So it’s the beginning of week 2 of this kitchen cabinet repainting adventure (I’m helping my mom repaint her oak kitchen cabinets). We’re trying to stay positive, but we’re also exhausted and this project is stretching way beyond our planned timeline…which in retrospect, may have been a little ambitious.
Yesterday I gave some general background on the project, but I also want to detail exactly what we did to these cabinets…all 39 cabinets fronts, 16 drawers, and the bases to accommodate those 55 pieces.
Before we started anything, my mom called a professional painter friend of hers to ask his opinion on the process, what products and paint to use, etc. He gave us lots of great advice and generally steered us to Sherwin Williams. Almost all the products we used were recommended by him actually.
STEP 1: Clean cabinets with a heavy duty cleaner.
- TSP Heavy Duty cleaner (he recommended Extra Muscle, but we couldn’t find it)
- 3M Heavy Duty scouring pads
- Clean rags (we used cut up t-shirts)
- Chemical resistant gloves
The first step was to give the doors a good cleaning. These cabinets are original to the house (built in the late 80s) so they were pretty grimy. Theoretically sanding would clean them up, too, but we didn’t want to dirty our sanding sponges more than necessary with loose dirt. We used TSP (a heavy duty cleaner…just mix with hot water) and 3M heavy duty scouring pads to scrub each cabinet door and drawer, then dried it with a clean rag. The TSP is toxic (though luckily has very little odor) so we wore disposable chemical resistant gloves whenever we used it. It was amazing how fast and how well it cleaned! Definitely more powerful than Windex!
But even that step took way longer than we expected. With 55 pieces to handle at between 5 and 10 minutes scrubbing each piece…you get the idea. LOTS of time. And we had to scrub the base cabinets, too.
STEP 2: Sand, sand, and sand some more!
- 80 and 100 grit sanding pads for orbital sander
- 3M medium and fine grit sanding blocks
- 3M extra fine sanding blocks
- 3M flexible sanding pads
Lots of products say they don’t require any sanding, but don’t believe it. There’s no substitute for sanding, and scuff sanding for something that gets used as often and as roughly as kitchen cabinets simply won’t suffice. The better you sand, the better your paint job should hold up.
First, we hand sanded all of the grooves and edges using medium grit sanding sponges and flexible sanding pads. The flexible sanding pads are much thinner and softer than the sponges, so they’re great for tight or curved areas where you would normally use sandpaper. Unlike sandpaper, though, they don’t rip and they don’t crease and then create scratches. We got most of our sanding supplies from Sherwin Williams, so I’m not sure if Lowe’s and Home Depot have the flexible sanding pads or not. (Even at Sherwin Williams, though, they were reasonably priced and so worth it!)
Then we used the orbital sander for the backs and flat parts on the front of the cabinets and on the drawers. We used 100 grit sandpaper on the drawers, the backs, and the flat parts of the trim on the front of the doors, and used 80 on the inset area in the middle of the cabinet front because it was much harder to sand. We even used the orbital sander on the cabinet bases with 100 grit sandpaper. It went so much faster than hand-sanding everything. Just make sure you cover everything because it’s dusty!
After all the cabinet doors, drawers, and bases were sanded, we went back over every surface with a 3M Pro grade extra fine sanding sponge. The smoother they feel, the better the finish!
Here’s the before looking mighty orange…
And after looking like new wood.
Then we used the compressor air sprayer attachment at a high PSI to spray the dust off each door (tack cloth would work, too, but this seemed easier). As I finished spraying the doors, my mom wiped each door with TSP again to remove any remaining dust.
The sanding process took us the better part (and by better part I mean we only took breaks to eat, go to the bathroom, and have an occasional pity party) of two and half days. If each cabinet took 25 minutes (probably close to the average time for each) that would be more than 16 hours, plus the sanding on the drawers and bases.
We had been planning to use a liquid deglosser in addition to sanding until we were educated on what liquid deglosser actually does. It does NOT remove the glossy coating, it simply softens it so that it and whatever paint/primer you apply over it theoretically meld together. The open time for this is usually under an hour, meaning the finish will harden up again after that. You have to prime within 30 minutes to an hour of applying the liquid deglosser (whatever it says on the container), or you’ve really just wasted money on a much too expensive heavy duty cleaner. We thought this sounded inconvenient as it’s a very specific time window…can’t do it too soon but can’t wait too longer, either.
STEP 3: Fill all holes, gaps, and dings.
- #950 siliconized acrylic caulk from Sherwin Williams (water clean-up & fast drying!)
- Light-weight spackle from Sherwin Williams
- JB Weld Quick Setting Wood Epoxy
We originally were going to use Elmer’s Pro Bond Wood filler, but my mom’s painter friend recommended spackle instead. It’s less likely to shrink and crack, and now after having used it I think it’s much easier to work with (unless, of course, you’re staining something!). It smooths out really nicely and doesn’t leave grainy bumps like the wood filler. We used the spackle to fill the holes in the drawers, nail holes in base cabinets, and anything else that looked like it might show. Remember, painted wood will show every nick and crack so much more than stained wood. The grain serves as a huge distraction that you won’t have once painted.
After filling holes, we caulked all 4 corners on every cabinet door. We also caulked along all of the trim pieces on the base cabinets. This makes them look more like one piece and eliminates any weird gaps that paint just won’t fill. It doesn’t take a ton of time, it’s fairly easy work, and it makes a huge difference in making the cabinets look finished and polished!
To caulk, I cut a very small hole in the tip, run the caulk along the crack and then smooth it with my finger. I then use a damp rag to wipe up any extra and possibly smooth again with my finger if necessary. Especially when you’re just caulking for cosmetic purposes (as opposed to protect from water) there’s no need for any extra caulk in the gaps.
Finally, we used JB Weld from Home Depot to fill the few hinge holes that we would need to redrill. There were 3 cabinets (yes, luckily only 3 out of 39) that were hanging crookedly. We want to redrill the holes so the cabinets will be straight, but we’ll have to drill back through part of the old hole. This meant we had to use something that would be completely solid, so no caulk, wood filler, or spackle. The wood epoxy comes in 2 different tubes that you mix together right before using. It then sets up within a few minutes so you have to work fast and only mix what you need. It’s hard to sand, so we only used it where absolutely necessary.
STEP 4: Prime everything!
- Speed Hide 6-14 Alkyd Primer by Pittsburgh Paints
- Mineral spirits for clean up
- Natural bristle paint brush and foam rollers if applying by hand (if you’re not doing anything else with oil, it’s nice to just throw these away!)
- Respirator if spraying or not working in a really well-ventilated area
We used an alkyd (oil-based) primer called Speed Hide from Pittsburgh Paints (also a recommendation from my mom’s pro painter friend). We decided to go with an oil-based primer first because we didn’t want to have to recoat if there was any tannin bleed with a latex primer (if bleed-through occurs it needs to be recoated until there is no tannin bleed or it could discolor the paint, too.) We had too many pieces to have prime twice! Also, there is no debate that oil-based primers and paints are just more durable. That doesn’t mean they’re always better (depending on the use) or worth the work and latex products have gotten better over time, but they still just don’t have the durability of oil.
We did the base cabinets with rollers and brushes, but decided to spray the primer on the drawers and cabinets as sometimes primers can have a short open time (dry really fast) making it hard to work the primer and get a smooth finish. Since we sprayed it, though, I had to wear a respirator. This oil primer didn’t actually create as much overspray as others I’ve used, but the prolonged exposure to the fumes still makes it a good idea. You can pick one up for pretty cheap at a hardware store. Even if you’re not spraying, it can be a good idea for painting the bases of the cabinets inside. At the very least, open windows and take several breaks!
Our painting friend also recommended standing the cabinets up on their ends using small blocks of wood and skinny nails so that we could coat the front and backs without having to lay it on either side for a prolonged period of time. We still laid them flat to spray them and paint them, though, as this helps prevent drips and allows for better self-leveling of the paint.
A friend of my parents had old 2x4s under his deck and kindly cut them into pieces for us. Then we hammered one skinny 2.5″ nail through each and nailed them into the sides of the cabinets. In general, we tried to put each nail under where the hinges would go. If that wasn’t possible, we put it on the top of a top cabinet or the bottom side of a bottom. Once we’re finished with the main coats, we’ll take the nails out, fill the holes, and touch up quickly with one swipe of a roller.
This really saves us time, though, and prevents the finish from getting messed up by laying it on a recently painted surface. Even if you have ample drying time between doing each side, one side could get messed up from laying on a speck of dirt for too long or accidentally sliding when you’re trying to handle it. This way we only have to lay them down as they’re being painted and for a few minutes afterwards. Then we place them upright to finish drying and to free up as much space as possible in the garage.
Once we got all the wooden blocks on the cabinets, we used a sharpie to write the cabinet’s number on the block that coordinated with the stickers in the base cabinets (since we couldn’t leave the masking tape sticker on it during painting).
STEP 5: Sand the primer coat.
- 3M Extra fine sanding blocks
All in all, I think those steps took us about 5 days. We severely underestimated how long it would take, but we’re already glad we didn’t get lazy with the prep work!
So now we’re completely done with all cleaning, prepping, and priming, and we’ve got a coat of light grey on all the uppers and cabinet doors. Now we have to do a second coat on all of that and two coats of dark grey on the bottom bases, doors, and drawers, plus curing time and reinstalling. It’s a lot left to do, but we’re enjoying the painting much more than the prep work!!
Check out the painting stage of the project here.