Painting Cabinets and Woodwork

May 24, 2017

I’ve already mentioned my obsession with painting, but even if you don’t share my sickness many of you will come across painting that will need to be done in your home at one time or another. One project that is generally inexpensive but can totally transform a space is painting the woodwork. Out of date kitchen cabinets, doors and trimwork can make a home feel old or dark. Certainly, there is always the option to sand and stain woodwork another color, but since I’m painting obsessed I go for the paint can.

My kitchen mid-remodel. New backsplash, countertop, sink and door pulls, but at this point I had only painted the window trim, not the cabinets.

My eat in kitchen right after moving in – classy wallpaper, dusty blinds and lots and lots of oak.

Painting woodwork takes a lot of time and patience but it can be done well, and when it is, it makes a world of difference.  Here are the steps I take when tackling a project like this.

Make sure the woodwork is well washed. There are all sorts of chemical solutions folks out there are trying to sell. Most commonly I hear people use TSP (tri-sodium phosphate), but it can irritate your skin and I like avoiding chemicals when I can. I just use a bucket of hot water with either some dish soap or Spic and Span. Anything like that will cut through any grease which is what we are after here. I use a scrubby sponge to make sure I’m not just wiping things around and it usually does a pretty good job.

Assess the wood. Does your woodwork have a high gloss finish? Is it waxed? Is it natural?? Each of these (and others) require different approaches. If there is a high gloss varnish on your wood work you will want to do some sanding. If there is wax you can use hot water and vinegar to break down the wax. If it’s natural – then eureka – you can just move right on to priming.

Sanding – most of the time you will need to do some sanding. If you only have a light finish you only need to do a light sanding. Just scrub up the wood a bit with some fine anti clogging 180-grit sandpaper until the shine dulls. You don’t need to go crazy here, we just want to be sure the paint has something to grab on to.

Use a tack cloth to eliminate all the dust left from your sanding fun. If you dislike tack cloth like I do you can go back to #1 and just wash it again.

Fill any holes or nicks with joint compound, let dry and sand for a smooth finish. The worst thing is spending a ton of time making your trim/cabinets look good and have imperfections.

Prepare your area for painting. If you use painters tape, go ahead and put that in place now. Slap down the drop cloth and make sure your area will be protected from any messy paint splatters. If you are working on cabinets or a vanity it is always best to remove all doors and drawers for painting – the time will pay off. You may want to label the doors to be sure you put them back in the same places. Otherwise they may not line up just right when you put them back on.

PRIME PRIME PRIME!! This is maybe the most important part. DON’T YOU DARE SKIMP ON THE PRIMER OR THE PAINT. If you want to be cheap about it then don’t even get started. This project requires some excellent product for it to be successful. Buy yourself a heavy duty primer that will bind to the wood, block any stains and prime your surface for paint. You can use oil or latex paint depending on what you prefer. I find that the new latex paint is just about as good as any oil based paint and much easier to use and clean up after. I use latex almost exclusively now. Put on a good coat and avoid any drips.

After the primer is very dry (it’s best to let it sit overnight) you can get started with the painting. BUT FIRST, be sure there aren’t any drips or other imperfections that need attention.  Sand or spot paint where needed (Do this between every coat of paint). I’m paint picky – picky as hell actually. I use Benjamin Moore paint and swear by it. For trim or cabinet work I won’t use anything but Aura (Locally, Bloomington Paint and Wallpaper is the place to go). Over many projects, over many years, I have found this to be the best. In my current home I used Simply White on all my woodwork (window trim, doors, floor boards, crown, kitchen cabinets, staircase spindles). It was a nice neutral white that wasn’t too cool or bright. Be sure to run your brush with the wood and don’t put it on too thick. It’s better to do another coat then end up with drops and uneven paint you’ll end up needing to sand anyway. You will have to judge for yourself when you’ve put enough coats on. My cabinets took primer + 3 coats of paint + a touch up. You’ll know when you can no longer see any of the wood showing through.

This is a labor of love (or frugalness). I thought I needed a whole new set of kitchen cabinets, but now that I have painted them I love them. Just think of how much money that saves you.

If you have any questions about painting cabinets or other projects just let me know. Happy to chat anytime!

The white paint in my eat in kitchen breaks up all the wood and makes for a nice bright spot to enjoy breakfast.

LOVE my kitchen. It look a lot of time but it’s just how I want it now. I tried to live with the cabinets the way they were but I’m so glad I took the leap and painted them white.

Don’t judge me for all the booze. I need some help getting through all these reno projects.