Do It Yourself: Painting Your Kitchen Cabinets

Painting your kitchen cabinets is a big, time-conusming job that can be made much easier by knowing a few professional techniques as described here.

If your kitchen cabinets are starting to show signs of wear and need repainting, or if you have older cabinets that were finished with a dark stain and want to upgrade to a more modern look, be prepared for a time-consuming job. Cabinets are not as easy to paint as walls and ceilings. There are numerous doors, drawers and shelves to contend with, and tight interior spaces that will be difficult to work in.

The first step in properly painting kitchen cabinets is to clean out all the contents and carefully wipe down all surfaces with a clean, damp cloth to remove dust and spilled food stuffs or oils. To really do a professional job, it is necessary to remove all the cabinet doors and their hinges and knobs or handles, and to take out all the drawers and likewise remove drawer pulls. If you have a spare room or garage where you can set all the doors up on workbenches, milk crates or empty boxes, the job of painting them will be much easier.

Stained cabinets finished with a top coat of clear varnish or polyurethane may require additional prep work before you can begin painting them. These types of finishes are often polished like furniture and may have a build-up of wax or oil on the surface that will interfere with the binding of the paint you intend to apply. To get rid of this wax or oil, use rags soaked in denatured alcohol to thoroughly wipe all surfaces, then sand the finish lightly with 220-grit sandpaper to rough it up a bit and give it some "tooth" for the paint to adhere to. After sanding, wipe down all the surfaces again with denature alcohol to remove the dust and oil or wax residue, then when the alcohol has evaporated, you are ready to begin painting.

Although there are many improved water-based paints available on the market today, high-quality oil-based enamel is still the paint of choice for kitchen cabinets. Cabinets take a lot of abuse from heavy pots and pans and canned goods stored inside to spills and splattered cooking grease on the outside. As with most paint jobs, the cost of materials for the best paint is a fraction of what the labor would cost if you hired a pro, and if you value your own time, treat yourself to good paint and thereby avoid having to repeat this whole process in just a few short years.

With all the doors and removable drawers out of the way, you can paint your cabinets much faster and with a smoother finish if you use a 3 or 6-inch wide mini foam roller, available at home improvement or paint stores. These mini rollers can get into surprisingly confined spaces and eliminate a lot of tedious brush work. They also allow you to lay on a much smoother coat than is possible with a brush, and with practice, you'll be able to paint large flat areas like the cabinet doors so smoothly that the finish will look sprayed on. Of course, you will still have to cut in the interior corners and edges of the outside where the cabinets meet walls and countertops with a brush, but this will be greatly reduced by using the foam rollers. The brushwork should be done with a good quality natural-bristle 2-inch brush with the bristles cut at an angle for precision trim work.

If you are painting previously unfinished wood or cabinets that have been stained and finished naturally, expect to apply no less than 4 coats of paint to get a professional finish. This is especially true if you are painting the cabinets white, which has been much in style in recent years. You may think they look fine after just 3 coats, but just wait until you see how that fourth coat brings out the color. If you omit this coat, sooner or later you will start to see the original wood or old color showing through your paint job. The cabinet and drawer interiors, of course, are not as visible, so you may elect to skimp on the number of coats there, but make sure the outside is done right and you'll have kitchen cabinets you can be proud of. All that remains is to re-install the hardware and hang the doors, and you're done.

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