How We Painted Our Oak Cabinets… and Minimized the Grain

How We Painted Our Oak Kitchen Cabinets & Minimized the Grain | Get the FREE ebook!

Update 6/18/15: I am rewriting this tutorial to organize the vast amount of information a little bit better and add things I missed before. Since it is so long, it’s on multiple pages now (there are links at the bottom of each page). You can also sign up for my DIY Newsletter and receive my FREE EBOOK on this subject. I share a more in-depth look at our reasoning behind the products and processes we used, as well as a cost breakdown of the painting project, and free printable checklists. 

How We Painted Our Oak Kitchen Cabinets & Minimized the Grain | Download the free ebook!

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When I wrote this post over a year ago, I knew from my own research that there weren’t a lot of comprehensive resources on the topic of painting oak kitchen cabinets. So I set out to create one! It wasn’t complete, and frankly I feel like it’s too much information for one single blog post. This post now provides a summary for the project, as a companion to the Free Ebook. I’ve divided it up into a few pages to make it a bit more digestible. If you are looking for reasoning, as well as an in-depth explanation at what did and didn’t work, make sure you check out the ebook. The following post will provide you will all of the materials for quick reference, as well as a summary of the steps.

KitchenBeforeAfter1 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!

If you have any question at all about this project, chances are that it is answered either in the comments of this post, in the ebook, or in my follow-up Kitchen Cabinets FAQs post. If it’s located in one of those places, you will probably find it quicker than I can get back to you! If not, feel free to comment or send me an email, and I will do my best to help you out as I am able! 

Disclosure: We received the HomeRight Finish Max Pro mentioned herein for free. However, we were not paid by any of the other companies/brands in this post to use their products. Some of the links included 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.

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  1. elaine simmons says

    What an excellent tutorial! Were your cabinets oak? Mine are maple so maybe I wouldn’t have to worry so much about the grain?

    • Nina says

      Thank you so much Elaine! Yes, my cabinets are oak. Maple is a very smooth wood and is generally what “designer” white cabinets are made from (Kraftmaid, etc.). Lucky you, you would get to skip the grain filler if you decided to do this process! :) If I had maple, I would still make sure to de-gloss, sand, and prime before spraying the cabinet coat.

      • T.Spare says

        Thanks so much for all your info. Do you know f the Cabinet Coat yellows over time? I was told that BM Advance could. Deciding between the two. Also, how long was the curing time? Some say BM takes a few months. EEk!

        • Nina says

          I have used both products. I prefer the Cabinet Coat for anything that you will be using as a surface (like a shelf), but the BM Advance does work very well for wall treatments and doors. In my particular experience, we didn’t experience yellowing with either product. The Cabinet Coat is especially bright white still! The curing time for the Cabinet Coat was fairly quick, it was only about a week. I would agree about BM Advance, it takes a long time to cure. I grew impatient and put things back on my office built-ins about a week after they were painted with BM Advance and things stuck and chipped the paint.

  2. says

    I am hoping to paint my oak cabinets this summer and this was a great tutorial to get me started. We have a great paint sprayer already, but knowing what paints and primers to use are great. All that prep work is what has kept me from digging into the job sooner. Thanks for sharing such an in-depth tutorial!

  3. Lyndsay says

    I’m just wondering if you happened to try out the Benjamin Moore Advance paint that lots of people recommend to paint wood cabinets? They said it has a hard finish and is very self levelling? I have oak cabinets just like these and want to paint them soooo badly but everyone keeps saying I’ll hate the finished product because I’ll see the grain, but I love white and hate my dark oak cabinets! So this summer I hope to find myself painting cupboards! Thanks for all the tips! Your kitchen is awesome!

    • Nina says

      Hi Lyndsay! I painted my office cabinets and built-ins with Benjamin Moore Advance. It’s true that it has a very hard finish, and it was self-levelling. Unfortunately, a year later it’s chipping. So I crossed it off my list of possibilities! But that is what I paint my trim with in the rest of my house, and I am very happy with it for trim!

  4. says

    Wow – your kitchen is seriously STUNNING and what an amazing detailed tutorial! We are going to be painting our cabinets this year (though the doors aren’t oak so we won’t need to minimize the grain) – but your tips on the paint and sprayer are super helpful. Pinning this post- a couple of times!!

  5. says

    Wow–first of all, you have a LOT of cabinets! I have maybe half of what you do and while I want to paint my cabinets, I am totally procrastinating, so you are my hero! These look beautiful. This tutorial was so thoroughly written–I especially appreciate the part on covering up the wood grain, because that is a worry of mine–thanks for sharing your experience!

    • says

      I would love to know about the hidden hinges as well. I just scheduled a painter to do our kitchen (after doing 2 bathrooms I have no desire to tackle the kitchen!) and I am researching hinges. I have been looking into Blum hinges, but am curious about yours. Thanks!!!

      • Nina says

        Hi Theresa! Changing the hinges was a bit of a process. Our cabinets were partially inset with a 1/4″ lip. We had to first add a thin filler strip so that they would sit flush. Then we had to figure out the correct angle for our overlay before we ordered the hinges. We worked with Blum ( and they had excellent customer service to help us figure out the particular angles and corresponding parts we would need! Our particular parts probably won’t be of use to you- there are thousands of combinations- but they will help you find the right ones based on your specific measurements. We ended up eventually ordering the Blum hinges from Amazon, as it was the best price. I’ve attached a photo link of the filler strip and recessed space that the hinge went in. As I said, it was a bit of work- but I think it really helped give the room a more professional look. I hope that helps!

  6. says

    ha. we are almost at the end of our kitchen cabinet project and couldn’t agree with you more on your points and suggestions. we too sprayed everything and wouldn’t recommend any other way to get that smooth consistent finish. your kitchen looks beatutiful. congrats on a job well done and that I know took lots of time and effort.

      • Patty says

        Nina, I wish to use this tutorial to paint unfinished oak media cabinets/bookcases. Since I am starting with smooth, unfinished oak, do I need to do anything different, or start with the Dryex and follow the steps as shown?

        • Nina says

          Hi Patty! I would still follow the tutorial, including the Drydex. But- Lucky You- you will probably have much less sanding to do before the first step! :)

  7. Pamela Smith says

    Nina, you may be one of the few who can answer this question: We also want to paint our oak kitchen cabinets which are similar to yours, but rather than a rectangular shaped inlay, they are that awful cathedral style inlay. I would rather have a plain flat panel than to see that awful arch (especially on the more narrow cabinets). In all your research, what product could I use to completely fill those deep crevices made by the arch shape?

    • Nina says

      Hi! We’re actually going to leave just the Cabinet Coat, for the time being. It’s holding up very well, and is extremely easy to clean!

  8. Jill says

    Thanks for the detailed tutorial! We are getting started in two days on the kitchen in the home we just bought (it has the ugly grainy oak too). We have two weeks to do it – hoping that is enough time!! I am printing out your post to help guide me!

  9. Jill says

    Hi again. How long did you wait to hang the cabinets and put on your hardware. I have read in some places to wait as long as two weeks!! I was thinking letting it dry for 24 hours….Thanks!! We are starting NOW! =)

    • Nina says

      I’m so sorry I missed this- I want to make sure the answer is here for future reference- the Cabinet Coat takes about a week to cure! I hope you love your kitchen, Jill!

  10. Sharon Wilkins says

    Your kitchen is beautiful. Great job! I’m sitting in my garage now following your instructions. The cabinets have been sanded and I’m reviewing the Wagner sprayer instructions. I know I can do this. Wish me luck!

  11. says

    Did you ever decide on a sealant? We just finished my craft room and are looking to move to the kitchen next. We used Polycrylic on my desk top, but it has a tacky feeling to it, and I’ve already pulled up the paint in several places because my machinery will stick to the desk. It’s been a few months since we’ve applied the Polycrylic. If you used it on your kitchen cabinets, have you had this issue?

    • Nina says

      Hi Jessica! I actually decided to leave the Cabinet Coat as is- no poly or any other kind of sealant. 6 months later there is no chipping whatsoever, even where the drawers and cabinet doors bump the cabinets. And that’s with two young kids slamming things shut all of the time :) I have been so impressed with the Cabinet Coat!

  12. amy says

    Did I miss how long this took? That is vital information to be used to convince my husband! From the day you actually started taking things apart to rehanging the cabinets, how long did this take? THANKS!

    • Nina says

      Hi Amy! It really depends on the size of your kitchen and the pace you choose to work. We did it in phases, during weekends, and took some breaks when it got overwhelming. It took us 4 months. If you wanted to get it done all at once, it could be done in a week straight (assuming the kitchen is the same size as ours!). I know that sounds like a ton of time- but I would personally do it again in a heartbeat!

      • amy says

        I think ours is about the same size and layout as yours. I just love how yours turned out! I am thinking about tackling just the kitchen island first because I think that would be cute white either way. Then I can get a little taste for how it will go and make my mistakes on the parts that don’t show.:-) Thanks for the detailed tutorial!! That really helps me see how it will REALLY go. I am in favor of kicking my family out for a week and going for it! Ha!

    • Nina says

      Hi Mary, it is 12′ wide! Technically we left less open space around the island than a kitchen designer would recommend- but we can still move easily and open cabinets and appliances without issue- so we are happy with it :)

  13. says

    I just stumbled upon this post and I think you did a fabulous job with your cabinets. I’m in the process of renovating my kitchen and am planning to paint my oak cabinets to white color. One of my challenges will be to hide the cabinet hinges. What did you do to hide those hinges? Please do share! Thank you so much!!!

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  14. colleen nash says

    Hi Nina! I noticed when you put the new backsplash in you removed the granite edge piece that went up the wall (I am not sure what it is called) when u removed it was the granite underneath ruined at all? I would like to remove mine as well so the backsplash goes all the way Down to the counter top like yours does now. Thanks!

    • Nina says

      Hi Colleen! I apologize for being so late to answer, I took a step back from the blog when my daughter was born last winter. This is a really great question! Our countertop was not damaged by removing the matching strip of backsplash, but there was silicone adhesive left behind that we carefully scraped off. Also, a word of caution- in our bathroom the backsplash strip was used to hide a very uneven gap between the countertop and wall. If you discovered something like that, I would recommend installing a thin piece of white trim around the perimeter to cover the gap before you begin your tile.

  15. Trent Garner says

    I love this posting. Thank you for sharing the journey. We are embarking on a similar cabinet painting project and I am wondering what other fillers you tried to fill the grain. I am not so sure about using Dry Dex as I have not had much luck with it in the past on other projects. Can you please tell me what you tried and what the results were?


    • Nina says

      You would have to check with the manufacturer of the paint sprayer you choose. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s important to use oil-based primer in this process to prevent tannin bleed from the oak. Oil based primer doesn’t thin easily (I believe it requires a chemical) and won’t cover as well once it’s thinned. I would use a brush or roller at full strength and sand it well between coats. We did both spray can primer and brushes, depending on where we were working.

      • Judi tipping says

        Hi Nina. We’re bored of our lovely solid oak kitchen. Of course not all of the wood is actually solid oak e.g. Cornicing and plinth covers at floor level. You can see that when you contrast the naturally ageing oak. So the question is how does the veneer look when painted?



        • Nina says

          Hi Judi,

          Our kitchen was all solid oak, no veneers, so unfortunately I didn’t research how veneer looks when it’s painted. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help!


  16. Amy says

    Hi, I’m just curious how your cabinets are holding up and if you decided to do a top coat at this point. I know you said it took you 4 months. What was your process? Would you just do sanding on a few cabinets a week? Also did you pray inside your cabinets? Thank you!

  17. Johnny Shi says

    The paint sprayer that you used looks like it was really effective. My mother has been wanting to paint her kitchen cabinets recently. I have always pictured doing it by hand and I thought it would be really hard, I think if I had something like that it would make things a lot easier. Thanks for sharing.

  18. Johnny says

    I appreciate what you mentioned about sanding. I am the type of person who would of just started sanding the finished product without a thought. Now I can be more careful. These turned out really well. We were thinking about doing something similar in our home and I hope it turns out as good as yours did. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Amanda Bell says

    Hi, Nina, your new kitchen looks fabulous! For the last few days I’m searching for information about how to renew ours and I’m now about to come up with a real plan thanks to you! Your advice and thorough information are priceless. Thank you very much, Nina. I wish you all the best.

  20. Alicia says

    Hi! I am so thankful for this blog. my husband and I have just spent the last 2 months painting our kitchen cabinets. The boxes are done and look great but the doors (which we just finished today) look awful. We barely survived the first attempt and now we are facing it again. :( I read your blog and I felt like all of our issues were covered here. The black grain shows through and we have the orange peel look. We have the same paint sprayer and we trade a sanding sealer that was recommended on another blog. We are going to sand everything off and try the drydex but i’m a little nervous about mixing the paint to avoid the orange peel look. Can you help me?

    • Nina says

      Hi Alicia! We found it was best to add the water in slowly in order to thin the Cabinet Coat. For example, try adding in 2% dilution first, then test it and see if there’s orange peel- if so, adjust the sprayer and a another 2% of water. Build your way up until you achieve the correct consistency without orange peel and without over-thinning. I hope that helps and good luck!!


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