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8 Tips for a Professional-Looking Finish on Your Cabinets

Dec 13th 2022

Professional-Looking Finish on Your Cabinets

Are you looking for professional-looking finished cabinet doors, but unsure how to finish cabinet doors correctly? When it comes time to paint cabinet doors in your home, we recommend following several important rules to get the best possible kitchen cabinet finish.

Can Your Cabinets Be Refinished?

First, make sure you know whether your cabinets can be refinished and what kind of kitchen cabinet finishes should be used on your kitchen cabinet doors. Here’s how to ensure you’ll have beautifully finished cabinet doors the first time through.

  • Actual Wood: If you have laminate cabinets, it’s best to reface your cabinets rather than just painting them. While it is possible to paint laminate, the finish can be unreliable and is prone to peeling. If your cabinet doors are laminate, we suggest replacing them with new cabinet doors rather than attempting to paint them. This is still significantly less expensive than fully replacing your cabinets, so don’t panic if this is the case for you. 
  • Wood Species: If you’re looking for smooth, professional-looking finished cabinet doors, you’ll want to look for certain wood species that take paint well. Close-grained wood species—like maple, poplar, or even MDF—are best for painting because they don’t absorb the paint. Open-grained wood on the other hand—like oak and ash—absorb the paint into the grain so that the grain of the wood is prominent rather than producing a smooth finish. If you want to paint an open-grained wood, you’ll need to seal the wood and use wood grain filler, which makes for a much more time-intensive job.
  • Solid Cabinets: If your cabinets or cabinet doors aren’t in good shape, there’s little point in refinishing them. Even freshly finished cabinet doors won’t look good if the cabinets are too worn or damaged. If it’s just the finish or the hardware that’s worn, but the wood itself is still solid, you should get good results from painting kitchen cabinets.

If your cabinets are made from the right materials and are in good enough shape to accept the finish you choose, you are ready to get started with the process. Remember that wood cabinet finishes can be finicky, so take your time and make sure you follow our tips below carefully to get the results you want.

However, if your cabinets aren’t suitable for refinishing, but are still in good shape, look into how to do cabinet refacing. You can still get the look of brand new cabinets, without having to replace them completely. 

How to Finish Cabinet Doors Correctly

If you want to know how to finish cabinet doors well so that they look smooth and professional, keep these eight tips in mind. This will ensure that your cabinet doors are not only ready to accept paint but that you have gone through the finishing process thoughtfully and correctly. For a complete picture of how to get a factory finish on your cabinets, do the following:

1. Prepare Your Doors 

Prepping your cabinets correctly ensures that every hour spent preparing the cabinet door for painting saves two hours in repainting. Prepping your cabinets includes four key steps:

    a. Remove your cabinet doors first. Make sure you create a system of organization, a diagram, or a way to label each piece to ensure that you’ll remember exactly where each cabinet door and drawer goes. Same goes for any hardware you remove.

    b. Make sure that you thoroughly wash anything that will be painted to remove grease, grime, and any buildup. Get your hardware good and clean because you won’t want to damage your fresh finish after the fact.

    c. Clean inside your cabinets so they’re clean, tidy, and ready to go once everything is reinstalled. Again, it’d be a shame to damage your fresh finish because you didn’t prepare properly.

    d. Carefully cover any hardware that won’t be removed with painter’s tape. Also make sure any other exposed surfaces—like floors and counters—are covered in drop cloths or butcher’s paper to protect them.

Once you’ve done all this, you’re prepped and ready to begin the process of painting kitchen cabinets. Starting with quality-made paint-grade cabinet doors or unfinished cabinet doors makes the preparation process much easier.

2. Hide Imperfections 

Fill in dents, scratches, small cracks, or old hardware holes that won’t be reused with wood filler to ensure an even, beautiful finish. Anything that’s too hard to fill most likely makes that door unsuitable for refinishing.

3. Sand Between Each Coat

If your cabinets are already painted, but the paint is in good shape, you’ll just need to gently sand the surfaces as usual. Sand before primer and sand between each coat of primer and paint to ensure that the paint sticks well. If the paint currently on your cabinets is chipping or flaking off, you’ll need to scrape off the old paint before moving forward. Make sure you don’t have lead paint before proceeding with sanding or stripping.

4. Sand Your Edges

This is important enough to warrant its own tip. Always break all sharp edges with fine sandpaper before painting. Get in the grooves and details, and sand the edges, corners, and crevices well. Sharp edges won’t hold paint and the unpainted spot will not only stick out, but will also absorb moisture which can eventually ruin your cabinet doors.

5. Follow The 5-F Rule

The 5-F rule is “Fine Finishers Finish Firewood First,” which simply means that testing your finish on scrap wood can prevent you from unintentionally ruining a new cabinet door with a failed finishing attempt. This step is particularly important when using certain kitchen cabinet finishes like stain and wood dyes, or when using a glazing technique. If you are new to a finishing technique or product, testing it out first can help you get a feel for how to apply it properly. You’ll also ensure that you get the finish you want, rather than an uneven, blotchy mess that has to be sanded down and started again.

6. Remember That Wood Swells and Contracts

All wood types expand and contract with changes in humidity and temperature. Properly applied paint slows this swelling and contraction but doesn’t completely stop it. When the paint dries, it no longer has the elasticity to move with the wood, causing it to eventually crack, usually along the glue joints where the stiles and rails of the door meet. As such, it’s important to do an excellent job prepping, sanding, applying paint and letting it dry properly between coats so that it covers and holds up well. It’s also important to choose the right kind of paint.

If you are experienced with painting kitchen cabinets, you may be able to use oil-based paint, which provides better coverage and shrinks less as it dries. Cabinets painted with oil-based paint clean well and are resistant to staining. However, the cleanup of oil-based paint is much more difficult, requiring turpentine or other chemicals to clean brushes and tools. Oil-based paints, and the cleaners used with them, must be disposed of properly at your recycling center. The fumes can also be very strong, which can make oil-based paint hard to handle.

Latex paint, on the other hand, cleans up easily with soap and water. It does not yellow over time, and it dries significantly fast with fewer fumes. However, latex paint also shows more imperfections and shrinks while drying. Latex paint also stains more easily, so cabinets painted with latex paint are likely to require more frequent refinishing.

7. Know That Paint is Less Resilient Than Wood

Finished cabinet doors are at the mercy of your care. When painted, any damage to wood on your cabinet doors will be more obvious. The softer the wood, the more easily it will dent. Dents in the wood may be slight and hardly noticeable, but dried paint doesn’t dent without cracking. The weakest link in any painted cabinet door is not the door; it is always the paint. If you want kitchen cabinet finishes that will stand up to hard use, painted finishes might not be the ideal choice for you. Look into stain or other more forgiving wood cabinet finishes that won’t crack or show damage as readily.

8. How to Get a Smooth Finish When Painting Cabinets

If your heart is set on a painted finish, but you also want a finish that will stand up to daily use in your kitchen, consider professionally finished cabinet doors. Most people want a smooth factory finish when painting cabinet doors, but a finish of this quality often requires a highly experienced finishing professional and a dust-free spray booth.

This doesn’t mean you can’t achieve an excellent finish on your own, but you’ll need to spray the paint on with a compressed-air, or airless, spray painting system to get a professional looking finish. For most people, this is beyond their abilities at home. Thankfully, CabinetDoors.com offers professionally finished cabinet doors at great prices. If you want durable, professionally finished cabinet doors, explore your painted cabinet door options at Cabinetdoors.com.

Best Finishes for Kitchen Cabinets

When you decide to finish your kitchen cabinets, you have multiple options. Ultimately, your choice depends on your preferred appearance. Whether you want a natural look or a specific color will determine which finish you should use. The following kitchen cabinet finishes provide you with a world of ideas to consider.

Stain

If you love the natural appearance of wood and want to enhance its innate texture and grain pattern while adjusting the color, then stain is the perfect kitchen cabinet finish. You can choose from either lightly colored stains or darker ones, depending on the color scheme of your home. Staining is not incredibly difficult, but it does require some patience as it requires multiple steps of sanding and additional staining to get the ideal look. Stain usually works best for woods like oak, hickory, and maple.

Painted

Paint is the best finish for kitchen cabinets when you know exactly what look you want. A paint finish for cabinets not only allows you to match the color theme throughout your home but also provides your cabinet doors with a nice clean look. The downside of paint is its sensitivity to damage like chips and dents, so it is not the best finish for a high-traffic home. However, if you have a perfect vision for your home’s design style, paint is the easiest way to achieve it.

Natural Finish

Unlike staining and painting, a natural finish maintains the exact color and appearance of the wood. Natural finishes are clear, unlike stains, helping to highlight the natural color and patterns of the wood while protecting the wood from daily use. Natural finishes are often durable, but it depends largely on the type of wood used.

The process of applying a natural wood finish involves sanding and applying a clear natural oil. A natural finish is great for making the natural wood grain pop, but if you like variety and want a range of choices for colors and styles, then it may not be the best option.

Conversion Varnish

A varnish helps provide additional protection to your cabinet doors when applied as a topcoat and can be applied to other finishes. Varnish generally consists of oil and resin that hardens as it dries. When it hardens, it creates a strong surface that is resistant to heat and aging. However, like other hard surfaces, varnish can be vulnerable to chips and wear. At CabinetDoors.com, we offer conversion varnished cabinet doors, making them more durable, more resistant to humidity and easier to clean

Where to Find High-Quality Paint Grade or Painted Cabinet Doors

If you feel like you know how to finish cabinet doors on your own and you’re ready to tackle painting your kitchen cabinets, make sure you start with high-quality cabinet doors. Whether you need replacement cabinet doors, need to reface your laminate cabinets, or just want to upgrade your cabinets with brand-new doors, you can turn to CabinetDoors.com. No matter if you want to create a professional-looking finish on your own or want to order cabinet doors that are pre-primed, we can help.

At CabinetDoors.com, you can get high-quality custom-sized cabinet doors and drawer fronts in the wood type and finish you want, including both unfinished cabinet doors and paint-grade options for a solid DIY project. Because you’re ordering factory-direct, you’ll get our cabinet doors at 30-50% off the prices you’ll see in big box retail stores, shipped right to your front door. Explore our most popular cabinet doors to get inspired, learn tips and tricks at our blog, and contact us with any questions.

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