July 18, 2021

Tips for Painting Kitchen Cupboards (or other furniture)

My friend Renee came over a couple of days ago and asked for some tips for painting her kitchen cupboards. She knew I had done mine a few years ago (I can't believe it's been that long!) so I gave her the advice I could come up with.

I painted not only my kitchen cupboards, but also the vanity cabinets in my bathrooms, my kitchen island, my dining table and chairs, a coffee table, TV console and some other furniture. I feel like it's safe to say I know what I'm doing by now ;)

Here are a few of my painting projects:

I gave Renee enough advice that I thought it might make a helpful post for anyone looking to paint some furniture. So, here goes...

(Note: In this post, I'm writing about painting over stained furniture--not previously painted furniture. I haven't painted over furniture that was already painted, so I can't say if the same tips will work.)

First, draw a quick sketch of the kitchen cabinet layout (just some boxes on a piece of paper is fine). Number the cabinets on the paper, and then write the corresponding number on each cupboard door as you remove it. 

(I wrote it with pencil in the spot where the hardware would cover it later.) This is super helpful when you put the cupboard doors back on. The doors are likely the same size, but the placement of the hardware might vary just a touch, which would result in cupboard doors being slightly askew. So it's helpful to replace the doors to the cupboards they came from.

Remove all hardware from the doors.

I highly recommend using oil-based paint. It's super durable. There are latex paints with enamel--I tried this several years ago on a dresser. It's better than regular latex paint, but nothing as good as the oil-based.

Definitely do not cheap out on the paint. You really do get what you pay for. I bought paint from Sherwin Williams. I used Sherwin Williams ProClassic Interior Oil Based paint in semi-gloss. It's been three years and it's still holding up beautifully.

Use a good stain-blocking oil-based primer. I am partial to Kilz brand. When I painted my cupboards a few years ago, I used one that was specific to oil-based paint, but I couldn't find it anymore. I found this one, which is meant for latex or oil-based, interior or exterior. I haven't had any problems using it on other furniture.

Buy a product called Flood to add to your paint. It thins out the paint, which makes it much easier to apply--but it also drastically reduces brush strokes. A few seconds after your brush the paint on, you'll notice that the brush strokes all-but disappear.

Like the paint, don't cheap out on brushes, either. It's really worth it to pay a little extra for a good brush (makes applying much easier!). I like the Purdy brand. Just make sure you get brushes that are compatible with oil-based paint.

Cleaning up oil-based paint is NOT fun--I'm not going to dance around that. You'll have to buy mineral spirits (oil-based paint does not come clean with water). I poured mineral spirits in a large mason jar and dipped my brush in that, then wiped it on an old towel several times until it was as clean as I could get it. If you're going to be using the brush again within a day or two, you can wrap it in plastic without cleaning it and it won't dry out on you. (After a couple of days, it will dry out, however, and then you really can't get the paint off.)

(You could also store the mineral spirits in a paint tin--you can buy empty paint cans at Lowe's in different sizes. They work well because they can be resealed tightly and you don't risk using/breaking glass.)

Note: you can't pour mineral spirits down the drain. I used two jars--one with mineral spirits that I sealed each time I used it. The paint settles to the bottom of the jar. Once it's settled, I pour the mineral spirits into the other jar to continue to use it. I repeat this cycle, removing the settled paint from the jar and throwing it away while reusing the mineral spirits. I typically throw away my brush after each project is done because it's hard to get it totally clean!

Once you remove the doors and hardware, you'll want to clean the cupboards really well. I used (and recommend) a product called TSP (trisodium phosphate). You can buy a powdered form of it at Lowe's. You just mix it with warm water. I wore the typical yellow kitchen gloves to protect my hands while cleaning the cupboards.

In the photo above was after cleaning (no sanding). I could have left it at that, but the surface had a lot of dents and nicks in it, so I did a very thorough sanding. (The other piece, after sanding, is below.)

The TSP is doubly helpful because not only does it clean the cupboards, but it removes the shine from the stain. This eliminates the need for sanding! (In some cases, you'll still need to sand--but the TSP does a lot of the work.) I would suggest using one of those green scour pads to clean with--it is gently abrasive, which will help the primer to stick and do its job.

If the cupboards were very shiny or smooth, you may want to do a light sanding. You don't want there to be any shine left before painting. I would use a 180-grit sandpaper and just lightly scuff the whole thing.

If there are any nail holes or dents or anything like that to fill in, you'll want to do this before painting as well. I just use a wood filler (this one is my favorite, after trying several brands). All you do is squeeze a little on your finger and then fill in the little holes (you can't use this on big or deep holes--this is just for little nicks). After it dries, just use a damp washcloth to give it a quick gentle wipe and it will come off of the surface but stay in the hole.

Next, it's time to apply the primer! Make sure that the cabinets are dust-free and dry. I would paint the doors in a garage, if possible, or somewhere that you can put them for several days. Tape the areas around the cupboards (the floor, walls, etc.) so you don't get primer/paint on them. (If you do accidentally get some paint where you don't want it, it must be cleaned with mineral spirits--water won't do it.)

I like to buy a couple of the small empty paint cans to pour the primer and paint into. I just dip my brush into that rather than using a tray or carrying around the whole gallon of paint. Then you can reseal it and use it again.

Don't thin out the primer with the Flood--the Flood is just for the paint. Using your brush, apply a coat of primer to all areas that you plan to paint. Primer is thin--so you just need a thin coat. And after the primer is on, it'll probably look really bad! It looks spotty/patchy, and you'll think you made a big mistake by doing this yourself. But wait until you add the paint--it makes a world of difference!

For the doors, cover the surface you'll be setting them on with plastic sheeting. You'll get paint on it.

When you paint the doors, painting the front and back is kind of annoying--you can't turn the door over and set it down until the paint is totally dry. I bought some little pointy cones (from Lowe's) that you can set down underneath the doors. They rest on the points so that they are raised above the surface you're painting on. So you would paint the back of the door, then carefully flip it over and set it down on the cones. Then you can paint the front.

Don't forget about the numbers you marked on the doors. You'll want to make sure you keep them marked somehow (even if you write it on a post-it and stick it to the table where the door is). I wrote the number in the recessed hole where the hardware would go and I didn't paint over it.

(The cones were pretty expensive--they came in a 10-pack, and with the number of doors I had, I wasn't about to buy several packs of them. So, I just painted one side, waited for it to dry, then flipped it over and painted the other side.)

The primer dries pretty quickly. You'll have to check the can, but as soon as it's dry to the touch, you can apply the paint. I would do all of the primer first (cupboards and doors) before starting with the paint--that way you don't have to clean your brush several times.

To prepare the paint, pour some paint into one of the smaller, empty paint cans (these make it much easier to add the Flood). I fill it about 3/4 full with paint, then add about 2-4 tablespoons of the flood. The Flood has color to it, but even when added to my white paint, it didn't change the color of the paint (or at least I didn't notice it). So you don't have to be super precise with the amount of Flood. I just add enough to where the paint is at a thickness that is easy to apply, but not very drippy. You'll discover what works best. 

Start with a couple of tablespoons of Flood, then add a little at a time until the texture looks right. To mix it, just put the lid on on the can (make sure to tap it tight with a mallet) and shake it well.

To apply the paint, just dip the brush and apply a light coat to the whole surface. You don't need a thick coat, because you'll do two coats of paint. I always start with the nooks and crannies of the doors. Just dip the brush to get more paint than necessary and let it spread into the nooks and crannies. Then brush all of the excess outward. That way you're not fighting to get paint into the nooks.

Oil-based paint takes longer to dry, and even longer to cure. I would allow at least 24 hours between coats of paint (when the paint isn't tacky anymore). You can put the cupboard doors back on after 24-48 hours, but the paint won't be completely cured for probably 10 days or so. "Cured" is when it's as hard as it's going to get. You can press your fingernail to it and it won't leave a mark. If you can allow everything to dry a few extra days, the longer the better.

To replace the doors, just refer to your sketch. Add the hardware to the doors and replace the doors in their respective spots. You can add the knobs or pulls, and you're done!

I used this Kreg jig (Amazon affiliate link) to add knobs and pulls and it made it SO EASY to line them up and center them perfectly.

Once the paint is cured, it's extremely durable! You can wipe it down and clean it just like any other surface. Now you can sit back and enjoy your "new" kitchen--and be proud that you did it yourself!

Here is a page with all of my DIY home makeover projects with before and afters of each room. I did everything from the ceiling to the floor in the entire house (well, Jerry did the floor, but everything else was me!). I'm super happy and proud of how it turned out :)

1 comment:

  1. I painted my cabinets last year and found Benjamin Moore Advance paint. Its not oil based, so easy to clean, but hardens like a shell so pretty durable. Also, if you have a Harber Frieght near you, their best paint brushes are amazing. I liked them better then Purdy and they are less then half the cost so I didn't mind throwing away brushes after using them a few days instead of trying to clean them everytime. Labeling the doors was so important, but we ended up labeling upper cabinets letters and lower cabinets numbers. It was easy to tell them apart and less confusing. And I wrote it on little pieces of painters tape, that way I could move it from front to back as I painted. I love the color of your cabinets. I went with white, and while they look great, they look blah. Oh well, too late now as I JUST finally finished the entire kitchen.


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