How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets
A new coat of paint can make worn, tired kitchen cabinets look new again. Thorough preparation is the key to successfully painting kitchen cabinets.
Remove the cabinet doors and drawers and remove all pulls, knobs, latches and other hardware from these parts. Place the hardware and screws in plastic bags inside the cabinets where they will be easy to locate when you're ready to reassemble.
Number each door and its corresponding location as you remove them. Do not mix them up or the hinges may not line up properly when you reinstall them. If you are painting only the drawer fronts, you won’t have to remove the attached slides. If you do need to remove the slides, mark them and their locations as well.
Even if they don't look dirty, grease and grime have likely worked their way into the surface of your cabinets. Following the instructions on the box, mix trisodium phosphate (TSP) with water. While wearing gloves, sponge the mixture on both sides of the cabinets and wipe off with a clean cloth.
If your cabinets have any holes or gouges you will need to fill them. If you plan on using new hardware that is a different size than the original, you will have to fill the old hardware holes before painting. Apply tape to the back surface of the cabinet doors underneath those holes. Then fill holes with the wood filler. Wipe away excess with a damp cloth.
Next, squeeze about a 3/4" strip of the hardener from the tube. Mix with putty knife, and spread into holes and dents, slightly overfilling.
Allow the filled areas to dry, then use sandpaper to smooth out the surface of the cabinets.
If your repainting project is just a facelift for the cabinets, you don’t need to sand and paint the inside of the cabinets; mask off the interiors with painters’ tape for a clean finish and sand only the front surfaces and visible edges of the cabinet face frames.
Use a wood sanding block to prevent rounding over the wood edges. When sanding, there is no need to remove all of the old paint if it is sound and well-adhered; just roughen the surface to provide the new paint with a firm, clean base for better adhesion. Pay particular attention to especially worn areas of old finish, which typically get the most use. Also be sure to sand over shiny areas to deglaze any remaining previous finish. Stubborn finishes may require rubbing with denatured alcohol and fine steel wool.
If the old paint is flaking off in places, the original finish did not adhere well to the wood surface. This is typically due to moisture or greasy residue getting under the paint layer or into the wood itself, which can be expected in kitchens. Sand these areas to bare wood and spot-prime with a stain-killing primer/sealer before repainting. Wherever you sand down to bare wood, try to blend or “feather” the edges where the old paint meets the wood so the new paint will lay flat, and the paint edges will not be visible or “telegraph” through the new finish.
Thoroughly vacuum the sanding dust from all surfaces. If you have a pneumatic air compressor, use high-pressure air to blow the dust out of crevices or molding details. Wipe down the areas to be painted with a tack cloth to pick up any remaining sanding residue
Use a good-quality 3-inch brush to apply an even coat of primer-sealer to all surfaces to ensure a well-bonded finish coat. Primer-sealers also reduce the need to sand and deglaze old finishes before repainting. Another advantage to a primer-sealer is that it provides a good base for semi-gloss, water-based paint. High-gloss enamel paint was once the preferred finish for kitchen cabinets because it resists stains and water and is easily cleaned, but today’s water-based finishes are easier to work with and provide an equally durable finish.
Start by painting the inside edges and openings of the face frames, then the outer cabinet sides, and finally the face frame fronts. This allows you to work quickly in the less critical areas, and enables you to see and correct any drips or smudges on the most visible areas.
Next, paint the cabinet doors and drawer fronts, along with any separate wood pieces or moldings. If these parts have raised or routed features, be sure to flow the paint into crevices and corners, but don’t allow it to accumulate in these spots.
Always apply paint in thin, light coats, but be sure to cover all areas. Thin coats leave fewer visible brushstrokes and dry more quickly. Don’t lay the finish on thickly and don’t overwork the brush — too many brush strokes will create air bubbles in the finish, leaving bumps and pits when it dries.
Allow the paint to dry for at least four hours between coats. When dry, resand all surfaces lightly to prepare them for the second coat, wipe away all sanding dust with a tack cloth, then repaint. Two coats of quality paint are usually all that is necessary, but you may want to add a third coat because kitchen cabinets take lots of punishment from cooking heat and day-to-day use, and wood surfaces need all the protection they can get.
If you are attaching a new hardware in a different place than the original, use a combination square to mark the placement of the hardware on doors and drawer fronts. Slide the marker to measurements and mark with a pencil.
Center the spring punch on the mark, pull back and release. Then pre-drill all the holes marked by the spring punch.
Insert the hardware screws from the back and tighten into the handle with a screwdriver.
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