Friday I finally shared our Big Kitchen Reveal, and today, by popular demand, I’m going begin to share the steps we took to get our oak white painted cabinets! :)
I can’t express enough how incredibly pleased and proud I am about this project. It was definitely hard work, but every time I walk into the room, I am reminded of what we accomplished. We have our dream kitchen! For much less money, and after only 18 months in our new home! We would have had to save up for years to install a brand new kitchen that looked like this one.
I will be very frank up front- this project was not a quick, or an easy one. We do not recommend it for a first DIY project. But for an experienced DIYer, it may just be the answer to having your dream kitchen within reach (at least, it was for us!). If you choose this route, you are making a major commitment. If you choose to do it all at once, you will probably need to take a week off. If you choose weekends, it will probably take you a couple of months (all of this depends on your pace and the size of your kitchen, of course. I am referencing a leisurely pace and a similarly sized kitchen to ours). I certainly don’t mean to scare you off- if I bought a house tomorrow that had orange oak, I would do it all again! In my opinion, the result definitely validated the work!
I spent many months reading tutorial after tutorial and forum after forum. Eventually, after I tested many products and processes (half a dozen wood/grain fillers, oil based paints, latex based paints, lacquers, even spray paint!) and created a bunch of test swatches, I was happiest with the results of the process I’m about to share with you. I decided to go my own way and I came up with the process in this tutorial. I hope that all of my research will help you as much as it helped me!
Before we dive in– there is one thing I really want to emphasize. I truly feel that filling in the grain is what made this project so successful. I know that step is the hardest- but on our test pieces that didn’t have filler we were left with black grain even after several coats.
We had additions to this project that you may not have to worry about. For example, we had to add trim pieces to the doors to accommodate the new hidden hinges. Our previous shelves were warped fiberboard and were covered in shelf-liner, so we opted to replace them and built high quality cabinet-grade plywood shelves (with a chunky trim piece on the front). We also added crown moulding, and had to do some carpentry to strengthen the sink cabinet to hold our new Farmhouse sink. Some of the cabinets were damaged and sagging, so we had to reinforce them. Once we accomplished all of that, we could finally start on the painting process!
The “process” or prep work is probably 95% of the project. Once you get to the painting, it moves very quickly! But unfortunately, you’re in for a long process before that happy step.
1.Shop Vac 2.Shop Vac Brush Attachment 3.DeWalt Orbital Sander 4.Step Ladder 5.Painter’s Tape 6.TSP Substitute 7.Plastic Sheeting 8.Gorilla Tape 9.80 Grit Sandpaper Discs 10. 80 Grit Angled Sanding Block 11.DryDex 12.3-Inch Putty Knife 13. 1-1/4-Inch Putty Knife 14.220 Grit Sandpaper Discs 15.220 Grit Sanding Block 16.KILZ Original Primer 17.KILZ Spray Primer 18.Mini Roller Kit 19.2-Inch Paintbrush 20.320 Grit Sanding Block 21.Insl-x Cabinet Coat22.Paint Measuring Cups 23.Distilled Water 24.PaintReady Sprayer25.Satin Polyacrylic(optional) 26.Air Compressor (optional) ALSO: Don’t forget your safety equipment! A Paint Project Respirator, Safety Glasses, and Hearing Protection are always a must!
Step 1: Remove Everything from the Room
And I mean everything. Because there will be a lot of dust created! You will want to completely clean out your cabinets, junk drawers, everything- because they will all be coming out. This was a good opportunity for me to employ some tough-love, and get rid of the kitchen utensils and items that have never been used. This process alone can take you quite a while, depending on how disorganized you are (and I was very disorganized!).
Step 2: Remove and Number Doors & Drawers
If you are saving hardware, make sure to place it in baggies or envelopes with corresponding numbers. We were replacing the brass/porcelain hardware, so we skipped this step. But we still made sure to number our doors and drawers, since we have custom-built cabinetry (built in place versus individual pre-built cabinets) each door is slightly different in size. No matter what, it is a good idea to number everything- just in case.
Step 3: Vacuum Cabinet Boxes and Wipe Down with TSP Substitute
You want to make sure that there is no dust or dirt in or on any of the cabinets, because it will impact your eventual finish. Vacuum everything. You can probably use your regular vacuum for this part, if you wish. Then wipe down with TSP substitute. Since we were living in the house while renovating, we wanted to avoid actual TSP. The substitute is a good alternative- but it is still a chemical, so make sure to have proper ventilation while you use it.
Step 4: Remove necessary appliances.
To get an all-over finish, it’s best to remove your appliances and put them out of harms way- out of the room completely. We tried to delay this step as long as possibly to keep our kitchen functional.
Step 5: Seal Off Your kitchen
As mentioned in Step 1- there will be A LOT of dust… and also overspray. You want to seal off every opening to other rooms, and completely cover your floors and walls with plastic. You will also want to protect your countertops. Anything that you don’t want permanent specks of white paint on, cover it up! You will probably end up with a plastic room by the time you are done! Because we have the textured plaster ceiling, we had to attach the plastic sheeting to the ceiling using Gorilla Tape, since the painter’s tape wouldn’t hold.
(It’s difficult to take a photo while sanding!)
Step 6: Sand cabinet faces with 80 grit sandpaper
We attached our orbital sander to our shop vac to try to minimize the dust impact on the room as a whole. We focused on damaged areas (there were many, especially under the old hinges and around the sink). It is okay to leave some dust behind on the cabinet faces, it is actually helpful in the next step.
(You should protect your counters during this step… I was bad!)
Step 7: Fill in grain, damaged areas, and old holes on the outside of cabinet boxes with Drydex and putty knife
We tried several products, including many wood and grain fillers, but we got the best results with the Drydex mixed with a little of the dust the remained on the cabinets from the first sanding. Please know that this isn’t a magic product- you will still see an extremely subtle grain at certain angles on the finished product- just enough to know it’s wood under there. We weren’t aiming for a glasslike finish- we just had experienced painting oak before and knew that the grain detail sometimes remains black because the paint can’t make it into the tiny cracks. We definitely wanted to avoid grain showing through completely, and this solved our problem!
You only need a thin layer of Drydex, just enough to cover the grain. If you apply too much, you will just create more sanding for yourself in the next step (speaking from experience!). Areas where there was damage or screw holes (like in our case, where the exposed hinges used to be) may require a light second coat of drydex. Allow for the recommended drying time in between sanding and coats, or else it will pill up and become ineffective.
Step 8: Sand with 220 grit sandpaper
Use your orbital sander attached to your shop vac. This time you don’t want to leave any dust behind whatsoever- go around with a tack cloth and wipe everything down. (Important! Do not use a damp cloth- it will remove the Drydex from the grain!)
Step 9: Prime
You’re getting there! This is much less of a job if you are only doing your cabinet faces and ends. We opted to paint the inside of the cabinets as well (there were a lot of stains and damage) so I used a mini roller and a brush and Kilz Original Primer to get the job done. It is important to use an oil based primer because of the tannin in the oak. This is an orange-y brown oil that will bleed through if you use a water-based primer. We were told that the Cabinet Coat included primer- and it does, which works out great on maple or pine- but on our oak test swatch we ended up with swirls of tannin without the primer.
Step 10: Sand with 320 grit sandpaper
Do you love sanding yet? By this point sanding is your best friend (HA!). Sand it all down lightly by hand, because the orbital sander will remove too much of the primer. I recommend a sanding block. Trust me, throughout this project, I tested all options. The sanding block is much easier to hold than regular sandpaper. Then vacuum up all of the dust with a brush shop-vac attachment, and run the tack cloth over it again for good measure.
Step 11: Prime again
We learned that it is much easier to get the desired coverage when you create a mostly solid white canvas for the final coat of paint. Really, primer is your work horse in this project (well, other than you, that is!). Repeat the steps above until you feel satisfied that the cabinets are white.
Step 12: Prep Doors & Drawers
Find a large flat area and repeat Steps 6-11 on your doors and drawer faces. The sanding blocks I recommended are also for this step, since an orbital sander won’t get into the door detail. While using your Drydex, I recommend using a smaller putty knife to get into the detail, if your door or drawer has routed areas. This is the step where the two optional items on the Materials List come into play- the air compressor and the Kilz Spray Primer. After sanding in between coats it is faster to spray the details with the air compressor to remove dust (rather than using a tack cloth). If you already happen to own one, it’s convenient- but it isn’t necessary to go out and buy one for this project.
Additionally, if you have a space for spraying primer and proper ventilation, it is much quicker to use the cans of spray primer on your doors and drawers. We happened to have access to a professional spray booth, so we brought the drawers and doors there and sprayed the primer on. It definitely got in the details better than a brush. It was so much faster- but more costly as we went through at least a dozen cans of spray. As with any project make sure you are wearing a safety mask when spraying with aerosol!
Step 13: Prep your Paint & Paint Sprayer
About The Paint:
This was a very important part of the process for me. As I mentioned above, a lot of research went into my decision to use a paint sprayer and Insl-X Cabinet Coat Enamel (p.s. they did not sponsor this post in any way- they have no idea I exist!). For color, I chose not to tint it, but since it’s a Benjamin Moore Product, they will tint it if you wish! In it’s natural state, it has an ever-so-slight bluish tinge (but much much less than the graphic on the can- that is actually an example of the paint when tinted blue!), which I actually really liked. But keep this in mind if you are hoping for a warmer color- you may have to go one shade warmer to counteract the blue. It’s best to talk to your local paint store expert and see what they recommend.
It is a acrylic water based enamel. It was already pretty thin, but through trail and error we determined that the best results were achieved with our paint sprayer when we diluted it 8% with Distilled Water. We are being very specific about the Distilled Water- we tried it with tap water and the minerals in our water reacted negatively to make the paint discolor and run. To achieve the 8%, that is where your measuring cup (and probably a calculator) will come in handy! Make sure to mix it well.
My favorite aspect of this paint- and the reason why I recommend it so highly- is that it has really great self-levelling properties. It has provided the closest thing I’ve seen to a cabinet factory finish without being the real thing. It also has not chipped so far. in the couple of months since the cabinets have been painted, so that is promising as well! You can read details from the manufacturer here.
The Paint Sprayer:
We used the Wagner PaintReady Sprayer for this project (also not a sponsor- this is just a personal recommendation). We were very happy with the results. We chose it in part because of it’s relatively good feedback during our research. Another bonus was that we could pick it up at our local Lowes immediately, and it was fairly inexpensive compared to other options. One concern we had while testing it out was it’s tendency to create an “orange peel” texture. But with the correct dilution of the cabinet coat, some adjustment of the paint sprayer, and the self-levelling properties of the cabinet coat, we were able to eventually figure out the best way to achieve a smooth finish. Another important tip is to make sure the turbine is up to speed (trigger position 1) before releasing the paint (trigger position 2). That probably makes no sense- so we recommend reading the instructions thoroughly and testing out the sprayer/paint combo on an upright practice board before you begin! You can find more information about this paint sprayer here.
Step 14. Painting Cabinet Boxes with Sprayer
Important Tip: Paint small areas and tough angles first! An example of a tough area is the back of the face frame inside of the cabinet. It’s always easier to fill in a large flat area than to risk overcoating tough to reach spots. Remember- if you overcoat that means you have to sand again :) Those awkward angles also become even more difficult to paint if you’re avoiding already wet surfaces. Move the sprayer continuously with smooth, long strokes. The nozzle of the sprayer can be rotated for horizontal or vertical strokes, depending on the direction of the surface you’re painting. This video from the manufacturer gives a demonstration of the proper technique. We did two coats on the cabinet boxes, with plenty of drying time between.
Step 15. Setting Up Doors and Drawers and Spraying
The doors must be set up in an upright position for spraying. We created a “spray booth” of sorts in our basement by putting a drop cloth over our bench and putting a piece of scrap drywall behind it. We started with the backs and sprayed with the technique described above. After allowing for drying time, we sprayed a second coat. We then flipped the doors and repeated the process with two coats. We then repeated the process on the drawers, opting to paint both the outside and interior. Your cabinet doors and drawers may end up requiring more than two coats- but we feel that two is the minimum. After all of our priming, two coats were more than enough for us! After everything was dry, we rehung our doors and replaced our drawers. It was the moment of truth- I could have cried with happiness (but I’m a little dramatic)!
Step 16. Finish Work
I am the resident finish worker/perfectionist, so this was all my domain.
After the paint dries, I don’t really recommend sanding. I tried on a test piece, and it really dulled the paint and made it appear unfinished. If you really feel that you must, go with the highest grit possible.
As for a top/clear protective coat- I leave the choice up to you. I’m still in the decision making process. I have done some test pieces and applied regular poly to one and polyacrylic to another, and I am waiting to see how they age. If they yellow, it will be a no go. So far the cabinets are holding up perfectly, so I’m not being rushed into a decision. I did, however, apply polyacrylic to the flat surfaces inside the cabinets- I don’t really care about yellowing in there- it’s more important to me to protect the shelves.
Even with the most well-thought-out project, you will have errors and cracks. At the very end of the project, just a few days ago, I went around with caulk and applied a nice bead to all joints and edges and any places that I felt needed it. It pays to be meticulous! I really feel that this level of perfectionism is what ultimately gave the project a truly professional look.
To see more photos, visit our Kitchen Reveal Post!
Update/Warning: a little bottle of lemon essential oil was left on the shelf above the command center. It sweated or leaked and ate through all of the finish, including the primer, and turned it into a gummy mess. What I took away from that- don’t use citrus cleaners on this finish! I recommend just wiping down with a slightly damp cloth as needed.
So that is it! I’m sure there will be things I missed, and questions, so fire away! I will update this post periodically, check the comments, and I will also link to related tutorials for the rest of the kitchen project. I believe the materials list at the top is complete, as well as the links throughout.
Make sure to check the comments of this post- as there may be great tips and tricks recommended!
Phew! Now that this is all over I’m going to sit down and enjoy it with a big ol’ cup of coffee. :) I’d love to see your posts if you use this technique to do your kitchen, so feel free to link up in the comments!
Disclaimers: This is not a sponsored post- we were not paid by any of the companies/brands in this post to use their products. However, some of the links above are Amazon affiliate links, meaning we get a small percentage if you choose to purchase the items through Amazon. This helps keep the blog running and the projects coming- for which we are ever-so-grateful!! :) We chose and recommended the products we felt were best through research and trial-and-error. This was the best process for us, but that does not mean we can guarantee you will be achieve the very same results, or that you will be happy with your results. We did many test and practice runs before we attempted the main project. We are experienced at painting, although we have never done this particular project. We do not consider it a beginner’s project. If you are just starting out at DIY, we recommend that you speak to an experienced professional about painting your cabinets. As with all projects, we recommend that you always use proper safety equipment and proper ventilation for paint projects. You can read more about our policies here.