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How to Refinish your Kitchen Cabinets

A Guide to Kitchen Cabinet Refinishing with Paint

I get asked about painting kitchen cabinets all the time, but had yet to do a kitchen cabinet makeover, so it was time to get one under my belt, and share the process along the way!

It’s a tough sell to say “I’ve never done a kitchen, can I experiment on yours”? That’s what friends are for! Our friends, and former neighbors had wanted to redo their kitchen, and were willing to be our guinea pigs. Funny enough, their house is a model match to the house we lived in for 10 years, so at least we knew what we were in for.

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I started by ordering the paint. For this kitchen cabinet makeover we needed supplies for 30 doors, 10 drawers, plus the boxes. I figured 3 quarts of paint, 2 quarts of white Stain blocking primer , and 3 quarts of clear coat for a strong top coat. In the hindsight, we could have used one more container of each, just to be safe, but we made it work.

Job Description: Refinish 30 oak cabinet doors, 10 drawer fronts, cabinets boxes with Dixie Belle Paint in Fluff.

Materials Mentioned

  1. 4 quarts One hour enamel

  2. 3 quarts stain blocking primer

  3. cleaner

  4. applicator sponge

  5. High quality brushes

  6. Tack cloths

  7. Painters triangles

  8. Sanding sponges

  9. Apollo eco 4 spray system

  10. Surf Prep sanding system

  11. Wood glue

  12. Clamps

  13. Painters tape

  14. Mister bottle

Our deal was, my friends would finish the cabinet faces at home, and bring us all of the doors and drawer fronts to spray.

First, all of the doors and drawer fronts were removed and numbered. We ended up moving the numbers to under the hinge location and covering with painters tape.

They started by cleaning thoroughly. These are 17 year old cabinets that hadn’t had hardware, so there was plenty to clean. You should clean before sanding, so that oils don’t get ground into the wood grain.

Lots of Cleaning

Next, the lengthy repairs begun. These are solid oak cabinets, but many had split over the years, a lot of wood glue and clamping.

Split Doors

Gluing and Clamping

With clean and repaired doors, they were ready for a light sanding. The sanding is only to take down the sheen of the finish for better adherence of our new finish. Some doors, that were under the sink and more heavily used, had some chipping, so those were sanded more extensively to get a smooth surface.

Deep Grain with Worn Old Finish

Sanding Faces in Hall Linen Cabinet

This meant the doors were ready to come to us for spraying. We chose to spray the fronts for the most professional finish possible, but they would brush and sponge the boxes at home.

The finish is only as good as the prep. Half of the work was done before ever laying any paint on. We did not fill the wood grain on these, so it showed a bit of texture in the finishes doors. We also could have caulked around the trim to fill that gap, those are optional prep steps.

First Coat of Dixie Belle Boss, Stain and Odor Blocking Primer

I do not have a spray booth and that presented challenges. We laid out 2 tarps and filled them with doors and drawers. Being sure there was no wind and the weather was nice enough for fast drying was essential or dust would settle in the finish.

We started out by spraying Stain blocking primer in white. It is a thicker product, so we thinned it about 25% in my Apollo Eco4 HVLP sprayer. Right away we noticed a bit of yellowing in the white primer, our oak cabinets were bleeders, with worse spots where it had been sanded more. They would need 2 coats of stain blocking primer before paint.

We sanded lightly with a 220 grit in between every coat, just to take down any dust or bumps in the finish.

When The Parents Got Tired, We Enlisted Child Labor

We did 2 coats on the backs, then flipped, for 2 coats on the fronts before switching to paint. The paint was thinned about 10% in the sprayer. Then repeated the process with paint, flipping the doors, 2 coats, with light sanding in between.

For Satin clear coat, diluted 5-10%, we ended up moving our tarps into the garage to reduce dust settling, although it didn’t prevent it completely. Being close to the ground, it may have had a slight electromagnetic pull for the dust, a drying rack would have been ideal.

Moved to the Garage for Spraying Clear Coat

All in all we sprayed fronts and backs with:

  1. 2 coats stain blocking primer in white

  2. 2 coats paint in white

  3. 2 coats satin clear coat

The spraying process took us about 7 full days between multiple coats on front and reverse, in the meantime, they were doing these same steps on the boxes at home.

Empty Cabinets, Painting Faces

Hallway Linen Storage In Progress

Our friends picked up the doors the day after we sprayed the last coat, with plenty of blankets to wrap them for transport. We removed all the taped numbers for rehanging. They chose to spray paint the hinges black to match new black hardware from The new hardware will protect from finger wear on the new finish. They also installed felt dots, so doors don’t come in contact with faces.

Weeks of a Messy Kitchen

My summary is…cabinet painting isn’t for the faint hearted, but the result is so rewarding. Its like having a baby, you have to forget the experience before you want to do it again, but are still glad you did. My girlfriend mentioned, that aside from the labor, it was a challenge to have the kitchen torn apart, and everything on the counters for WEEKS, that is something to definitely prepare yourself for.

The end result is bright, clean, modern, and ties in with their white built in media niche. They want to replace the countertops with stone, but quarantine has closed the stone shops and made that impossible for now. I will update once that has happened.

This kitchen cabinet chalk paint makeover is incredible and easily added equity to their home!

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