Hesitant to Paint Your Cabinets?


For three years I’ve been pinning “how to paint your kitchen cabinets” posts.  I had a self-diagnosed case of Pintimidation; I just could not get over my fear of starting this project!  It’s only paint after all, right?   This summer, I finally took the plunge!

You might decide to go ahead and paint your kitchen cabinets after reading about my amusing experience.  Or not!

From the tutorials that I had pinned, I was leaning toward Designer Trapped in a Lawyer’s Body: How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets without Sanding or Priming, but then ran across another blog post a few weeks prior to the start of my project.  In the end, I decided to go with Practically Spoiled’s From Hate to Great A Tale of Painting Oak Cabinets.  Both posts seemed really similar, but one was a little cheaper for me, as the paint was on sale locally!

Before We Begin…

A quick before and after photo for possible inspiration:

Step 1: Create Schedule & Order Supplies

To start, I created a Google calendar schedule to keep me on track.  My original plan was to finish in one week.  Steps 1-5 for day one.  Then two days for steps 6 and 7, and another two days for steps 8 and 9.  The fifth and sixth day would be for step 10, with the final day for steps 11 and 12.  I felt it was a realistic schedule, but didn’t account for other parts of my life pulling at me.  I also came to realize that I needed a break, and truth be told steps 1-5 actually took 2 days.  Maybe I could have moved faster, but in the end it all worked out!  I’ve adjusted my project on my calendar and took a screen shot to show you exactly what happened.  Keep in mind that my kitchen had 20 doors and 9 drawers.  Not sure if that helps with your time estimate for your painting project or not, but it might!

calendar project calendar project 2

I want to also mention that I carefully priced out supplies.  In the end, it was the SAME price to buy everything online at Amazon (except the primer), so that’s what I choose to do.  The primer came from Walmart online.  It was nice not having to go into a store and look for everything.  Besides, my local Walmart didn’t have everything I would have needed.  Buying online alleviates a lot of stress and saves time!

Materials for Step 1:

  • Google calendar
  • Amazon shopping cart

Step 2: Clean Cabinets

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I used an entire bottle of Krud Kutter Prepaint Cleaner TSP Substitute and roughly 1/2 a bottle of Klean Strip TSP Substitute to clean the cabinets.  I thought that one bottle of Krud Kutter would be enough, but it wasn’t.  My local Walmart didn’t have it in stock, so I found a different TSP substitute.  For me, this step of the cabinet project to be very therapeutic and calming.  I actually enjoyed it.  The smell wasn’t too strong either.  Although not pictured, I did use gloves while cleaning.  And I also used a wire scrubby too.  The washcloths were a big help when applying the cleaner and removing them.  I had a HUGE stack of washcloths for this step.  I went through them quickly!  I pretty much just followed the directions on the back of the bottles.  I did rinse the cabinets with hot water (washcloth).  If your water isn’t hot enough, just wet the washcloth and put it in the microwave for a few seconds.  That’ll heat it up– don’t burn yourself!

Materials for Step 2:

Step 3: Remove Cabinet Doors & Drawers

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Take off all doors.  Remove all drawers.  You might think that you only need a Phillips screwdriver, but you’ll be surprised, like I was to find ONE screw that needs a flat head screwdriver in the entire kitchen!  I used the manual and power screwdrivers interchangeably.  Also, be sure to add numbers to them.  You should put a piece of painters tape inside each cabinet as well as the back of each door.  This will help you later.  I transferred the numbers on the back of each door to the actual table that I used when painting so that I could paint the entire backside of the door.  I also decided to purge cupboards and clean them with a bleach solution.  You’ll want to grab all of your canned and boxed goods at this point and use them for your door stands (elevate the doors off the tables).  At this stage, my family and friends received random texts asking them if they would like to take this or that.  I also dropped off a load of stuff at the Sunshine House Goodwill Drop Off spot.  I also asked myself if it was normal to have one full drawer of knives.  My mother in law said that it was.  My husband and I celebrated 20 years of knives marriage together on August 31.

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Be sure to announce to family, friends, and Facebook that you’re embarking on your project.  You won’t want your neighbors or anyone else to wonder why you haven’t left the house in four days. When prepping the paint party room (extra bedroom), it might help to line the floor with craft paper.  My room held five card tables.  I ended up putting doors on top of the tables and under them.  It was a cramped space, but it was a cat-free zone, and that was more important than comfort!  I purposefully bought multi-colored tablecloths because I figured that at some point in time they’d cheer me up during the cabinet painting journey.  It worked.  Plus, I could mentally remind myself, “purple and red table DONE” at certain stages of the project if I couldn’t finish a step due to other time commitments!

Materials for Step 3:

Step 4: Clean Cabinet Frames & Add Painter’s Tape

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Repeat step 2.  I was flabbergasted as to how dirty cabinet doors are!  Cabinet frames can be dirty too!  When taping off the cabinet frames I think I went overboard.  You could probably skip this step if you primed and painted carefully.  After two coats of prime, and one coat of paint, I got worried that I was being too sloppy and took it off before the 2nd coat of paint.  In some spots the paint on the cabinet was attached to the paint on the tape.  Ugh!  A sharp knife works here, but my painters tape (the FROG brand) did a nice job off pulling off without also pulling off the paint on the cabinet.  I was amazed by this!  Don’t be alarmed if at any point in the project you lose your tape, only to realize it’s on your wrist.  It happens.

Materials for Step 4:

Step 5: Fill & Sand if Needed

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If I could go back and do a better job on one of the steps, it’d be this step.  I took off my cabinet hardware (pulls, knobs, and hinges).  Prior to doing this I knew that there were extra holes here and there from the previous owner.  When he assembled the cabinets and added the hardware, he apparently made mistakes.  He corrected them, but didn’t fill in extra holes.  By the time I realized my silliness in not marking which holes were extra…it was too late and most of the hardware was off.  This meant that I’d have to fill the holes in after I was done with the project.  I also wish I had spent more time looking for imperfections to sand down.  The previous owner stained the cabinets and there were drips I should have taken better care of.  I’m not too worried about it now, but my dad would probably say, “Take the time to do it right the first time, Jess!”  I can hear his voice now!!  Love you dad.  =)

Materials for Step 5:

Step 6: Prime Cabinet Doors, Drawers, & Frames

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At this stage I started to worry.  Up to this point my blog point of reference, Practically Spoiled’s From Hate to Great A Tale of Painting Oak Cabinets, was spot on, meaning that my experience seemed to match her recommendations and tutorial.  When I opened my primer, it was not thin, instead it seemed thick and didn’t go on smoothly at all.  I want to reassure you, though, it dried very nicely.  It must be self leveling, because it seemed very smooth to the touch.  Take the picture above, for example, it looks uneven, but when I ran my finger across the door, it felt even and smooth!  So, don’t fret, just Prime On!  As you work, watch for drippy prime.  Smooth it out, or you’ll be dealing with it in step 7.

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Here’s the order of how I painted (two coats of primer):  cabinet frames, door/drawer backs, cabinet frames, door/drawer backs, door/drawer fronts, and door/drawer fronts.  The primer dries quickly.  Of all the materials that had an odor, the primer was by far the smelliest!  Be sure to open windows and turn on the ceiling fans!  And every once in awhile, visit with your furry friends (or family members) to assure them that you’re still alive and well!

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Oh, and at this stage you may start to have strange thoughts.  It might be 9AM and you find yourself thinking of Chili, and enchiladas, and lasagna.  But instead of eating THAT you just make yourself a smoothie!  You’ll also start getting used to visiting your living room for a slotted spoon, the pizza cutter, a wooden spoon, or spatula.  Your husband will also likely open your painting party room and ask, “Are we really out of all the canned goods?!”  And then he’ll laugh when you explain to him why you took them all, as you hand him a can of Cream of Mushroom soup!

Materials for Step 6:

Step 7: Sand Prime Drips

Before heading to step 8, take a peek at  your cabinet frames, doors, and drawers.  Look for drippy prime that has dried.  Sand it down and use the tack cloth (boy is that thing sticky!) to clean any dust.

Materials for Step 7:

Step 8: Paint

I wanted to take a picture of my paint tray.  It worked well for every step, from primer to paint to polyurethane.  I couldn’t find a link to it online at Walmart, but you can probably find it in your Walmart for around the $1 mark.  I bought several of these, and was glad that I did.  You don’t want to reuse it because the primer, paint, and poly will dry some– even if you cover it.  Then when you roll your roller through it, it will clump and be a mess.

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Another tip I have for you would be to NOT WASH your paint brushes after each use.  Instead, wrap them in saran wrap or zipper bags.  Same with the paint stir stick.  I also didn’t pound the tops of the paint/primer/poly cans after each use, but rather set them gently.  Since I was working in a short frame of time, I wasn’t worried about it drying out between uses.  If you work very carefully to manage paint drips during this stage, you can skip step 9!  The drips tend to form in the cracks and crevices and where your paint brush overhangs on the cabinet doors/drawers/frames.  And finally, be sure to use the BEST quality paint brush that you can get your hands on.  I started with the brand Purdy, but added another brush to the mix from Walmart, the Linzer brand.  While Linzer was nice, Purdy was superior for two reasons – flexibility of the bristles and it didn’t “shed” at all!  The Linzer seemed more stiff and would occasionally shed a bristle when painting.

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Although your head has probably cleared of the primer fumes by this time, you’ll be tired and likely find yourself running across the chocolate chips as you paint (again!) at 10PM.  You’ll only eat a few, but you figure that you totally deserve it because you’re rocking this cabinet project!  As for the Sherwin-Williams paint, I read an online review that said it smells like bananas.  It doesn’t but it’s a LOT better smelling than the primer.  I ended up using the brushes more than the roller (it seemed to leave bubbles), but you might have better luck than I did.  This Sherwin-Williams paint is easy to work with.  It is expensive paint, but I happened to start my project around the time they had their 40% off sale.  Call them about this sale.  The store near me is really good with customer service!

Materials for Step 8:

Step 9: Sand Paint Drips

Before heading to step 8, take a peek at  your cabinet frames, doors, and drawers.  Look for drippy paint that has dried.  Like with the prime drips, from step 7, sand it down and use the tack cloth to clean any dust.

Materials for Step 9:

Step 10: Add Coats of Polyurethane

I love this stuff!  It’s like liquid gold.  Expensive, like the paint, but so worth it!  It’s a little messy but I found a few tricks that helped me.  For the first coat, I used the gloves that came with the staining pad.  Yuck!  I made it work as I didn’t think I had anything else that would work, and I wanted to finish the first coat.  I quickly added a second container to the process.  I dipped the sponge, wrung it out a bit, then patted my gloved hand over the sponge so it could soak up as much poly from my glove as possible.  This helped a lot with the dripping!

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For the second and third coat, I checked the cleaning supplies that I had and found a purple glove.  It fit more snugly, which was GREAT.  I used the same method as above, but switched out to my favorite paint tray (clean one), and used the roller landing as my sponge patting tray.  It worked out very nicely!  The tutorial I was following suggested a quart of poly.  I wanted to do at least three coats, but ran out after coating the door/drawer fronts and frames twice.  So in order to coat them once more and to also coat the drawer/door backs three times, I had to buy another quart.  It would have been just a few more dollars to get a whole gallon (and then have it for other projects).

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Materials for Step 10:

Step 11: Reassemble Doors/Drawers & Add Pulls/Knobs

If you are working alone, like I was, you’ll find that you need to use any extra body parts to help you hold the door as you hang it.  Holding a door in place, holding the screw, and operating the power screwdriver is a tricky feat!  I found that I was using my toes, feet, legs, knees, elbows, and forehead to help with this task.  Whatever you need to do to get the job done!

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If you are replacing your hinges, pulls, and knobs, I suggest that you try to replace with the same type and size if at all possible.  I discovered that our cabinets had four different styles of hinges.  Of the 40 hinges that needed replacing, ONLY FOUR matched the new hinges.  This meant that I needed to make new holes.  I did myself a disservice the morning of my cabinet reassembly — I Googled “how to attach new hinges” — it was pretty daunting to read it.  They were talking about pouring glue into the old holes, adding dowel rods or toothpicks or match sticks and then measuring precisely for the new hinge holes.  Ugh!  In the end, after inspecting my new hinges and old hing holes, I decided to use common sense and leave the old holes (they were going to be covered up by the new hinge anyway) and to eyeball where the new holes were going to go.  At this point in time, I considered myself MacGyver’s clever sister.  I’m  happy to say it all turned out.

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Making new screw holes was pretty easy with this handy tool that my husband said I should use.  When you press down, it creates an indent in the wood.  Do this several times, then use the power screwdriver to add the screw.  It worked for the most part, but I realized that 40 hinges with three holes in each hinge was taking a long time.  So in the end, I asked for a drill.  Just be careful to NOT DRILL ALL THE WAY THROUGH THE CABINET.  I only did that once and learned my lesson (wince)!  Below you’ll see that I ordered two different kinds of pulls.

I liked the cup pulls best and I was going to only use those, but some of my cabinet doors had pulls where there should have been knobs and the cup pulls were to large for those when attached vertically.  So I used the cup pulls on the drawers, and the more slender transitional pulls for the doors that had pulls instead of knobs.  I didn’t want to fill holes at this stage in the project so I chose to not change out the pulls for knobs on those doors.  Make sense?  In the end it still looks nice, and I saved time by not filling in holes, sanding, priming, painting, and adding poly to several unneeded holes.

Materials for Step 11:

 Step 11: Reassemble Doors/Drawers & Add Pulls/Knobs

I waited to publish this blog post for a couple of reasons –  we got new {high resolution} laminate counter tops in September as well as a new sink.  I also wanted to see how well the cabinet paint held up to daily wear and tear.  I’m happy to report that we haven’t lost any cabinet doors, knobs or pulls. And, all paint is still in tact.  I’m pleased with the end result and company reaction has been positive.

So, if you’re hesitant to paint, like I was, I say GO FOR IT!  After all it is just paint!

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