The six rules for painting replacement kitchen cabinet doors

Here are some tried and true rules of thumb that relate to painting Kitchen Cabinet Doors.

* The first is the “prep-prep-prep” rule. That means that every hour spent preparing the cabinet door for painting saves two hours in repainting.

* The second is the 5-F’s rule. This rule is “Fine Finishers Finish Firewood First”. It simply means that experimenting with your finish on scrap wood can prevent ruining a door with a failed finishing attempt.

* The third is always break all sharp edges with fine sandpaper before painting. Sharp edges will not hold paint and will give the dried paint an unpainted spot to absorb moisture.

* The forth is to keep in mind that all wood types will expand and contract with changes in humidity. The paint will slow these humidity-caused wood movements, but no paint is totally moisture-proof, and paint will not stop the movements. This humidity-movement of wood presents another potential issue for the painted cabinet door. When the paint dries, it will no longer have the elasticity to move with the wood; so it will crack, usually along the glue joints where the Stiles & Rails join.

* The fifth relates to the hardness of the paint-grade wood. The softer the wood, the more easily it will dent, if hit with a pot or frying pan. The dent 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. Regardless of the wood type used, the weakest link is always the paint.

* The sixth practice covers the method of application of the paint. The desired look from painting a cabinet door is usually a high gloss finish, similar to the finish on a piano. A finish of this quality will certainly require a highly experienced finishing professional, and a dust-free spray booth. This doesn’t mean you can’t achieve an excellent finish, but it does mean you won’t get this piano-finish with a paint brush in your driveway. To get a professional looking finish you will need to spray-on the paint. Not from a Krylon can, but from an compressed-air, or airless, spray painting system.

Now for the step-by-step process I’ve learned through years of both success and a few failures.

Lets get started by working through the process step-by-step.

Lay the door on a flat surface and lightly sand the door with a flexible-foam sanding sponge (I like the 3M sanding block sponges best) or 220-grit sandpaper. Be sure to sand “with the wood grain” on the front, back, and sides.

Remove any residual grit with a clean cloth (tack cloth is best) or a vacuum.

Next comes what is probably the most important step in the entire process. Sealing and priming the wood.

The priming coat, is also called a sealing coat, or a Sealing indicating coat. These are essentially the same thing. It’s purpose is to seal the wood so that the final paint will adhere evenly and also make it easy to spot uneven areas in the wood while it’s still easy to correct the blemish. Primer can be applied by brush or roller. I like to use a roller for the bigger areas followed by a good quality brush for smoothing and painting the finer details on the cabinet doors. You won’t need the $25 brush but don’t get the $1 brush either. Expect to pay $6-$10 for a good, fine-bristle brush. Try not to get paint all over the brush, dipping only about 1/2″ to 1″ into the paint is best. Also, between coats you can place the brush in a plastic bag to keep it from drying out, and avoid cleaning it until the end of each day.

Any hardware or paint store will have a wide selection of sealer/primer and paint for your doors. Be sure and match the primer with the paint you plan to use. If you are going to use latex (water based) paint, use a latex primer. If using an oil based paint, use an oil based primer. Also try to use a primer with a drying time of 30 minutes or less. White primer works best because it will show the uneven areas of the door better. This allows you to spot (and correct) the areas that need filling before painting.

Once the first coat of primer is dry you will be able to see some small, uneven areas, scratches, or dents in the wood. Now it’s time for the filler. This is the most important step in obtaining that perfect painted finish.

All hardwoods have voids, which cannot be seen until it is primed. I use a filler to fill all of these spots. The two types of filler I’ve used with success are Bondo 907 Glazing and Spot Putty and Elmer’s Wood Filler Max White. The Bondo putty works best, mainly because it is an orange color than makes it easier to see where you have filled. The Elmer’s is white. Fillers must be sanded smooth after drying and then sealed with primer before painting to prevent the color from bleeding through.

After filling, sand the filled areas (use the 3M sponge to keep your fingers from sanding dips in the filled areas), wipe the dust off, and apply one last primer coat.

When the primer has dried, give the doors a light sanding and wipe them clean of any dust. If the final inspection doesn’t show any unfilled scratches or small voids, you are ready to paint.

Now comes the actual painting, which is actually the easiest phase of the project. But without going through the priming-sanding-filling-priming process, there would be little chance of obtaining a truly great painted cabinet door.

Using the same technique you used with the primer–roller for the large areas, and paint brush to smooth and paint the smaller and detailed areas–apply your paint to the doors.

There is no need to sand between paint coats but it is a good idea to insure there is no dried paint on the brush that could work its way into your finish on the following coats.

Although the finish may look good after one coat of paint, two coats are normally applied to assure durability of the finish. Just follow the directions on your paint (and primer) and follow the drying time recommendations.

Here is a link to the CabinetDoors.Com Blog where you will find several other posts on finding, sizing, ordering, painting, and staining Unfinished Replacement Kitchen Cabinet Doors.

Our complete line of Replacement Kitchen Cabinet Doors can be browsed here at CabinetDoors.Com