A few months back, before all of the Covid-19 closures, I had the opportunity to help some friends refinish their kitchen cabinets. This blog post shares what we used, how we did it, and I'm pleased to say everything still looks amazing, several months later. The household is a family of 5 and three kitties, so it's a busy kitchen!
Here's their kitchen at the beginning of the remodel. They chose to do cabinets first and I'm pleased to share they've also replaced the sink, faucet, added a back splash, painted the walls, and created a new finish on their counter tops!
These cabinets are original to the home and I believe their home was built in the late 1970's or early 1980's... definitely time for an update!
Here's the after as soon as we finished the cabinets and reattached hardware. You can see the entire kitchen is so much brighter from JUST the cabinet update. If you are thinking about doing an update of this magnitude, I'm here to help guide you through it!
If you've done any kind of furniture refinishing before, this process won't sound too far off; however, it is a little different and a lot more work.
Before we dive in, I need to make my stance on something very clear. In order to have a finish that looks good and is durable, you must do the prep work! There's no cutting corners in buying paint that is 'no prep, no sand'... it just won't last and won't give you the look you want long term. I don't know about you, but the sheer amount of work involved in painting kitchen cabinets deserves that it gets completed the correct way, the first time. You don't want to have to do this multiple times. (I won't sugar coat this, it is truly So. Much. Work.) But the end results are amazing! (Scroll to the bottom.)
One last thing, this was one way, our way, of painting cabinets. Perhaps you have a way you refinished yours and it worked--fantastic! Take our information and perhaps compare with others, we are totally fine with that. :) Are you ready? Let's begin. (By the way I am not benefiting financially from any of these links.)
Plastic drop cloths/tarps - Used to tape off cabinet boxes, counter tops, and floors anywhere you'll be sanding, priming, or painting. These can be found at any big box home store.
Frog Tape - It's a type of painter’s tape, but not the blue colored tape. This tape will help keep ceilings, back splashes, counter tops from getting paint on them. I much prefer this brand over any other brand. Find it here.
Krud Kutter Cleaner/Degreaser - This is a MUST. I use this cleaner on furniture and it turns out, it’s the top recommended one for cabinet cleaning. Follow instructions carefully. Find it here.
Drill with Drill Bits - To remove hardware easily, and drill bit(s) to create new holes for new hardware (if applicable).
Shop Brush/Shop Vac or Compressed Air - To clear sanding dust.
Regular Spray Bottle
Roll of Kraft Paper - To block paint from entering cabinet boxes, unless of course you're painting inside and outside of the cabinet boxes. (See photos below to better understand what I'm saying.)
Mineral Spirits - Used for cleaning brushes or sprayers after priming. (The primer I recommend is oil based.)
180 Grit Sand paper - The bigger the kitchen (more doors, drawers, and cabinet boxes) the more you'll need.
220 Grit Sand paper - The bigger the kitchen (more doors, drawers, and cabinet boxes) the more you'll need.
Power Sander - Unless you don't have one, then skip this and go to the next item.
Palm Size Sanding Block - These give your hand sanding more grip and results in more uniform work. It's similar in size to a bar of soap. I wrap my sand paper around these so I can use them with my 180 grit paper and 220 grit paper. Find them here.
Blue Shop Towels - Err on the side of too many shop towels. For this job we used at least 6 rolls, maybe more. Find them here.
Ziploc Bags - To keep all of your hardware organized. Tag the hardware with the green tape and label the location with a sharpie on the tape. To be very specific (which I recommend) you could label "Under Sink, Left Door, Bottom Hinge" by writing "US, LD, BH" Then, throw it all in Ziploc bags to keep it organized.
Green/yellow Scotch Bright Sponges -You’ll be scrubbing everything down with these so get a few and get some friends to help you! Find them here.
Disposable Gloves - Wear these during any process you want to protect your hands and skin. You can find a variety at any home store.
Tooth Brush - For any detailed work on your cabinets that may not be reachable with the sponge. You'll notice in the photos, there were some decorative details that needed to be scrubbed and the tooth brush helped. Why be this detailed? Without proper cleaning, the primer and everything else won’t stick properly to the wood.
Zinsser BIN Shellac - In my opinion, the best primer/sealer out there! If it were up to me, I’d just get a ton of spray cans of primer and get after it, but one spray can of primer is around $11. One can would do about three kitchen cabinet doors (front, back and sides)… it will add up quickly. OR if you have a sprayer, you could get a gallon and spray it little by little, saving you a lot of money. Find Zinsser BIN Shellac here.
What if you don't have a sprayer? Well you can buy one or you can hand roll or brush paint the primer. If you want a more flawless finish, you'll want to spray it. If your cabinets have a lot of dimension, a sprayer may be the easiest/best route.
Here are some options for rollers and options for brushes. One thing about rollers, buy a microfiber roller with the shortest nap possible and no more than a ⅜” as the cabinet surfaces are usually very smooth and flat. Mircrofiber is a must for a nice smooth finish outside of a sprayer. You’ll need a handle for these as well. You may have the best luck going to a Sherwin Williams or Benjamin Moore store for these supplies instead of a home improvement store.
Respirator - You need to protect yourself and protect anyone else helping you. Recommended for anyone cleaning, priming, or painting. This is the one I use.
Paint - Paint recommended for cabinets will be different than paint recommended for furniture refinishing. One of the biggest differences? Cure time. Expect longer cure times between coats for cabinet painting. Here are two great options:
Benjamin Moore Advance (This is what we used!)
Levels well, is proven, and is very durable.
Can be brushed, rolled, or sprayed.
16 hours to re-coat. (Don't worry you'll be able to fill that wait time with prep work or finally get a much deserved break.)
Levels well, is proven, and is very durable.
Can be brushed, rolled, or sprayed.
The sheens are typically a level off so to get a Satin Finish you need to use SemiGloss.
I recommend going to both stores (if you're able) and talking to the associates about what you're looking for and what they recommend within these two brands.
Now that you have "all of the things" let's get to work!
1. Remove all the doors and drawers.
2. Remove all of the hardware, label, and place in ziploc bag.
3. Clean every surface that is going to be painted with Krud Kutter and clean according to its instructions. (This will take a while and it should. You want the Krud Kutter to eventually be clear as you're scrubbing the doors--that means you're getting all of the junk off. If you don't scrub it all off, you'll have to sand it off.)
4. Tape off all counter tops, walls, floors, interior of cabinet boxes (if applicable) and anything else you do not want to have paint on in your kitchen.
5. Clean every cabinet box just like the cabinet doors and drawers with Krud Kutter.
6. Scuff sand every surface that will be painted with 180 grit sandpaper then brush off or shop vac/air hose the dust off. (You may find that you actually need more power than hand sanding, so this is where I would recommend the power sander.)
7. Apply your primer on every paint-able surface. (Spray, roll, or brush.) You'll want to do two coats. Follow instructions. Sand in between coats with 220 grit sandpaper.
8. Sand final primer coat before paint.
9. Paint (spray, roll, or brush) your color on and wait the necessary cure time.
10. Lightly sand once more with 220 grit sandpaper before the final paint coat.
Sounds easy, right? Sure! But something will always come up and I can't stress enough to pay attention to manufacturer's instructions. Deep breaths will help in the process and some friendly encouragement of "hang in there, this too shall pass!" :)
Once everything is cured and looks good to you, attach hardware and put everything back in it's place.
Oh… are you changing out hardware? You'll need to decide that BEFORE you do any painting because you may need to fill previous holes on doors/drawers with bondo, then drill new ones. It's best to do all of that in the cleaning stage. I would recommend filling any holes after things have been cleaned but before sanding and priming because you'll want to sand the bondo down so it's a smooth and flawless transition on your piece.
Here are some in process photos to share with you what I'm talking about...
After removing all of the doors, drawers, and hardware, all of the surfaces that we did not want paint on were covered using plastic drop cloths and kraft paper. We didn't care as much about the back splash area and counter tops as those were getting updated, too. The boxes were cleaned, sanded, and primed.
Once everything was taped off, protected, and ready for primer, the first coat was applied via a sprayer.
After it cured, we lightly sanded all of it including the doors and drawers that were being worked on in the garage, then applied one more coat of primer.
Here's a close up photo of the first coat of paint that went down. Once the first coat of paint went down, it felt like our first real break could actually happen. You can't do anything more, paint wise, until you've had enough cure time pass. In this case, it was 16 hours before the second coat. If you look closely, you can see we used the Benjamin Moore Advance paint.
After the quick 220 sand, we finished the last coat! After it cured again for 16 hours we re-attached hardware and VOILA! It only took 3 people over five days but it was done correctly, the first time, for a long lasting finish!