So you want to paint your kitchen or bathroom cabinets yourself. Is this possible? Yes. Will they look professionally painted when finished? Depends. Depends on how patient you are, whether you use the right brushes and paint, and your attention to detail. But it can be done and done well.
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First, a note about paint. There is always debate about using latex paint versus oil-based/alkyd paint. Alkyd is a synthetic oil additive to paint. Latex paint on wood cabinets is more easily dented than oil/alkyd paints, particularly if you have small children on tricycles. The oil/alkyd paint tends to be harder and stands up to wear and tear better, so it has always been the choice when painting wood cabinets. Latex also has natural mildew resistance to it, which is preferable when painting walls, particularly in the bathroom.
Another important aspect of paint is that you get what you pay for. Inexpensive paint is made with cheaper materials or less of the necessary ingredients for quality paint. It won't go on as well or last as long as more expensive paint. So don't skimp on paint quality for your cabinets, which are the focal points of your kitchen or bath.
Where to start? First, look over the cabinets and see if any repairs are needed on the drawers or cabinet boxes. If drawers are separating, use wood glue and clamps to hold the surfaces together until dry. You can also run a few screws in to tighten loose joints. Glue any cabinet edges that are separating. Don't wipe off excess glue. It will smear on the wood. When excess glue has dried, it can be cleanly removed with a razor blade. After all the loose areas are repaired you can begin the prep of the cabinets for painting.
Next, decide if you want to replace any hinges or hardware. If you do, remove them and replace after you finish painting. Many people prefer to remove the doors and drawer fronts and lay them flat to paint, but they can be painted in place, too. If you want to protect hinges from being painted, rub them lightly with Vaseline. It will keep the paint from adhering.
For the next two steps of prepping, please use rubber gloves. First, go over the outside of the cabinets and all the doors with liquid sandpaper. Don't forget to do both sides of the doors. Then wash all surfaces with TSP (tri-sodium phosphate) to remove any dirt and residue. Next, use an electric hand sander to sand the surfaces down to bare wood. Finally, use a tack cloth and clean off any debris left on the cabinets or doors. Some might say this is overdoing it, but it's always worked well for me. Alternatively, you could skip the liquid sandpaper and TSP steps and instead just sand to bare wood, clean with a tack cloth, and then begin painting.
If you want glass panes on some of the doors that happen to have removable center panels, remove the panel before you paint. After the painting is complete, take the doors to a glass company to have the glass installed.
Now, you are ready to paint. I personally prefer to use an alkyd eggshell enamel by Pratt and Lambert. The eggshell enamel is between a flat and gloss and has some sheen, but not glaring. You could use a flat or gloss enamel, as you prefer. A gloss finish would look great for a more contemporary look.
One important trick for a quality paint job is to add Penetrol to oil/alkyd primer and paints. (It is not for latex paints.) Penetrol makes the paint go on more smoothly and eliminates virtually all brush marks. For brushes, always use natural bristles for oil/alkyd paints and synthetic bristles for latex paints.
The first step here was to paint all cabinet surfaces with an oil/alkyd primer. While you are painting, regularly check for runs. If you see one, use your brush to gently stroke down the run without disturbing the surrounding finish. I believe this is where the Penetrol really helps, as the paint levels nicely.
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I always paint in an up and down motion, painting wet into wet. This way, I can achieve a smooth surface and brush marks are barely noticeable. I started at the left corner of the door and worked from top to bottom while moving left to right until the door was fully painted. After the primer dried, I used a 0000 steel wool, or the smallest grit sandpaper I could find, to go over the surface and smooth any runs I missed. Do this lightly and use a tack cloth to remove the residue.
Next, apply the first finish coat of your selected oil/alkyd paint, following the same steps as above. Keep watching for runs. When dry, go over this coat again with steel wool or sandpaper and clean the surface with a tack cloth. Now put on the second coat of finish paint. On this last coat, be particularly alert to any imperfections because this is your final finish and it will not be sanded.
Work hard at making the brush strokes unnoticeable. Again this is aided by using the right amount of Penetrol in your paint. Too much and the paint doesn't cover well; not enough and the paint doesn't level as well. It's sort of a trial and error thing. It's good to practice your technique on a board first, and then perfect it for the cabinets. After the surfaces are dry, replace any hinges or hardware removed and install the doors and drawer fronts. You should have a durable finish to your cabinets that will last for years. Make sure to keep some extra paint for touchups.
Author Profile: Karen Timpone is an experienced kitchen designer and a cabinet painting veteran.