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Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Cabinet, Construction How-To, Construction How-To, Painting, Painting, Punch! May 31, 2007 Matt Weber











Cabinets are usually the most prominent feature of a kitchen and greatly determine the room’s overall décor. Peeling paint, nicks and scratches, or a dull, dirty finish can plague older cabinets and really sap the pizzazz out of the living space. On the other hand, a fresh coat of paint can do wonders for cabinets and breathe new life into the kitchen. A repainting project can also save tons of money when compared to full cabinet replacement, which can easily total several thousands of dollars.

kpaint1 2004 0130alligator0003 Painting Kitchen Cabinets

This cabinet painting project was part of a complete kitchen remodel. First we painted the walls a chocolate brown. To offset the dark brown, we painted the cabinets white.

Some repainting jobs are relatively simple. Your situation may only call for some light sanding, a thorough washing, and a new coat of paint to renew the color that already exists on the cabinets. This is a fairly straightforward procedure that requires you to remove the hardware and doors, and secure yourself a dust-free location for painting and drying the doors (the carcass can be painted in place). In this case, the actual paint application probably won’t take longer than a weekend, although drying time may take longer. If the project only requires a fresh coat of paint, then consider yourself lucky; a complete refinishing job takes a lot more time and effort.

This article covers a cabinet painting project where we stripped and/or sanded the factory finish off a set of MDF cabinets and covered them with primer and an oil-based paint. Here’s how we eliminated an old, ugly finish and replaced it with a fresh coat of bright white.

Getting Started

You’ll need a drill/driver to pop off the cabinet doors and unscrew all the hinges, handles and knobs. The brass hardware on the cabinets was very dated, so we discarded the old stuff to replace later with new chrome hardware. If you plan to reuse the old hardware, then make sure to store all the loose components and fasteners in a bucket while you paint.

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Remove the doors and all hardware. Label the doors by number to keep track of their placement.

If you have many doors of dissimilar sizes, then label them with painter’s tape. The cabinets in this project had 15 doors of various dimensions, so we labeled them by number to avoid confusion when reinstalling.

Next, fill any dings or dents in the wood with non-shrinking putty. Most types of putty are very hard once they dry, so remove as much excess as possible. And if you plan to use new hardware with different fastener locations, then go ahead and fill the old screw holes with putty, too. Once the putty has dried, the repaired areas can be sanded smooth.

You will need to set up a work area, because removing the old finish is going to be a messy job. You’ll need to arrange a large, flat surface to work on the doors. Use plenty of drop cloths to protect anything you don’t want exposed to wood dust or paint stripper. Some paint strippers may also require open-air ventilation.


Removing the Old Finish

As with any painting job, prepping the surface is critical for any hope of success. The cabinets in this project were made of MDF with a faux wood finish, which was blistered and wearing away in various places. I wanted to completely eliminate this old finish to guarantee a good bond for the new paint. You can remove the finish by stripping the paint with a chemical or sanding the doors down to bare wood. There are pros and cons to both methods. I tried both methods.

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One option for removing the old finish is to brush on a paint stripper.