Cabinet Painting 101

Posted by John on September 21st, 2014

Happy Monday!

In today’s post you’ll learn:

– The best way to paint cabinets

– The approach I’m taking to paint my cabinets

Before I get started with today’s post, I want to remind you that we are running a survey to collect your feedback regarding our blog.  I’m going to keep it open until the end of this week and then I’ll discuss the results in a follow up post.  Overall, the feedback so far has been positive and supremely helpful.  I’ve gotten a few comments that recommend I make some changes to the way we operate and I’ll address those suggestions as well.  All the comments have been respectful and for that I’m grateful.  I’m very happy to have you all as readers and I’d like to keep you engaged and reading, but I realize I have to continue earning that privilege.  Changes are a’comin and I think you’ll be happy with the direction we’ll be taking.  Before I implement any of those changes however, I need to finish our home office and prep another room (details to follow).

Here’s a link to the survey if you haven’t taken it yet:  https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/6JB56NM

Now let’s get back to home stuff…

Cabinet Painting 101

Cabinet Painting 101

In the past week or so, I’ve made a lot of progress with our office cabinets.  I’m in the middle of painting them and pretty soon I’ll be installing them, working on the countertops, drawers and room trim.  I’m intentionally withholding a lot of details so as to make a comprehensive 30-40 minute long video where I demonstrate the entire build process.  While waiting for that video may be a little annoying for you, I think you’ll have a better understanding of the entire process from start to finish.  It’s either that or I give you a dozen posts on cabinet building, which I’ve already done with our TV stand and large built-in project.  The general approach I’m taking to building these cabinets is similar to those two projects, so if you’re itching to read about cabinet building and you can’t wait for the video, check out those two series.  I’m trying hard not to be repetitive.

In this post I want to go over the approach I take to painting cabinets.  My process is always evolving and improving so every time I attempt a new cabinet build, I’m switching something up and this project is no different.  But before I get into the specifics, here’s my philosophy on painting cabinets and furniture in general.

The Absolute Best Method.  The best way to paint cabinets involves spraying two coats of primer followed by spraying two coats of a high quality acrylic paint or lacquer using an HVLP system.  If you spray the paint, you won’t get brush marks.  You should get an even, smooth finish.  It’s how almost all professional furniture is finished.  Multiple coats of lacquer will give you that candy coating like finish similar to something you’d see at Ikea.  Your car is probably painted with some sort of two part lacquer paint.  Acrylic paint is sort of like nail polish.  It’s smelly, but gives you a smooth durable finish that will hold up really well over time.  You should probably avoid using a latex based paint or primer since they are not designed for furniture, they’re designed for your plaster or drywall.

The Better Method.  If you aren’t equipped to spray on four coats of paint or primer, then an alternative method you could attempt is maybe spraying on just the primer or just the finish coats.  If you don’t have a professional spray system like an HVLP gun, you can use spray cans.  You can spray paint the primer using spray cans and then brush on an acrylic finish paint.  Lacquer isn’t typically applied with a brush, so you should probably just skip that stuff.  Avoid brushing on all four coats of primer and paint.  If your goal is to avoid brush marks, then brush on as few as possible.

Keep in mind that I’m just talking about the paint here, not the prep work on the in-between work.  Also, I’m working with unfinished or bare wood, not wood or cabinets that have already been painted or poly’d.

So now that we’ve talked about the possible approaches, let me tell you how I’m finishing my cabinets.

Here’s a shot of the cabinets after the primer.

cabinet painting


1.  Prep work.  After the cabinets were built, I filled in any small brad nail holes with white wood filler.  I then sanded each cabinet with a 120 grit sandpaper using my random orbital sander.  I avoided rounding over any corners or edges with the sander.  I want all of my edges to be fairly crisp at this point.  Once every piece had been sanded at 120 grit, I switched to 220 and repeated the same process.  Afterwards I used a compressed air nozzle to blow off any sawdust.  Some people absolutely avoid using compressed air to do this, but I think it works fine.

2.  Staging.  Since I’m going to be spraying on the primer, I moved all of the cabinets, doors and shelves into the garage.  I used plastic painters tarp and covered the entire floor with plastic.  I also draped plastic over our shoe rack and our daughters strollers and toys.

3.  Corners.  I used a block of wood with some 220 grit sand paper and knocked down all of the corners on every piece.  I apply very little force as I run the sandpaper block across all the edges.  Again, not looking to round over the edges, just slightly dull them.  A corner that gets knocked down will hold the paint better than a sharp edge.

4.  More air.  I use my compressed air hose that I have piped into my garage and blow off any additional dust that may have built up from moving the cabinets up and rounding over the edges.

5.  Raising the grain.  Since I’ll be using a waterborne primer, I’ll need to raise the grain.  When wood grain absorbs water after it’s been sanded, the wood grains will rise and cause the finish to feel rough.  So to make the process easier, you intentionally raise them by getting them wet and then you sand them back down by hand.  After they’ve been knocked back down, they won’t rise again.  Sounds crazy, but that’s just how it is.  To raise the grain, I fill up my HVLP gun with warm water and blast all the cabinets with a light coating of water mist.  After an hour of drying time, I lightly sand the cabinets with some 220 grit sandpaper by hand and then blew off any dust with the compressed air.

6.  Primer.  I used Benjamin Moore’s Fresh Start latex primer.  I used it because it’s low-odor, low-VOC and is sprayable.  As I mentioned, latex isn’t ideal and it came out just okay.  It sprayed a bit chunky from the HVLP system I use, but ended up leveling out ok and seemed to get the job done.  In the past, I’ve used a shellac based primer from Zinsser, specifically the BIN primer, which sprayed absolutely perfectly.  Thought I’d try something different this time.  I’ll probably go back to the BIN for my next project.

7.  Sand.  After the primer dried, I went back and sanded all the cabinets again using a 220 grit sandpaper by hand.  Using a power tool for this may remove too much paint.

8.  Finish Paint.  For the finish coat, I’m using two coats of Sherwin Williams Pro Classic in Ultra White.  It’s the same color as the rest of the trim in the office so it will match the baseboard and crown molding.  I bought it in satin instead of semi-gloss though, since I don’t want the cabinets to be too shiny.  The crown and baseboard molding WILL be semi-gloss, however.  The Pro Classic is an acrylic enamel that it designed for cabinet and trim work.  Since it’s an enamel, it will harden and will resist pulling off if I set a book or computer down on it for example (a characteristic referred to as “blocking”).  Instead of spraying it, I’m brushing it on.  This is also intentional.  First off, it’s much easier then spraying.  Secondly, it will have a more built-in look if it isn’t perfectly smooth.  If this were a stand alone kitchen cabinet set, then I would probably try spraying all the coats.  This high quality paint levels very well so you are much less likely to see brush marks.  I believe it’s equivalent to Benjamin Moore’s Satin Impervo, which I used on my first house and also loved.

Here’s a sneak peak of a horizontal divider after the first coat.  Can you see any brush marks?  No?  Me neither!

painted cabinet

So that’s where I’m at with the cabinets.  I’m hoping to wrap them up SOON!  Second coat of finish paint is going on tomorrow.

Now I’d love to hear about your experience painting cabinets.  Have any tips or experience you’d like to share?  

Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects,Staining and Painting. Tagged in ,, , , ,

Sanding and Painting Unfinished Furniture

Posted by John on April 1st, 2013

Happy Tuesday! Sure beats Happy Monday, am I right?  We are just moments away from wrapping up our built-in project.  All the cabinet work has been primed and painted, I just need to add a second coat to some areas.  I don’t know if I’ve ever shared the basic process I follow when I sand and paint furniture.  I have a habit of repeating myself, which Lisa loves to gently remind of me from time to time.  So, if you know how to sand and paint furniture, just skim the photos and stop by later to see the finished built-in.

Sanding and Painting Unfinished Furniture

I start with my random orbital sander (ROS).  I picked this sander up last year when we were working on our sliding drawer project.  It was relatively inexpensive and works great.  ROSs are the most versatile of the electric sanders and work well with most projects.  The other options are the vibrating pad or reciprocating sanders and the belt sanders.  The reciprocating sanders aren’t bad either, but they only shake in one direction so they require more work on your part to use them effectively.  Belt sanders are better for bigger more aggressive sanding work and should probably be skipped for regular woodworking projects. ROSs are the Goldilocks of sanders.

random orbital sander

The sand paper for the ROS comes as a disc with either an adhesive or velco backing, which makes swapping them out a quick process.  For most woodworking projects, if I have wood that is in good shape and doesn’t have any gouges or scratches in it, I use a 120 grit paper.  The 120 is abrasive enough to take down sharp edges, but gentle enough that it won’t majorly scratch your work.  If I need to remove a lot of material or repair deep scratches I’ll start with a 40 or 60 grit paper.  The lower the number, the more abrasive the paper.

After I’ve sanded all the visible surfaces with the 120, I switch to a 220 grit paper and repeat the process.  Since this is a paint grade project, that’s as far as I’ll go.  Some higher quality or stain grade projects may require a 330 grit paper to polish the wood further.  While sanding I also make sure to take the sharp edges off all the corners.  A knocked down edge will hole the paint or stain much better than a sharp edge.  Plus, it feels better on your hand.

You know you’re done sanding when the project feels baby soft to the touch.  To prep the piece for painting, use either a compressed air source to blow the work clean or shake it and wipe it down.

For the painting process, I start with a spray primer.  I’m a stickler for this part of the painting process.  Most paint grade projects I work on will get about four coats of paint, 2 of primer and 2 of the finish coat.  I try to spray the first two coats of primer.  The reason being, brushes and rollers leave marks, however well executed and subtle.  Spray paint leaves a near perfect finish.  So, it’s better to have a smooth base and some brush marks on the last couple coats than four coats of brush marks.  Get it?

primed cabinet

If you don’t have a spray system with an HVLP gun like we used on our wainscoting project, you can use a regular can of spray paint/primer.  I used a few cans of Valspar primer from Lowes for this project after my HVLP spray paint ran out.  The more coats of spray paint you use, the smoother your result will be.  To get that Ikea-like candy coating, if that’s what you’re after, use the spray primer followed by several coats of spray lacquer including a few clear coats of lacquer.  Be sure to sand lightly with a 330 grit or higher paper or steel wool in between coats.

Since this project is a built-in, we want it to match our baseboard molding and look like it’s part of the wall.  To get that look, we’re following the primer with a couple coats of regular semi-gloss latex trim paint from Sherwin Williams (Shell White).  Regular latex paint is not ideal for book cases or anything where you’ll have inanimate objects sitting on it for long periods of time.  Reason being, the latex will get stuck to whatever you rest on it eventually and peel off.  Ideally, we should use a high quality furniture paint that resists that sort of sticking, which is called “blocking”.  You want a paint with good “blocking” resistance.  Enamels and lacquers are great for that feature, latex paint not so much.  So why are we using it?  Well, as I mentioned, we want the built-in to match the house trim, so that’s what we’re stuck with.  I’m hoping the primer we used will help prevent some of that sticking nastiness.  Time will tell.

What’s a good product for furniture painting that resists blocking?  We used Benjamin Moore’s Satin Impervo on the kitchen cabinets from our first home and we loved how it came out.  Ask around though.  Professional painters seem to have some strong opinions on their favorite products.

So that’s my two cents on sanding and painting.  Hope you got something out of it. 

Baby #2 is not here yet, either just in case you were wondering.  Anyone else suffering through some painting projects at the moment?

Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects,Staining and Painting. Tagged in ,, ,

Painting Our Toddler Bedroom

Posted by John on January 27th, 2013

Hey guys!  We finally finished painting our daughter’s new toddler bedroom this weekend and we’re very happy with the color we chose.  I’ve also started assembling some of the Hemnes Ikea furniture that she will probably use until college (yikes).  Looking good so far.  We’re planning on at least a few more posts on her bedroom, so I’m not going to show you everything today.

Here’s how the room looked before the paint..

white walls in bedroom 2

and here’s how it looks painted…

sherwin williams popular grey

one more time..

wall sticker of tree

and after…

sherwin williams popular g

We went with Sherwin Williams Popular Gray (6071).  It’s a touch lighter than what I wanted to go with and a touch darker than what Lisa wanted.  We compromised and met in the middle.  It’s a hue or two lighter than “Perfect Greige,” which is 6073, but it’s definitely in the vein we were aiming for.  Big fan of it so far.  I wasn’t sure how it would look against the darker beige/light brown carpet, but I think it looks fine.  Ideally, we’ll be ripping these carpets out eventually (couple years yet) and installing some dark hardwood to match the rest of the house.

In case you haven’t seen our planning post, we were inspired by this pic from pinterest..

greige and hemnes bed

In terms of wall color, I’d say we’re pretty close.  Plus, if you look closely, you can see a light brown carpet under the night stand.

I’m still banking on Lisa giving me the go-ahead for some custom shelving, but it may be a while.  We’ll need something to store her toys and shelves for books.  I really like this option we found on Pinterest…

built in bookcase and cabinets

I’d have to re-scale it to make it more kid friendly, but that wouldn’t be too hard.

Are you painting or planning to paint?  Are you more into the neutrals like we are or do you prefer louder tones?

Posted in Home Decor,Staining and Painting. Tagged in ,, , ,

The Other Side of Our Front Door

Posted by John on August 27th, 2012

Hope everyone is enjoying the last few weeks of summer.  While I love the fall, I’m hanging on to the warm weather like it’s my job.  I’m sure I’ll get into it once it’s here, but for now it’s going to stay summer around here until the leaves change color.  Last weekend we knocked out a bunch of projects and posted about two of them: the dining room wainscoting and the outside portion of the front door.  Today we’re going to show you what we did to the inside of the front door…

Lisa has been looking to add some character to our vestibule and had seen other people paint their front entry door.  She thought it would look pretty slick if we painted ours black.  We picked up some black no-VOC paint from Sherwin Williams and knocked out both the exterior side and the interior.

Lisa was excited about this if you couldn’t tell.

We wrapped the door frame in painter’s tape and I scuffed up the existing paint with some 220 grit sandpaper.

It took us around 4 or 5 coats of the semi-gloss black to completely hide all the white.  Now the door is a wood/foam core, but the outer layer is vinyl.  To get the look of a solid wood door, we applied the paint with a small roller and then used a dry brush to even it out.  If you brush the wet paint in certain directions, you can give the appearance of wood grain.  I drew up a guide if you’re not familiar with the basic process.

Just smooth out the wet paint with a dry brush in the arrow directions shown above and you’ll get a clean, professional look.

We’re very happy with how it came out.  Definitely breaks up the white trim.  Amazingly difficult to take a quality photo of this door though in broad daylight.

I took a few pictures in the evening.. came out a little better.

One downside we’ve noticed is at night, whenever we glance at it, it seems like it’s open.  We’ve been doing double takes.

Any door improvements you’re working on?



Posted in Home Decor,Staining and Painting. Tagged in ,, , ,

Wainscoting Painted

Posted by John on August 13th, 2012

I was originally thinking about skipping all the posts on our dining room wainscoting until we were completely finished with it. Staged and all.  However, it may be another week until it’s all buttoned back up, so I think I’ll just get on with it and show everyone where we’re at.

The last couple weeks we’ve been painting.  A lot.  We finally finished painting the wainscoting and this past weekend we finished painting the walls.  We had hoped to avoid repainting all the accessible beige, but the touch ups were pretty visible, so we ended up repainting ALL of it.

One tip I learned from painting the large panels of the wainscoting is definitely worth sharing. I was getting some major streaking or flashing with the semi-gloss on some panels. You can see the brush strokes. For some reason it just wasn’t going on evenly. It was driving me mad.

To remedy this problem, I just used a small roller and applied a nice even coat just to the MDF panels and then used a dry brush to flatten it out. Worked like a charm.

Yesterday, I started adding the outlets. Since they are situated in the MDF panel part of the wall, the boxes need to be extended by 3/4.”

I was able to find outlet extenders at Home Depot. They come in varying sizes (1/4″, 1/2″, etc) and can be screwed right onto the existing boxes.

When installed, it brings the receptacle flush to the wall.

Here’s some shots of the room. We still have to finish up a few more outlets and add the oak quarter rounds to tie the walls to the floors. Then we’ll need to clean up and bring everything back in.

Can’t wait to be done with this already!! Late last week we were in DC for a couple days, which is why we skipped out on posting. We’ll be sharing some of our experiences with that trip later this week.

Do any painting this weekend? What are you looking forward to finishing?

Posted in Carpentry,DIY Projects,Electrical. Tagged in ,, , ,

Painting in Progress

Posted by John on January 13th, 2012

Last week, we posted on some of the lessons we learned when we hired a professional painter.  This week we’ve had the opportunity to put some of those lessons to the test to see how well they’ve worked.  The photo below shows the current state of our family room (well, we’ve actually moved our furniture back in place too).  I ran out of painting time and still need to finish this up.


First thoughts… we still love the color. It’s amazing how much darker the room looks now. Maybe it’s not amazing.  Maybe it’s because I took this photo at night and the floors are dark and the paint is darker.  Yeah, that’s probably why.

Anyway, this is the first room I’ve cut-in without using tape.  I’ve got to admit, it’s a lot easier and faster than I thought it would be.  You end up painting slower than if there’s tape, but it’s much cleaner.  I’m using a 2.5″ wide, angle cut Purdy brush.

The other recommendation we got from our painter was the paint roller.  He uses a Collosus roller also by Purdy.  I remember seeing this thing in action and it looked like a giant mop head.  So, I picked one up at our local Sherwin Williams.  Apparently, it comes in a couple different nap lengths.  Naturally, I went for the longest nap, the 3/4″.  Check this thing out…


Ridiculous right?  It puts a LOT of paint on the wall.  A LOT.  If you’re going to use it, be prepared for major drippage.

Another tip we noticed from the painter was how he prepped the receptacles and the light switches.  I’ve used ziploc bags to keep the switch plates in with the screws.  Although, sometimes I’ll just leave the screws on the counter.

Here’s what the painter did…


He put the switch plate screws back in the switches.  Not monumental, obviously, but smart and convenient none the less.

Do you have any paint tips?  Next week, we’ll be showing you what we learned from our hardwood floor install.

Posted in Lessons Learned,Staining and Painting. Tagged in ,,

Painting the Garage

Posted by John on November 14th, 2011

Despite another busy week and weekend, I was able to plant myself in the garage and get some serious painting done (used Olympic ONE).  All told, I probably put about 8 hours worth of time in this ridiculously over-dragged out project and that’s just for one coat!!  But anyway, the paint is finally done.

Here’s our to do list for the garage:

– Have the garage spackled.
– Paint
– Epoxy the floor (postponed until APR/MAY)
– Paint the interior garage access door (also moved to warmer months)
– Rewire the garage door opener (this week)
– Install garage organizers (this week)

After I painted the walls earlier in the week, I setup to paint the ceiling.  Since our garage ceilings seem about 9 stories high, I improvised a scaffolding with a couple of ladders and a 2×8.  Two 2x8s would have been better, but this worked pretty well.

Oh, and before I got to the ceilings, I was able to install a couple brackets to hold up our long ladder.  I’ve used these brackets before and they’ve worked really well, they’re actually made for bikes, but whatever.  Here’s how they went up.

They fasten directly into the wall studs.  I screwed in the first fastener and then used a level and held it vertically next to the bracket before I screwed in the second one.  I used my handy dandy stud finder and looked for a stud about 4 feet away and used my level as I installed the first screw.

With both brackets in place I was able to throw up our longest ladder.

After the ceiling was all painted, I started to cut-in.  We always keep our used Chinese soup containers for just this purpose.  Sure beats buying them.

After all that painting, we’re pretty happy with how clean the garage looks now  Here’s the before…

and here’s how it looks after the paint… still cluttered though.

from the inside…

Huuuuge improvement.  Although the paint was so bright white that it made our door trim look creamy (which it is I guess).

Painting the garage wasn’t that painful.  So hopefully, we’ll have a few more garage improvements to show you this week!!

Anyone else use Olympic ONE?  How’d you like it?  Anyone paint the interior of their garage a color other than white?

Posted in Garage and Tools,Staining and Painting. Tagged in ,,

The Heat is On

Posted by John on November 9th, 2011

This week we faced a critical juncture in our garage spruce up project.  We’re ready to paint, but our schedule hasn’t afforded us the free time during the warm hours of the day.  It’s been too cold lately.  You can’t paint below 50 F.  During the week, I’m only able to paint after work or I’ll have to wait until the weekend!!  We have way too much on our project plate to shelve all the garage work at this point, plus I dropped all the wiring from the garage door opener and I don’t feel like re-attaching it until the paint is on.  Arggghhh.

So we came up with a solution for me to paint after work despite the low temps…

Meet Mr. Heater. He’s moving into our garage for good and he’s bringing all 18,000 BTUs with him. He runs on little propane cans and can even hook up to your 20 lb LP grill tank. The best part about this little guy is he’s safe to run indoors or out.  I don’t have worry about Carbon Monoxide filling my work space because it burns fuel lean.  It’s going to be perfect for this project and for any winter time car work.  Ever try changing oil in February?  No, well it’s no fun.


I bought it at Lowes, also where I got this photo.  After about an hour of it running on high, I had to turn it back down to medium and take off my coat.

Plenty of heat for me to roll on some paint.

These are the fuel cans.  You can buy a 4 pack for about $12

The walls already look a lot better! But, I’m not going to enjoy painting this ceiling. Gonna definitely need a hat. Thinking of rigging up a poor man’s scaffolding too.

So we’re back in business!! We should be wrapping up this paint by the end of the week.  Then it’s on to garage organization and rewiring the opener with longer wires.  Anyone else overcoming thermal difficulties?

Posted in Garage and Tools,Staining and Painting. Tagged in ,, ,

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