We’ve now painted oak cabinets about three different times so I thought I would share some time-saving tips and tricks to painting oak cabinets that will also help your newly painted cabinets last. There are hundreds of cabinet painting tutorials out there and I’m not convinced that one way is the best but I can share what’s worked for us. The first home we owned we painted our oak kitchen cabinets white, by hand, with foam rollers and it was a long slog. This go around we opted to try spraying them and it was a total time saver! If you are interested in how to paint kitchen cabinets check out these quick tips for painting cabinets without showing the grain below.
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How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets
Clean the surface of the cabinets really well
It’s really important to clean the cabinets thoroughly before you begin so that your paint can adhere properly. Our cabinets were filthy and filled with years of gunk and grime. We used a product called Murphy’s Oil to clean the cabinets with a lint free cloth.
Pick a paint with good coverage
What’s the best paint for kitchen cabinets? That’s a great question and I don’t think there’s a right answer. Since our cabinets were oak, they were light and we needed good coverage. I chose Behr Marquee because I love the formula. Since we’d used it on our walls, I knew that it had great coverage. I tried out a few colors and I ended up selecting a paint color called Still Gray by Behr and had it mixed into the Marquee line formula. A really handy tip is that you can have pretty much any color mixed into the type of paint you wish. If you know the brand along with the name of the paint, The Home Depot can color match it into the paint of your choice. Picking a good paint is a huge time saver and potentially money saver. Since our paint had great coverage, we chose not to prime the kitchen cabinets and they still only needed two coats of paint.
Don’t skip sanding
We decided to sand, fill in the wood grain, then skip priming. If you are inclined to prime and then just paint without filling the wood grain, I think you could get away with skipping the sanding step. If you know you’ll want to try to fill in the wood grain of the oak cabinetry, be sure to sand first. I know it’s tempting to pick an option that allows you to skip sanding and just paint over the cabinets but it was a crucial step to getting the paint to bond well to the cabinets. We sanded all of the kitchen cabinets really well with an electric sander, then used our shop vac to remove any dust and debris from the cabinets. The initial sand is to just get any varnish off the cabinets and get to the wood.
Fill in the wood grain
One of the biggest questions I get asked in relation to the cabinets is if we have any grain showing. It was really important to me to get the kitchen cabinets as smooth looking as possible with little to no wood grain visible. Oak cabinets are notorious for showing wood grain even after being painting so we did take some extra steps to ensure that you would see minimal grain. We used a product called DAP Drydex spackling to fill the wood grain.
To apply it, you just take a spackling knife and run it all the way down the length of the cabinet door, filling in every little crack, then remove any excess. Then, you run the knife the width of the cabinet, again removing any excess. You allow Drydex to dry, then give it another good sand until the cabinets are smooth. After sanding – use a vacuum to pick up all the dust and debris before beginning the painting process.
Use a paint sprayer for a smooth finish
Painting kitchen cabinets can feel so daunting and I think that’s because post people imagine painting them with a brush or rollers. I’ve been there. Since we couldn’t avoid sanding the cabinets it was a relief to know that the actual painting process would be a breeze. When we painted the cabinets in our first home we painted each cabinet by hand and it took us three days with help from family. This time, we had more cabinetry and we added in the extra step of filling the wood grain so saving time by using a paint sprayer was crucial.
We opted to paint the cabinets using a sprayer with the HomeRight Spray Shelter so we could take the cabinet doors outside and spray them in the open air. The shelter is great for a project like this because you can spray in open air but still protect your surroundings. The best thing about painting cabinets with a sprayer is the smooth finish you get. No brushstrokes – totally smooth.
There is a bit of a learning curve with the sprayer, we followed the directions to our HomeRight Finish Max Sprayer because you have to get the flow just right. We practiced by first painting the interior side of the cabinets and then once we were confident with the sprayer, we sprayed the outside. It took two coats of the Behr Marquee paint for full coverage – no primer.
Don’t forget a top coat
I have a little secret. We totally forgot to add a top coat on our kitchen cabinets. A top coat is important to avoid any damage to the paint. It also makes the cabinets easier to clean. When we painted our cabinets we had multiple other projects going on. It was also right around the holidays, so we wanted to just get the cabinets back up as soon as possible. A year and a half later, we just added a top coat. I will say, I was incredibly impressed with how the paint held up on it’s own. We haven’t gotten a single dent or scratch in the paint, an it’s not impossible to clean. For a top coat, we ended up applying this polycrylic. It’s one that has a true clear finish while some others tend to turn a bit yellow after time.
We have tons more kitchen content if you’re into it. You’ll definitely want to check out the best gray paint colors for kitchen cabinets.