Tutorial: Cabinet Painting

She Says:

When we started this project, I had very little experience with painting cabinets, or any furniture of any kind. Since we were going to be looking at these cabinets every day for a very long time, I wanted to make sure and do this right.


Mouse Sander
120 Grit Sandpaper
Paintbrushes (I prefer the Purdy 3 Pack)

Zinsser Cover Stain Primer

Sherwin-Williams ProClassic Oil Base Paint, Semi-Gloss

It was surprisingly difficult to find painting techniques online.  Oh, there's plenty of step by step, but they spend huge amounts of time on the sanding and the priming, and then the paint step usually reads:  "Apply 2 coats of paint."  End of story.

Don't get me wrong, the prep work is so important.  So let's get to that first.

1.  Remove Hardware and Doors from Frames
As we mentioned here, we sourced unfinished oak cabinets for our kitchen.  Because these are new cabinets, the hinges are obviously the only hardware to remove.  There are *a lot* of cabinets in this kitchen, so I numbered the cabinets and doors so I could keep them straight and get the doors back where they belonged.

2.  Sand

I used 120 grit paper on my mouse sander.  The mouse is nice because it can get into all the nooks and crannies on the door panels.  Then I hand sanded the edges, again with 120 grit.  Assembly lines are great for this project- sand the fronts of several doors, then the backs, etc.

3.  Clean

Here's a tip: before wiping down each door with my tack cloth, I brushed the excess sawdust away with an old, dry paintbrush:

This gets all the dust out of the corners, and adds to the life of your tack cloth.

4.  Prime

The Zinsser Primer is the way to go.  It sands nicely, and gives you a smooth surface that the paint can bond to.  And although we're painting unfinished wood, the Cover Stain version also works really well on older cabinets that are being repainted, or painting over stain.

I needed a lot of space for this project, and inside the construction zone of the house was just not an option. So I worked outside.  Upside: plenty of space.  

Downsides:  varying temperatures and the occasional bug:

The bugs were dealt with in the next sanding step.  As for the temperature, on very cold mornings, I thinned my primer with mineral spirits,  just enough to keep it flowing until I was through with all my brush strokes. (See step 6 for actual painting technique)

5.  Sand Primer

Just like Step 2, except sanding primer instead of bare wood.

6.  Paint

Now maybe I'm just too OCD (okay, I know I am) but this was the step that I really needed some guidance on.  So after many, many painted cabinet doors, I'm going to share my technique with you.  If you're one of these smartypants who already know how to paint, you can just skip to the end, or just play The Flintstones in your head.

I start with the inside corners of the frame front and give a generous coat all the way around, especially in the corners.  Then I paint inside the frame, going with the grain, all the way from top to bottom, in one stroke.  If the paint starts to feel thick or draggy, or if my brushstrokes are too visible, I dip my brush in mineral spirits and brush across the wet paint in the same direction as the grain and my previous brushstrokes.  I tend to be very generous with the mineral spirits- it gives the paint a chance to spread out and end up in a smooth finish.   This really comes in handy when painting large surface areas, like say the whole cabinet that houses the fridge.  I just kept the paint really juicy and wet by going back over it with the mineral spirits, and it came out beautifully.  Lastly, I paint the raised portion of the the frame, always with the grain, and then the edges, watching for edge drip.

Wait 24 hours.  Repeat.

Another tip: start with the back side of the doors.  That way, you can practice your technique and get the finish product that you're looking for without "experimenting" on the side everyone's going to see...

7.  Dry

Oil base paint will dry to the touch within 24 hours, but it will stay soft for several days.  You can move doors around and even paint the other side, but be careful with them as you can leave gouge marks.  They're completely dry when you can no longer make a mark in them with your fingernail.

8.  Don't Sweat

The nice thing about using an oil based paint is you can always sand down a drip or other mistake (such as the aforementioned bug) and give it another coat.

Other Thoughts:

If you look closely in the sanding picture above, you can see those little yellow painting pyramids.  You're supposed to be able to paint one side, then flip the door over and set it on those pyramids and paint the other side.  I don't get it.  First of all, you need 4 for every door, and there are over 30 doors in this kitchen. Second, they leave a mark, just like you'd expect, from the little point of the pyramid.  And that was if I didn't accidentally bump the door and move it across the tip, leaving a nice scratch.  Now, it is certainly possible that I wasn't using them correctly.  My advice: don't bother with them.

Enjoy yourself.  I know some people that hate painting, but I find it very soothing, and talk about (relatively) instant gratification...

Linking up with:


Winter Wonderland

Our first snow at our new home!  Magical.



He says:

This was the big opportunity to save money in the kitchen.  We had laminate tops in the previous house, and knew we wanted something else this time.  We narrowed the choices down to 3:

Butcher block, concrete, and granite.

Butcher block is not very expensive, and we had helped some friends install IKEA block tops in their kitchen so we had experience with it, but ultimately decided that we wanted something more permanent.

I spent a long time researching concrete.  Concrete can be either poured into a mold, inverted, to give a very smooth face, or it can poured in-place directly on the cabinets, giving a rougher finish requiring a lot of polishing.  We didn't like the look of any of the poured-in-place counters we saw, and so we restricted our decision to molded concrete.  I ordered some books on the subject and relentlessly searched the web for ideas and got excited about this project...but then I calculated the weight of the proposed tops.  The largest section would be 400+ lbs.  Not having a crew of people and no way to obtain one, we decided it just wasn't practical to try to de-mold and install pieces of that size.  

Nevertheless, we remain interested in concrete, and if we ever have another big kitchen project and more time to burn, we'll probably attempt it.  I especially like the idea of embedding glass in the top and polishing it to reveal the glass sections.  I'd like to try that sometime.

So, granite.

This is our load of granite.  It comes from India, and it consists of 24"x72"x1" sheets that weigh about 200 lbs. apiece.  It cost $900 total, loaded on our pickup truck.  To prepare the granite, I had to mark it, cut it, and polish it.

I spent a looong time in the house measuring the installed cabinets and making templates to mark the granite. Since the granite is dark, I chose a silver paint-marker to draw on it and mark cut-lines.  To cut the granite, I used a $29 Ryobi angle-grinder and a $9 diamond cutting wheel.  This is a very dusty process, so do it outside, preferably on a windy day, and wear a good dust-mask.  You can cut at a rate of about 3 inches per minute like this, and I had hundreds of inches of cut to it took a while.  I used up 1 diamond cutting wheel in the process, and the grinder took a beating.  I figure cutting the granite cost me about $20 and a day of my time.

After cutting, the exposed edges of the granite needed a full polish, and since the top faces were poorly done, they needed to be re-polished.  I used a wet-and-dry grinder for this job.  To keep the polishing disc cool, you need to run water onto the disc while you are polishing, and you cannot do this with a regular electric grinder - you will receive an electric shock and the grinder will fail.  So, it requires a special grinder that can work safely in water.  You can rent this or buy one for about $60.  I bought one.

After polishing and wiping up all the dust, we carried the slabs inside and set them. Under the granite is a 1" ply sub-top attached to the cabinets with screws and construction adhesive, and the granite is adhered to the sub-top with silicone caulk.  I polished the slabs to 3000 grit which gives a really nice mirror finish.  Once installed, we used a granite sealer liquid on them and they were done.  It took 2 days from start to finish to get the slabs prepped and installed.  Total bill, with tools, was about $1150 for the entire kitchen.  Not bad, if I do say so myself.

She Says:

I am so happy with the way these turned out.  The granite color is Uba Tuba, which has nice green flecks to match the cabinets.  And the price can't be beat!  Moving right along!


Kitchen Cabinetry

He says:

So, there are about a million ways to do kitchen cabinets.  You can have custom cabinets made, you can order ready-to-assemble cabinets from the web, you can order mass-produced cabinets from a variety of retail stores...but do any of those solutions sound like us?  Nope.  We have to do things on a budget and we want the house to be unique.  

So, we located the wholesale cabinet outlet in our area.  Fantastic people.  They have in-house credit and they have every possible size of cabinet - as long as you want unfinished oak.  Well, we did want unfinished oak.  Like the rest of the house, our skills are more "paint grade" than "stain grade" so we knew we wanted a unique and high-quality paint finish, and we knew we'd be doing that ourselves.  

We obtained a cabinet size list from the outlet store and went home to design our dream kitchen.  We actually did this sitting at the card table in the temporary kitchen.  We made an accurate drawing of the available space and tried about a dozen different layouts to get exactly what we wanted.  We kept the stove, fridge, and sink on one end of the room and went whole-hog for storage with the rest of it.

She Says:

They actually had a lot of different semi-custom choices for the cabinets.  We put a lazy susan in the corner cabinet, and ordered a few of the upper doors without the plywood face so that we could install our own glass.

He Says:

The unfinished solid oak cabinets are sturdy, with thick face frames and 1/2" and 5/8" hardwood ply sides and backs.  They come with hidden euro-hinges and we added our own soft-closers for $3.00 per door.

To install the lower cabinets, we scribed a level line on the wall with our long level and a pencil, and installed the cabinets with 3" screws into the wall studs.  We clamped the lowers together and screwed them together through the face frames with 2" screws.

In the corner of the kitchen we installed an 8' tall pantry unit.  We had to trim it about 1/4" to fit between the floor and ceiling.  

Uppers were installed with multiple 4" screws into wall studs, and face frames clamped and screwed together with 2" screws.

One thing we couldn't purchase was a cabinet to contain the fridge, so we built it from scratch.  We used a Kreg brand pocket-screw tool to assemble the face frame and finish-nailed and glued the face frame to the 3/4" hardwood ply cabinet box.  Viola, we had a refrigerator cabinet that looks so fine.  

She Says:

And the moment of truth: the fridge slid in perfectly into its cabinet, with no room to spare!