How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets (so they actually look good), Part 2

So last week, we covered prep & sanding.  Time to get your brush on (but maybe not the brush you think!).

First, we must choose a primer.  Now, lots of folks have made very good arguments for using oil-based primer when painting kitchen cabinets, and I certainly see its merits – excellent hide, will not raise the grain of wood like a water-based paint might, great adhesion.  Check, check, and check.  I think if you are not so much inclined to prep thoroughly (you didn’t buy that sander, huh?) you really should look into an oil-based primer.  I, however, have two major problems with oil-based primer.  Problem the first: the smell.  It is particularly odoriferous stuff, and seeing as how we were painting in sub-zero weather, I couldn’t very well just throw open all the windows to catch a cleansing breeze.  Problem the second: me. That’s right, I am my second problem.


I am, let’s be real honest here (heck, you’ve already seen my hideous toilet, what do I possibly have left to hide?), the MESSIEST PAINTER ALIVE. No kidding.  At one point during the course of painting, Russ looked at me and said something like “Dear Lord,  how is this possible?” I had paint all over my hands, up my arms, on my face, in my hair, and mysteriously on my hip (yes, I was fully clothed!)  He had one smudge on is left thumb.  Seriously, I tend to get it everywhere (Not even going to discuss the potential for splatters, drips, etc.  Nope, not going there.).  The easy cleanup of latex is a huge plus at OPB – both for the bricks AND me. Sigh.

Fortunately, latex primers have improved dramatically in the last few years.  Though I could have gone with something less expensive like KILZ, I decided to buy myself a little more insurance (better hide, more adhesion, etc) in the form of a more expensive primer.  Enter Sherwin Williams Premium Wall and Wood Primer.  Can you love a primer?  Oh, yes you can.

Step 4: Let’s get it on!

Finally, at last, we begin!  Grab a brush! BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ. Nope. I’m going to send every professional painter out there into cardiac arrest when I tell you my secret to getting a very smooth finish on the cabinets with no brush strokes :

Foam brushes, known here at OPB as “Foamies” (clearly we need to get out more).  Before I hear it from the pros (I know all 5 of you reading this are not pro painters!), I have tried the very special Purdy Chinex brush (which is a very nice brush), I have tried foam rollers, not-foam rollers, and almost everything else you can imagine but this is the only thing that works for me.  Everything else leave texture or brush strokes I don’t like.  So here it is.  Cheap and readily available.  I will tell you that I think the foamies from Home Depot are superior to Lowe’s foamies. The HD ones have a stronger plastic insert in the foam which makes them last longer.

Buy a bunch, they do break down as you paint.  We went through 2-3 foamies per coat, so 6-9 foamies for primer and paint on the cabinet boxes.  Don’t bother washing them, they aren’t worth the work.  Just toss them. Fortunately, they are less than a dollar a pop.  Look around- I recently found some at my military exchange for 30 cents, score!

So now we begin Nope, one more decision – to paint the insides or not?  I did, as you’ll see below. If you have a nice finish inside already, I’m sure you can skip it.  I didn’t (just raw particle board), so I wanted the seamless color and easy wipe-ability of a painted finish.  I did use a foam roller to do the interiors. It does leave a texture, but it is a LOT faster and easier.  You’ll still need your foamie for the inside corners.


Yeah, yeah I got it, here we go!

Half primed, first coat:

We only did one coat of primer inside, two on the face frames and sides:

After 2 coats of primer:

Work Notes:

With 2 people, we had one of us to the “cutting in” of all the interior corners and edges where the mini-foam roller wouldn’t reach.  The other person followed with the roller. We did the face frames last, so we wouldn’t bump them while reaching into the cabinets.

I lightly sanded with 220 grit between coats.  Is this necessary?  Maybe not, but I think is builds the smoothest possible base.  After doing this several times, I really think sanding is key to having a glass-smooth finish.  Remember, if you have texture or brushstrokes in the primer, you WILL see them through the paint. If you are having serious tannin bleed-through (anything more than a little yellowing showing through the primer) you may want to consider oil-based alternatives.  Or, add another coat of the latex primer. Remember, successive thin coats are better than gloppy thick ones. We also waited a day between coats – pace yourself, or you tend to get sloppy (we do anyway).

I let the primer set up for about 3-4 days before we started painting, just because I wanted to make darn sure it was curing and adhering to the cabinets.  The all important fingernail scratch test assured me that it was sticking good and tight.

Next Up: Coating and Contemplating.

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2 Responses to How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets (so they actually look good), Part 2

  1. Ann says:

    I am very impressed with your level of patience in this process and I can’t wait to see the finished product. This is seriously tortuous (in a good way!) for me.

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