as indicated in the directions.  That is something that needs to be done more occasionally (I read this on the gleempaint.com website).
So, do the math.  Two sides, one coat of primer, two coats of paint.  You're talking about at least week of just painting and waiting.  Then you want to let them sit and cure a bit before you rehang them.  I recommend 2-3 days of cure time once you have completed all of the priming and painting. 
While your doors are curing you can tackle the frames (or at least that's what I did).  I saved this piece for last, because this is what rendered my kitchen pretty much inoperable since you're taping EVERYTHING off in order to get a clean spray of just the frames.  The same process holds for the frames also:
  • Lightly sand the frames (I used 220 grit sandpaper)
  • Remove excess dust and wipe clean with tack cloth
  • Clean and degloss the frame surface with Krud Kutter
  • Prime cabinet frames and allow to dry 24 hours
  • Lightly sand and use tack cloth before painting
  • Paint cabinet frames with 2-3 coats of paint, waiting 24 hours in between coats
  • Wait 2-3 days for paint to cure before rehanging doors
TIP:  Since gravity is working against you on the cabinet frames, I recommend using a fine spray so that you avoid drips as much as possible.  If you do get drips, the paint experts told me to avoid sanding too much in between because the paint can gum up since it's not cured.  If you have drips, you might want to wait until it's fully cured and then sand, as it will be more "sand-friendly".  You can touch up with a small artist's brush.
The paint experts told me that it takes 30 days for the Advance paint to fully cure.  Don't panic - it's not like you're going to be working with sticky cabinet doors or anything.  Just use a little extra caution in the first month.
Once your doors and frames have cured enough to reassemble your kitchen, the fun part of putting your kitchen back together begins!  From here, you can install new hardware if you have it, reinstall your hinges (or replace your old ones with new), and then rehang your doors and drawers.
If you're installing new hardware and need help on where to place it, pick up one of these handy little tools to save you some time and headache:
Now, sit back and enjoy your new kitchen! 

I hope you found this tutorial helpful, and most importantly, I hope you'll begin to see that you can do this project!

In case you missed it - here is my post from January 2014 with tips and tricks on painting oak cabinets.

In April 2014, I gave Behlen's Grain Filler a test drive to get rid of the oak grain on a cabinet project.

Here is a post showing an oak kitchen transformed (by me) for a client.



I think I'm the fifth person in as many days to post cabinet painting tutorials!  Here are some links to some other resources that might be useful:

Melissa at 320 Sycamore
Traci at Beneath my Heart
Sherry and John at Young House Love
Marian at Miss Mustard Seed
Traditional Painter Hand Painted Kitchens and Furniture - a treasure trove of information from seasoned pros, on materials, supplies, prep and technique, along with loads of photos of kitchen transformations.  One of my favorite resources!

Linking up to:
Home Stories A to Z - Tutorials and Tips Link Party
Savvy Southern Style - Wow Us Wednesday

Evolution of Style: How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets ...
You can see the kitchen reveal here and the full evolution of the and Advance paint by Benjamin Moore. guts to paint my kitchen cabinets,

Evolution of Style: How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets
Evolution of Style: How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets ; Evolution of Style: How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets You can see the primer and paint that I used here

Evolution of Style: Tips + Tricks for Painting Oak Cabinets
This beautiful kitchen from Elements of Style, These are excellent tips for painting your oak cabinets! I've been looking to redo my kitchen lately,

Evolution Of Style How To Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets
Best Match for Evolution of Style How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets

Evolution of Style How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets
Evolution of Style How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets You can see the primer and paint that I used here as well. Fresh Start Superior Primer and Advance paint by

Evolution Of Style How To Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets ...
How stain kitchen cabinets darker | ehow, You may also like. how to stain kitchen cabinets. if your kitchen is an eyesore, perhaps what you need most is to stain them

Evolution of Style: How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets
More Results Related to Evolution of Style: How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets ; Evolution of Style: How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets You can see the primer and

Evolution Of Style How To Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets 2015 ...
Ask a Designer: How to remodel your kitchen in small (or big) ways If your cabinet doors are stained wood, consider painting them A new table and chairs can update a

Evolution Of Style How To Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets ...
You may also like. how to stain kitchen cabinets. if your kitchen is an eyesore, perhaps what you need most is to stain them using a pretty new color..

Evolution Of Style How To Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets
Evolution of Style How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets. DIY HOME INTERIOR STYLE DESIGN IDEAS. The Evolution of Style How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets.

Next Post »