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Painting Kitchen Cabinets

An Inexpensive Way To Transform Your Kitchen


After several years of looking at the same old kitchen cabinets chances are you are ready for a new look. The only problem is creating a new look in the kitchen often means major remodeling, along with a major price tag. If money is tight, and it usually is now a days, then do what we did an just repaint the faces of your cabinets. As long as the doors, drawers and frames have no major defects then you can have a completely different looking kitchen for a few hundred dollars and some elbow grease. You will be amazed at how much better your space will look with just a new coat of paint.

What got us started on this project was our dishwasher gave out and we needed to get a new one. My really liked the stainless look so that is what we bought. Note: To the men who are reading this here is an old Hawaiian saying that has done me well. “Happy wife, happy life.” Any way the stainless did not really go with our current paint job so we decided to upgrade.

Painting kitchen cabinets is a great way to create a fresh new look without a high price tag. Not only is it a budget friendly way to remodel the kitchen, but it is also one of the easiest things you can do. If you can paint a wall, you can paint kitchen cabinets. As with any painting project the prep work is really important. Taking time up front to choose the right kitchen cabinet paint and then preparing the cabinets for the coating will make your job come out a lot better.

Choosing the Kitchen Cabinet Paint
The first thing you will need to do is to determine what you want in terms of color. Are you looking for a brighter look to your kitchen or do you prefer darker colors that will keep stains hidden? No matter what you are looking for you need to pick out the perfect color to match your kitchen, which might involve painting the walls. Choosing kitchen cabinet paint can be a long and drawn out process, but you want to take your time to ensure you choose the right color. Of course if you don’t like the results on the first try it is not the end of the world because you can always repaint, it is just that you will have wasted one of your precious weekends.

To begin the paint selection process look at all of the color samples in the paint department of your favorite home remodeling store or visit a paint store. Bring home the swatches of colors that you like the best. Tape them up on your cabinets so you can see what they look like inside your kitchen, colors look different under different types of lights. This will start to give you an idea of how you like colors but you should go one step further.

Bringing home an actual paint sample will give you an even better idea of what the paint will look like once applied to your cabinets. Most stores now carry small sample cans of paint that you can purchase. Paint a portion of a cabinet and if you plan to redo the wall paint be sure to paint a portion of that paint onto the wall near where you painted the test color on the cabinet. Also, if you plan to use an tiles on the wall it is good time to lay them out so you see how everything fits together and you can be sure that nothing in your newly painted kitchen clashes. Of course new counter tops would also want to be check but for this project I am assuming that you aren’t going to go that far. Counter tops can easily cost several thousand dollars and that would blow the budget for our low cost kitchen makeover.

Once you have picked the perfect color you will want to buy semi-gloss latex for your kitchen cabinet paint. This offers a hard surface that is very easy to clean. Never use a flat paint for anywhere that will require washing. How much you get depends on how many cabinets and drawers you need to paint. Generally speaking, a gallon of paint on a flat wall will cover about 400 square feet. This rule of thumb does not carry over into kitchen cabinet painting because of all edges and the fact that you will do the backs of the doors. If you want to get close then calculate the square footage of the faces of the cabinets (remember multiply the length of cabinet by the height) and then double it. This should get you pretty close. So if your cabinets are 10 feet long and 3 feet tall the face area will be 300 square feet. If you double this you will get 600 square feet so you would want to get two gallons. This is only a rule of thumb but it should get you close.

Replacing the Kitchen Cabinet Hardware
Something else you will need to decide is if you want to replace the hardware or not. For the added cost I highly recommend that you get new pulls and hinges. It will really add a lot to your renovation. Adding new handles and hinges to your cabinets help give your kitchen that fresh new look. Just remember you will also want to change the drawer pulls. Choose hardware that will work with the new look you are trying to create. For example, if you are going for a modern looking kitchen you don’t want to choose old-fashioned hardware, that gives the room an antiqued look.

Taking Them Off
Before you attempt to do anything else with the kitchen cabinets you will want to take everything off, all the hinges and handles. Obviously when you take the hinges off the cupboard doors are going to come off as well, so you can either stack them up against the wall or lay them on a plastic sheet or drop cloth. Taking off the hinges and the handles is going to require the use of a screwdriver, whether flat head or Philips will depend on the screw holding them in place, but it is always a good idea to have both types of screwdrivers located nearby. Drawers should be pulled out before taking the hardware off.

If you plan to reuse your old hardware, you will want to place everything inside of a Ziploc bag or even an airtight container, so you don’t accidentally lose a screw or two. It’s best if you place the hardware inside the bag or container as soon as you take them off. If you are using new hardware, you can still save the old hardware for somebody else to use. Many towns and cities have a program to exchange old building supplies. Why not donate these instead of just filling up the land fill?

Washing Your Kitchen Cabinets
Now that you have all of the cabinets off you need to get them ready for painting. Washing the cabinets with a little bit of soap and water is the best way to ensure that the surface is clean. Using liquid dishwashing soap is perfect for getting rid of any grease that is marring the cabinets. When washing the cabinets make sure you get along the edges and inside any grooves to ensure there is no buildup left behind. If you have a lot of intricate detail in the doors then you can use cotton tips to clean these recesses. This is a trick that car detailers use but it also works around the house. Unsightly buildup can cause the paint to clump.

Filling Holes Before Painting
Lay out the kitchen cabinets and drawers on a drop cloth or old sheet so they can dry. The drop cloth or old sheet is also the perfect area for painting the cabinets without making a mess. Once the cabinets and drawers have dried you will need to measure up the new hardware, obviously if you are using the old hardware you can skip this step. Measure the holes for the new hardware, if you can reuse the old holes that is great, but if not fill up the old holes with wood filler. The color of the wood filler doesn’t matter since you will be painting your kitchen cabinets.

Sanding Before You Start To Paint
Once the wood filler has dried, the cabinets can be sanded if needed. Cabinets that do not have a glossy finish do not need to be sanded, but sanding them will not hurt. The easiest way to sand the cabinets is to grab an electric sander and run them over each cabinet. Hand sanding can also be done, and while more time consuming often does a better job. In either case fine sandpaper should be used because it will get the surface rough enough to ensure that the paint sticks without any trouble. 80 grit sand paper is really too course for this project unless you plan to take cabinets clear down to bare wood. 80 grit will cause scratches that will need to be further sanded out. If you are just going to rough up the existing surface then a 120 works well followed by a 150 to make it smoother.

Determining if your cabinets need to be sanded is as simple as touching them. If they feel like a glossy credit card, they should be sanded, if they feel like a wooden cutting board they should be fine with just a light sanding to roughen up the surface a little. In older homes, homes built before 1978, always test the cabinets for lead paint before sanding. You can buy a lead paint test kit at any local hardware store. If you have lead paint then sanding will release lead particles into the air which is not a good thing. You can paint over the lead to seal it.

Kitchen Cabinet Primer Time
No matter what type of cabinets you have you will want to use an oil-based primer on your cabinets and drawers before painting them. Oil based is the best choice, despite what a water-based equivalent will claim. Oil based primer works to prevent any old stains from coming through the paint. With primer, you should only need one coat. You can apply primer with a roller or you can use a brush, the brush will be needed anyway to get into the edges. Never reuse your brush or roller from the primer; they can ruin the smooth paint finish you are aiming for. Give the cabinets and drawers several hours to dry before attempting the next step.

Painting Your Cabinet Doors and Drawers
Grab your new roller, new angle tipped brush, and your semi-gloss latex paint and get ready to start painting those cabinets and drawers. Two coats of semi-gloss latex paint should be perfect for all your cabinets and drawers. When applying the paint use the roller as much as possible for the smoothest finish. The brush should only be used as needed in cracks and crevices. Allow the first coat to dry for several hours before applying the second coat.

Dry Time
Once the second coat has been applied, you will want to wait three to five days before hanging your kitchen cabinets. If you plan to paint the backside of the door, and you really should, you will want to wait three to five days as well before turning them over. This waiting period gives the paint time to cure, so nothing will mar the surface of your newly painted kitchen cabinets

Putting the Kitchen Back Together
Once the cabinets and drawers have dried, they are ready to be put back together. While you can do this after you hang the doors, it is easier to install the new hardware while the cabinets are still taken apart. Measure out the new hardware at least twice before drilling, you don’t want to have to mess around with filling and sanding due to a small mistake. Once the new hardware is on simply rehang the door and put the drawers back in their slot.

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