Solid as a Rock

Stuff got the best of me last week (don’t worry, it was good stuff – an unexpected 3-day trip and fabulous weather) and I never got it together enough to show you the final piece of the counter-top puzzle.  A quick recap:

So, you know we had this desk we did not want:

So we took it out and  Russ built these in its place:

Meanwhile the granite spent the winter on the porch:

Until we cleaned it:

Yep, all caught up now.

Okay, so the plan was to take the piece of granite that once was the desktop and have the bullnose edges cut off that piece and the adjoining piece next to it.  Then, we’d (well not us, but you get the idea) seam them together to make one level, uninterrupted counter that would wrap around the corner of the kitchen where the new cabinets were.  Sounds good in theory, right?  Granite guy said it was totally do-able.  He came, measured, and took away two of our four counters and for a week we worried a little wondered  if it would really work.

(OK, for me probably more than a little wondering. I kept thinking we were going to have this GIANT seam that would be the new focal point of the kitchen. As in, “Welcome to our home, would you like something to drink?  Oh dear, don’t set your glass there, it might fall into the giant crevasse in the counter!”)

Alright, I wasn’t that worried.  What I was more concerned about was that the whole piece would look like an addition, instead of something that had been part of the original design.  More along the lines of “Hey these folks were too cheap to buy a new slab, so they just super- glued these two pieces together and called it good!”

Yes, Mama, I worry too much.  In this case, at least, I didn’t need to worry at all.

So Granite Guy brought the two pieces in question in and laid them out, just as a dry fit to make sure all was well.  I knew as soon as he laid it out that it was going to be great:

Both these edges were cut:

The dark gray line in the picture above is the remnants of the old caulk from where the backsplash had previously been. They just scraped it off with a razor blade.  They had to shim one spot (Russ would like for me to point out that it was the old cabinets that were not level, not the ones he built!) and then they got out this interesting device:

Note: the following description is highly technical not written by a stone fabricator or an engineer.  You want more exacting language?  Google is your friend!

So that machine is some sort of magical (and loud) vacuum pump that lifts up the adjoining granite pieces so they are perfectly level (checked by running a razor blade back and forth across the seam) with each other.  Oh, and we’re talking teeny-tiny fractions here, the big leveling was already done.  Then, the machine crams the pieces together.  Prior to the cramming stage, Granite Guy mixed up some very stinky epoxy resin stuff (color matched very nicely to the stone) and shoved it in the gap.  Obviously the goo had some sort of chemical reaction going on because it and the dixie cup it was in got pretty toasty.  There was also a small amount of smoke involved.  Science!

So after 20 minutes or so of the goo hardening and the machine cramming the pieces together (and idle chit-chat about various types of countertops) everything was solid.

Granite Guy dry fitted the old back-splashes into the new configuration and went out to his truck to lop off the excess with a 4″ saw I KNOW my husband was quietly coveting. Backsplash going in:

They installed the backsplash and away they went.  Magic.  Look how much counter space that gave us!

See, no GIANT CREVASSE to swallow up your wine glass. Good thing too, since there’s no telling what red wine would do to these precious counters.

What’s that?  Oh, I’m cheating, you say.  Of course you can’t see the seam from that distance. Fine!

Still can’t see it? Perhaps your retinas are still damaged from this post.  Or maybe they just did a really nice job. Look closer:

Hardly the epic crater I was worried about.

One pointer about seams I got from Granite Guy – granite slabs with small, random yet tightly spaced patterns (like ours) will hide seams far better than slabs with large patterns and lots of movement (think big swirls or waves).  Just another point to ponder if you’re in the market for new counter tops!

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How to Get Stains Out of (supposedly bulletproof) Granite Counters

Here I am again, posing as an “expert”.  I’ll tell y’all this upfront: this topic annoys me. Why? Every time I read about granite counters, it’s the same thing: blah, blah blah, indestructible, hard as nails, they’ll survive a nuclear holocaust, blah, blah blah. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

I’m here to break the ugly truth to you: it isn’t always so.  Granite slabs, like so many things in life, are not all created equal.  But more about that later.

I think it was the second time that we looked at Our Pile of Bricks, I thought I saw a weird shadow on part of the kitchen counter top.  The third time (when we made the offer) it was still there- and I thought maybe it was a variation in the stone.  After we’d closed on the house, I started to think that maybe it was something else.   You can see it here, left hand side of the kitchen, just above and to the right of the phone book. That dark splotch that looks like a shadow, but isn’t.

It wasn’t immediately obvious when you were in the kitchen, but it was one of those things that once you saw it it was ALL you could see. I knew it had to go or it was going to make me NUTS (moreso than normal).

Sure enough, when Granite Guy came over the first time, they confirmed it was, in fact, a stain.

Huh? I didn’t know that granite could stain. What happened to bulletproof?  They told me to try some Oxyclean, or they could take it and work on it back at the $hop (the dollar signs were adding up quickly in my mind at this point) – so I said I’d like to give it a try first, on my own, to see what I could do.  So I did what anyone in need of help does nowadays: Google. How did we ever live before Google?

What I found astounded me – loads of people with all sorts of stains on their counters.  I read about a thousand different potential remedies, tried Granite Guy’s Oxyclean (no dice) and then I found a page that made sense, written by someone who seemed to know what he was talking about.  Basically, you need to make a poultice with something liquid in it that will break up the stain, and then something absorbent to pull the stain out.

Since these counters came with the house, we didn’t know the origin of the stain. Assuming it to be oil-based, we followed the directions for an oil stain.  If we couldn’t get the stain out, we’d have to replace that part of the counter. $igh. We figured we didn’t have much to lose, so we dove in.  First, you’ll need to make the poultice. We chose to use baby powder for the poultice base. The best baby power is the cheapest, least scented kind  you can find.  This stuff came from Big Lots.

Then, since we were following the directions for an oil-based stain, we used acetone.  Found in the paint aisle at Home Depot. Exciting!

Next, mix a little of each of the two in a glass or metal container. For the love of Bob, do NOT use plastic. Ask Russ what happened to my favorite plastic measuring cup.

I don’t have exact measurements, but you don’t need them.  You’re looking for a consistency somewhere around peanut butter.  Not too thin that it will run off the counter, but not so thick you can’t spread it.

Spread/smoosh it out and the cover it with cling wrap and tape down the edges.  You want it to stay wet for 24 hours so the acetone can go down into the granite and break up the oil.

After 24 hours, you can remove the cling wrap (carefully). Wait!  You have to let that stuff dry for 12 hours so the baby power can absorb the moisture (and the stain) back out of the stone.  Oh, and if it hasn’t already, at this point, the house will start to smell like a cheap nail salon that landed in the middle of a day care center. It really stinks. Go out for dinner.

Once it is all dry, you can scrape it off into a trash bag.  Viola!

The stain should be gone, or at least diminished.  You may have to repeat the process (we did in one spot).  Here’s a pretty good before/after:

You can see the dark stain at the bottom and all along the right edge. The left side has been cleaned.  This was one of our test patches to see if this would even work. It did! We were just gobsmacked and so was Granite Guy when he came back!

So stain gone – fantastic, right?  Well, yeah, except it sort of started a chain reaction where once this part was clean (much lighter) we realized the whole rest of the kitchen counters were similarly stained.  So 11 containers of baby powder, more than a gallon of acetone, and about a week later, we got all the counters cleaned.   The kitchen still smells vaguely like baby powder – a scent I used to like but now makes me feel like I just inhaled a bottle of finger nail polish remover. Go figure.

I can’t complain about the cost of this project – about $35 bucks for supplies vs. hundreds to thousands replacing the granite. Good stuff.

So back to my original gripe about granite not being so “bulletproof” – as it turns out, granite varies WIDELY in its porosity.  Why this is never brought up in any article extolling granite’s virtues, I’ll never know.  The fabricators know about it!  Apparently, we have an extremely porous stone that needs to be sealed regularly – it hadn’t been sealed since it was installed here in 2006.  No sealing=no protection=staining.  Granite Guy advised us to seal it repeatedly (24 hours between applications) until water pooled on the surface and didn’t leave a dark spot…3 rounds of sealing did the trick (for now- we’ll repeat in 6 months – or less, if we notice dark spots again).

Again, not all granite is like this. My Mama’s granite – black pearl, I think, has never needed sealing and does not show any stains.  So if you are in the market for granite counter tops, do some research about the particular variety you’re looking at.  Who wants to baby (powder) their counters?

As an aside, Granite Guy mentioned he had just finished building a house. I asked him what he used for his kitchen counters – Silestone.  Not granite.  Hmmmmm.

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Signs you’ve gone off the proverbial DIY deep end, Birthday edition

So, today is my birthday.  But this post really isn’t about me. Or my birthday.  It’s about pie. I know you are all relieved to hear that.

Since it is my birthday and I like pie, I had to make myself one (chocolate cream, for those interested in that sort of thing) because I’m not so much about the cake.

I feel compelled to point out here that about half of our kitchen stuff is still packed up, for a variety of reasons that are much too boring to explain.

Good News!  Found a pie plate and managed to make a pie in our kitchen. Woo-hoo! (counter top pics & details coming shortly, promise)

Bad News!  Cannot find little piece that connects immersion blender to whisk attachment to whip the cream for the pie. No whipped cream on birthday pie = disaster.

Fortunately, Our Pile of Bricks has two things in abundance:  1. Tools

And 2. Slightly less-than-balanced Brilliant people to think up new ways to use them.

I DID NOT KNOW you could put a whisk attachment on a cordless drill!  Why is this not in the manual?  I feel so cheated.

By the way, the pie was fantastic. Back to renovations tomorrow!

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DIY Custom Cabinets (or, my husband is a rockstar)

Space planning theory in kitchens seems to have evolved from the well-known ‘work triangle’ (where the fridge, stove, and sink are all located at the endpoints of a basic triangle shape) to the new-ish ‘zones’ concept (prep zone, cooking zones, clean-up zone, baking zone, beverage zone, staff living quarters for all these zones zone).  Y’all, OPB is a 70’s brick ranch with a medium-sized interior kitchen.  Let’s get real -it isn’t getting any bigger.  There will be no more zones.  So maximizing the space available becomes key.  When we bought the house, the kitchen came fully equipped with the lovely desk there on the left:

Now, I’ve got nothing against desks in kitchens.  In fact, one day I’d love to have one.  In my giant kitchen with a wall of windows, fully integrated Sub-zero, Viking range…. dream kitchen, in my “forever” house.  But here – in my modest galley style kitchen, with my real desk just steps away – it was just taking up super-valuable kitchen real estate.  Additionally, the desk drawers rendered the adjacent cabinet into a tiny, shallow cabinet where we could have stored exactly two bottles of wine. Unacceptable!

So I thought about what specific kinds of storage the kitchen was lacking and I came up with 3 priorities (trust me, there were lots more, but I narrowed it down to 3):

1. Vertical storage for cutting boards, cookie sheets, etc.

2. Storage for the mixer, food processor, and blender.

3. A drawer to contain the plastic container clutter (I’m lazy – I like being able to toss the mess into a drawer where all the bottoms and tops can mingle but not get lost)

Our limiting factors:

1. Only one set of cabinet doors available from the removed cabinets.  Unusual door design makes us think matching might be, um, impossible.  All new cabinetry will have to have drawer fronts, which can be routed to match existing drawers.

2. In the ultimate recycling project, we wanted to join the existing granite desktop with the adjacent existing counter top, so we had to keep the footprint identical.

I really didn’t think we could do this.  Even though we were going to paint the new cabs, they had to match the profile of the existing cabinets exactly or they’d look like bad add-ons.  To say I was skeptical would be an understatement, but Russ was undaunted.  So the old cabinet & desk drawers didn’t come back in and the granite desktop stayed out on the porch.  Meanwhile, he built this:

And I was impressed. Space for 3 (big!) new drawers and a cabinet for vertical storage. The edges line up *perfectly* with the old cabinets.  I’m intrigued, but I managed to keep my cool.

Once we painted, you’d never know they’re different from the others.

But then he built these,

And I swooned. He used heavy-duty drawer glides so the drawers extend smoothly (and fully!) and can easily handle the hefty appliances. Be still my heart!  Then, in a moment of insanity immense gratitude, I relegated one of my precious lower cabinets and gave Russ his very own “beverage zone”:

Sigh. Love makes you do crazy things, I guess. Drinks all around!

Thank you, Russ, for the labor of love that was these cabinets.  Your vision for this far exceeded what I thought was possible and you made it happen.  I can’t wait to see the drawers once they are painted and the drawer fronts/doors are done.

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Painting Kitchen Cabinets, Part 3 (hurry, before you lose your mind)

If anyone out there is still reading, bless you, and I promise today there WILL be PAIN PAINT.


Alrighty then, since we’re now cleaned, sanded, and primed it’s time to choose a paint.  All the research I did pointed to using one of three latex paints: 1. Sherwin Williams Pro-Classic, 2. Benjamin Moore Satin Impervo, and 3. Cabinet Coat (sold at Ace and some Ben Moore’s).  All of these formulas are water based (even if you prime with oil, you do not want to use an oil-based paint for a top coat as it will yellow – of course if you are painting your cabs a dark color, this is not a problem), and all promise some degree of self-leveling.  We chose the SW Pro-Classic mainly because we used it in out first house and were very happy with the finish.  I think any of the three will give you excellent results.  Be advised these are more expensive paints, but this is NOT the time to break out an old half-gallon of cheap semi-gloss.  If you’re like me, your cabinets will be in heavy daily use in a room that can be, uh, MESSY.


I’m not even going to talk about this because the mere mention of paint color still makes me twitch and it’s been over a month since this happened.  I’ll say this: if your counters are brown, cream colored cabinets will look better; if they are black, gray, or similar, use a white (which white is a whole ‘nother ball of wax).  Try not to hurt yourself or anyone else in the process.  Husbands, be supportive during this difficult time.  Margaritas, foot rubs, and shopping for things that ARE NOT PAINT are good ways to help. I have to stop now, things are getting blurry.


Step 5:

Grab a foamie and get busy.  2 thin coats ought to do it, but you may need 3 to get the smooth look you want.  Sand in between coats with 300 grit or even steel wool – just enough to barely dull the surface (don’t forget to wipe the dust off after you sand with a wet rag or tack cloth).  When you are finished, walk away.  It may look awful.  The self-leveling paints need time to do their job – so let them.  After 24 hours, it should look something like this:

I’m not sure why we took the worst possible pictures of the cabinets after we were done painting, must have been the paint fumes.  Don’t worry, I’m not NEARLY done showing you pictures of the kitchen.  Y’all will think it’s the only room in the house by the time I am done. Here’s a few up close and personal to give you and idea of the sheen:

And one more to show the big difference from the old stained cabinets to the new (pardon the stuff under the sink):

Oh by the way, we used SW Pro-Classic in Pure White (SW 7005) Semi-Gloss. I love it, it glows like a pearl – not too shiny nor too dull. Remember, the higher the gloss, the more mistakes are visible. Think carefully before grabbing that gallon of high gloss paint.   I also waited two tortuous weeks for the paint to cure before I put anything inside the cabinets (and then only on top of clear shelf liner!).

Finished! So that, my friends, is how cabinets are painted!

Wait, what? The doors? What doors? Oh, you noticed.  I was hoping no one would notice.

Sigh.  Nope, not done.  Not even close.  Hello nasty Virginia winter?  You’re excused.  I have cabinet doors to paint and you are keeping me from it.

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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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How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets (and get pro-quality results)

To this point on the blog, I have shied away from doing any tutorials or giving specific how-to advice.   Mostly it’s because I think there’s already a lot of great info out there, and because I don’t think we really possess any kind of ‘master’ level of knowledge about anything we’ve been doing in the house.

Until now.

I don’t fancy myself as an expert about a lot of things. My job? Possibly. Guacamole, definitely. That’s pretty much the extent of it…until you get to painting kitchen cabinets.  After 2 kitchens and 2 bathrooms, this is one thing I know very, very well.  So I’m going to break this down, tutorial style, just in case anyone out there wants to get all crazy and paint their cabinets.  Hint: this will work on bathroom vanities, laundry room cabinets, living room built-ins or whatever other kind of cabinetry you might want to paint.

Question 1: Should I paint my cabinets?

I think it’s really worth an honest look at whether your cabinets are good candidates for painting.  Some cabinets cannot be saved: they are too old, too small, too poorly laid out, or just flat out falling apart.  If you have a generally good layout and good quality cabinets that need freshening or updating, then painting is probably a good choice.

If you really need new cabinets, but don’t have a lot of dough, please check out 1. Craigslist and 2. Ikea.  I have seem some really decent stuff on Craigslist for cheap, cheap, cheap – folks who are upgrading their kitchens sell a whole kitchen worth of cabs for just a few hundred dollars.  Once you get them configured to your space, paint them ;).  Have a few more bucks to spare?  Ikea has a lot of nice options, and their hardware is considered to be excellent quality for the money.

Question 2: Should I paint my cabinets?

Nope, that’s not a repeat of Step 1.  Note the emphasis on I, by which of course I mean you, faithful reader!  Nothing irritates me more than the giant illusion lie offered up by numerous HGTV shows that present painting cabinets as a quick fix that can be accomplished in two hours with a single brush and a quart of paint.  Of course, the results look fabulous and the house sells 20 minutes later.

I think not. The paint will peel off those cabinets before the ink on the offer is dry.

Look, I’ve done a lot of painting.  Walls, ceilings, furniture, cabinets.  The cabinets, by far, are the most demanding and difficult of all the painting projects.  You can’t do it in a weekend.  It will take you (most likely) at least a couple of weeks (or more!).  It is a multi-step process.  It requires a great deal of patience and attention to detail.  Frankly, if we had a bigger budget, I would NEVER choose to do this (again) myself.   I’m not trying to talk anyone out of doing it (it’s not brain surgery, after all), but I want to be realistic about what it takes to get a good, lasting result. Of course, if you really don’t care how they look or if the paint stays on, then watch some HGTV and do it their way.

So let’s get on with it, shall we?

Step 1: Breaking it down.

Take the doors off.  Put them somewhere safe, like the garage.  You might consider numbering the doors with a post-it note if you are concerned about knowing which ones go where when you are all done.  Take off the hinges (keep all hardware until you are 100% sure that you have sourced and actually fitted a replacement) and any trim that dates the cabinets, like this:

In addition to the very dated piece above the sink, there was some not-so-lovely plastic edge band trim at the top of the cabinets that we dispensed with quickly, leaving the gap you see in the second picture.

You will now have sad, empty boxes. Oh, yours aren’t empty?  Go empty them now. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.

Step 2: Wash ‘N’ Go

The first real step in the prep is to wash the cabinets, using TSP or a TSP substitute.  This cuts the grease and dulls down the glossy surface a little. We used Simple Green’s TSP substitute and a scrubby sponge to really go after all the 30+ years of gunk on the cabinets. When we were done, it didn’t look much different, but you could feel that the finish was a little less glossy, and definitely not greasy. Once you’re done here, it’s time to break out the wood putty and fill in any gaps, holes, mistakes or anything you just don’t like.

Step 3: Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream!

You’re going to have to take a little break here so you can run over to Sears and buy this.  I’ll wait…unless of course, you already have one or want to borrow ours.  Do you have to have a palm sander to do this?  No, absolutely you can do it by hand but you will have one very, very sore arm and maybe some carpal tunnel going on by the time you are done.  So, go spend the $30 and save yourself a co-pay or two.  Trust me on this.  Do get a sander that you can hook directly to your shop vac (you do have a shop-vac, riiiight? Right???).  This will minimize dust all over your house.  In our last house, before we learned this importance of dust mitigation, I found dust inside my wallet, which was inside my purse in a completely different room than we were working in.

I am convinced that sanding is the most important step in the prep as it ensures the paint will really adhere to the wood for the long haul.  I start sanding with 150/180 grit and then finish with 220.  It’s not necessary to get every speck of the old stain off, but you do want to make sure all the old shine is gone.  The sanding gives the surface some roughness for the primer to bind to – if the old surface is still glossy, the paint will just slide right off. Once you are done sanding, it will look something like this:

And you’ll wonder how you’ve spent so much time working, yet you haven’t even lifted a paintbrush. You’ll be itching to get on with it already.  The prep IS annoying, but it is KEY to a good result. So pace yourself, and take a break before you begin priming.

Which is what I’m going to do! Grab a tack cloth or a very slightly damp rag, wipe down your dusty cabinets and get ready for primer!

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