You can save THOUSANDS of dollars by painting your kitchen cabinets yourself, but you want to make sure you do it the RIGHT way. This is not the kind of project you want to cut corners on.
I painted the kitchen cabinets in our first home using Java Gel Stain. At that time I chose to do stain instead of white paint because from everything I had read it was a lot easier to mess up with white paint than it was with the stain, and I wasn’t sure if I could cover the wood grain with white paint. By the time I decided to paint the cabinets in our second home, I had so much more experience with paint and I really wanted to try it. Here’s what we started with:
The same basic oak cabinets that are in almost every house I’ve lived in. The awesome thing about this kitchen was that there were already handles on the cabinets, so we didn’t have to drill holes for the handles.
I didn’t have a blog yet when I took these pictures, so these are all pictures with a regular camera that I was taking for myself to document the project I’d done and they’re not the greatest. We don’t live in this home anymore, so I can’t take better ones. Hopefully you can still see the color and quality of the paint well enough to decide if this is what you’re looking for. Any yellow you see in the pictures is the bad lighting and photography. This color is the perfect white…not yellow, but not too stark white either.
I used the General Finishes Java Gel Stain on the island. For the white, I ended up finding some amazing tutorials and the BEST CUPBOARD PAINT EVER and it turned out great!
The light, bright AFTER pictures:)
I really ended up loving how the dark island anchored the room.
To make it REALLY EASY while you’re painting, I created a 1-page quick reference paint guide! Click the graphic below to opt in and get a FREE Cabinet Painting Cheat Sheet sent right to your inbox!
I did this project a couple years ago and didn’t take pictures of what I did, but my sister Colette recently painted her cabinets using the same paint that I did…PAINT CHOICE WILL MAKE OR BREAK THIS PROJECT…and she actually took pictures of the process! So for the step-by-step I’m going to use her pictures and tips and include notes on anything that I did differently so you can get two how-to perspectives.
Here’s her before picture:
She had already painted the walls and her kitchen table and the only thing left to do was tackle the cabinets. It’s a HUGE job, but seriously the most “worth it” project I’ve ever done. Don’t let the time it takes deter you — painting or staining kitchen and bathroom cabinets makes an incredible difference!
Screwdriver (for handles and hinges)
Cleaner or Deglosser
Sander and sandpaper
2″ Painter’s Tape
Wooster Short Brush (I wouldn’t use any other brush for cabinets! I love this one!!)
5″ Foam roller and small tray
Benjamin Moore Advance Paint in White Dove
STEP 1: EMPTY CUPBOARDS AND DRAWERS & REMOVE DOORS
She did hers all at once (more mess, less time). I split it up into top half and bottom half (less mess, more time). Either way is good, just depends on what works for your home and schedule.
First draw a “map” of your kitchen and number each cupboard and drawer. As you take off each door, write it’s number in the circular area that the hinge goes in and put tape over it so you don’t accidentally paint over it. For drawers, I unscrewed the door front and wrote the number right in the middle of the back of the drawer (you don’t need to paint there because it ends up being covered when you put it back on).
If you don’t label…future you = big regrets.
Colette did it right and took the hardware off, put it in a baggy and labelled which door it went with. I always leave the hardware on the frames of the cabinet because I’ve had some bad experiences with trying to hang cupboards back on…I can only seem to hang it back on straight if I remove the door from the hardware, but keep the hardware on the frame. (So just tape over all the hinges if you do it this way).
Step 2: CLEAN AND SAND
Wipe down all cabinet doors, drawer fronts and the frame. You can use TSP or Krud Kutter, a TSP substitute, or a liquid deglosser. After this dries, you can sand.
Sand everything really well. Look at the cabinets from different angles to make sure you didn’t leave any glossy-looking parts. Yes, you can even sand the sides of the cupboards where they’ve got that “fake wood.”
If you’re going to take on a big project like a kitchen or bathrooms or plan on flipping furniture, a high-quality sander is totally worth it. I’ve had mine for over 10 years and it’s still working. Here it is if you want to check out the details…
Vacuum everything thoroughly and wipe down with a cheese cloth or damp rag. Dust will keep the primer from bonding properly, so be thorough!
STEP 3: FILL HOLES AND CRACKS
Follow the instructions given on whatever wood filler you use. Use caulking for any gaps (Colette used DAP 100% Waterproof Window, Door & Trim Sealant). Here are some pictures to show you why you should use caulking…
It might be tempting to hope that the paint will fill in the gap enough, but it just never does.
STEP 4: TAPE & PREP
I’m much lazier than my sister with projects (now that I think about it, probably with everything…she’s a machine). I just taped all the walls that were adjacent to cabinets, the shelves near anywhere I was painting and the floor adjacent to toe kicks. Then I used a towel on the floor wherever I was painting.
Colette covered EVERYTHING! She said some of the paint still got on her oven. Guess what? I got some paint on mine too. I guess the moral is be extra protective with the oven. And if you don’t? Black Sharpie:)
One of the best things I did for this project was to make a few dozen of these. They’re a pain to make and you might start wondering if it’s worth it, but it totally is.
I used four of these for each door and drawer front, placing them a few inches from each corner. This allowed me to paint the back first, then flip and paint the front all in one session. This is what I did every painting/staining session:
- Prime or paint the backs of all the doors and drawers
- Prime or paint the frame of the cabinets
- By this time, the 1st door I painted was ready to flip, so I flipped the 1st door and painted the front, then flipped and painted the 2nd, and so on.
Sometimes I’d get a little pinpoint or scratch on the back, but it was so small that it was a quick and easy touchup.
This is the BIGGEST TIME SAVER. Especially because the paint’s dry time is so long…16 hours! (Painter’s pyramids didn’t work for me…they rolled out from under the cupboards. Also, this way is much less expensive). I loved being able to do the back, front and frame all at once for each step.
This pic is from my other house, when I used the Java Gel Stain. I set up a bunch of the doors on tables in my garage, then put the ones that didn’t fit on the tables on a tarp on the floor. If you have to do this, let me apologize ahead of time to your back and knees.
STEP 5: THE FUN PART!
Now you FINALLY get to start making a visible difference! Begin with 2 coats of primer. No, you can’t skip this step, sorry. Make sure that the primer you get is stain-blocking and bonding.
Whenever you prime, paint or stain, make sure you do it in a well-ventilated area!
The best method is to apply with a paint brush, then roll it flat with a roller. The most AMAZING paint brush ever is the short Wooster brush. The short handle and angled brush make it easy to paint so quickly! Aside from getting the right paint and primer, this is the most important thing you can buy for this project.
To roll it out, use a 5″ foam roller for doors and cabinets. By far most helpful thing I found to show the painting technique was a video John and Sherry from Young House Love made, showing Sherry priming a cabinet door. You can watch the video here. This is really what gave me the confidence to tackle this project, so I highly recommend watching it!
Now every time you leave your kitchen and come back again you’ll have a big smile on your face when you see your beautiful, bright cabinets:)
***Put your brush and roller in a plastic bag in the fridge so they don’t dry out between coats.***
If you’re going to use a sprayer instead of brushing, make sure you get a really good one. I bought a basic sprayer once and every time the paint ran out it would splatter on my cupboard and ruin it. The pain of refilling it, cleaning it, and getting splatters wasn’t worth it to me so I ended up painting. If I ever try a sprayer again, I’d like to get one that has a hose connected to a large amount of paint (I’m assuming this exists) to avoid this. If anyone has advice on sprayers, please leave it in a comment so we can all learn!
STEP 6: THE FUNNEST PART
2 coats of paint. This part is HUGE. You cannot skimp on paint quality. The most amazing paint is Benjamin Moore’s Advance paint. It’s about $50 a can, but I only used one can and I had a lot of cupboards to paint.
I read and watched SOOOOO many articles and videos on how to paint your kitchen cabinets and a few of them recommended this paint because you DON’T HAVE TO PUT A PROTECTIVE COAT over it! It dries hard as a rock. Anything that lets me skip applying any type of poly is the best.
Follow instructions on the Ben Moore Advance can for dry times.
Because she has 3 little kids, she finished the frame first, then put everything back in her cupboards (so she had a functioning kitchen and no clutter all over the place) and worked on the doors little by little when she had the time.
And here they are all finished!
Look how much brighter the room is! And this picture was taken at night. So pretty:)
The “after” is so so worth the time and effort. Have you tried painting or staining cabinets? Share any helpful tips, successes or failures along with any pictures in the comments below.
Want to save this project for later?
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