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
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.
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!
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?
I think this is going to be the last progress post I write on the wainscoting until we’re finished. I’ll probably do one more post on how we replaced the window sill, but that will be it. We’re that close. Over the weekend we were finally able to prime the panels. Instead of brushing on all the required coats of paint, I thought we’d get a better result if we sprayed on the first two coats, which are the primer coats.
There, that should do it.
Now, if you paint unfinished wood like this wainscoting, you typically need to apply several coats of paint to hide the darkness of the wood and to achieve your desired finish. Painting unfinished wood with a brush for all of those coats can end up giving you a goopy look with a lot of visible brush marks. After four coats of latex paint, it tends to do that. To avoid that look, you can spray paint the primer AND the paint or just spray on the primer and then brush on two coats of the finish paint. Get it? By reducing the amount of brushed on coats, you can get a smoother, more professional looking result. Why would you even bother to brush on any coats if you can spray them all? It’s useful if you want to match some existing paint in your home like trim or crown molding. It’s a perfect approach for built-ins.
For larger projects like our wainscoting, it’s a little impractical to use cans of spray paint. Not sure how many cans it would take, but I’m pretty sure it’d be a lot. Instead, we’re using an HVLP (high volume, low pressure) paint gun. You’ll also need an air source. You can use a large compressor, smaller pancake compressors don’t provide enough air. We’re using a turbine system, which provides air like a large compressor, but it’s very compact. They’re available used on ebay or craigslist for reasonable prices and they may be worth it if you’re planning on doing a LOT of spray painting. We picked our’s up when we built our first home’s kitchen cabinets. The paint guns are fairly inexpensive and there are a ton of used guns available.
We still have to do some light sanding after this primer coat and then we can actually apply the finish paint coats.
We’re hoping we can finally get this done soon!
What’s been keeping you busy lately? Any projects dragging on?
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