Painting Cabinets


The house I grew up in was probably more on the functional end of the spectrum rather than the aesthetic. When my mom decided to paint the kitchen cabinets she’d let Dad know. Mom couldn’t be too choosy about the color. Dad would go buy the cheapest paint he could find which was usually a custom color order that someone decided they didn’t want after all. He did the same thing with the exterior paint. I remember once the stucco was this deep green and the fascia and eaves were orange. Luckily, he painted the stucco and trim religiously every three years.

Well, so anyway, Mom would mask a few things, put a couple of drop cloths down and then start slapping paint on the cabinets. She never fussed about the quality of the paint because she knew she’d be doing it again in a few years.

That house was built somewhere around 1949 and is an ancient thing now but still standing. I’ve looked at it on Google Earth.

Fast forward to 2021. The house Bernd and I bought recently was built in 1974, so it’s fairly old. The cabinets are in terrible shape so we decided to paint them. It’s not like how my mom did it. Nope. Not at all.

Because we really don’t want to have to do this more than once, we decided we’d do it right. Do you have any idea what that means? Maybe you do. We started small with the bathroom cabinets. Well, it seemed small in comparison to the kitchen cabinets. One thing we learned right away, we were not going to try to do the entire kitchen all in one go as we did with the bathroom.

Basically, this is the process. First you clean the cabinets as well as you can using a variety of soaps and de-greasers and the like. Then you sand them. You don’t have to take it down to bare wood. You just have to rough it up enough that the primer sticks really well. Yes, that’s the job of primer … to stick so the paint will stick. But it never hurts to hedge your bets a little.

While you are sanding you find all the dents and scratches and bumps and dings. So you do some online research and find a wood filler that is low on fumes and safe for your dog because she seems to want to lick spackle and that’s definitely not good for your dog. Dogs can be so weird.

You will also need to fill the holes from the hardware if, like with our bathroom cabinets, the previous owner put the knobs in very odd places and not level with each other. Then you sand again.

Next comes the primer. Do not skip the primer no matter what the paint you bought says. Even if the paint is $55 a gallon and says it needs no primer, do not skip the primer. Two coats of primer works really well. Once that is fully dry, sand it again. You’ll be able to feel how much smoother it is with just a few passes. Use fine sand paper on the order of 220 or 320 grit and don’t press too hard. That just takes off all your primer and you have to start over. You do not want to have to start over.

Once the primer is sanded, put on your first coat (yes, I said first) of actual cabinet paint. We bought Insl-X made by Benjamin Moore. It’s an acrylic paint made only for cabinets and trim. It is probably the nicest paint I have ever used and I’ve done a lot of painting over the years.

Don’t worry too much about perfect coverage at this point because there will be at least one more coat and most likely two more.

We are using brushes. We considered foam rollers or a sprayer made just for cabinets. Looks kind of like an artist’s air brush on steroids.

Rollers tend to “spit” bits of paint if you get a little rambunctious with them. And sprayers tend to put a lot of very fine paint “dust” into the air that gets all over everything. So in the end we went with brushes. And anyway, it’s what I know best how to use.

When that first coat is completely (and I mean completely) dry, sand it again using the 320 grit sand paper. With any luck, that will be the end of the sanding and the final coats can be applied without further ado.

Altogether, because a learning curve was applied, finishing the bathroom cabinets probably took us about a week. We did not work at it eight hours a day. We do have lives outside of fixing up this old house. Although it might not seem like it at times.

I have no idea how long it will take us to complete the kitchen cabinets. But it would be nice to have that done before the laminate flooring and new countertops are installed. It’s been nice not to worry about those surfaces while doing all this painting.

So, are you wondering how it turned out? It turned out beautifully. We are very happy with our “new” bathroom cabinets. What do you think?


Published by Dianne Lehmann

I'm a writer. But I'm also a wife and a mom to a couple of fur babies. You could call me a cook (but never a chef, I'm not that good) and provisioner as well. Laundress? Yeah. Probably. I design jewelry and I crochet. But mostly I love to write. I love words and how they sound. I love their meanings and origins. I love stringing them together. And of course, I love to read. Thinking about it just now, I realize that what I love most is life and the people around me with a special place set aside for my wonderful husband, our adorable dog and our inscrutable cat. It's the world and the people in it that fuels my writing. So thanks to you all for being the amazing beings that you are.

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