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Jan 05

Fun with Refinishing Cabinets

Posted by C. Mason Hearn in kitchens, DIY

  Dear Mason,

I am updating my kitchen, but want to avoid replacing the cabinets for cost reasons.  The present cabinets are in pretty good shape, but I don't like the appearance.  They're 1960's or 70's knotty pine.  I would like to paint them white.

One painter that we had look at the job told me that the paint might not stick to the old cabinets and that the knots will show through the paint job.  I have heard of painting old wood cabinets before; how should it be correctly done?

Debbie K.  Madison, WI



Cabinet refurbishment often includes partial replacement with factory-finished doors and drawer fronts, and laminating the exposed frames.  This is the most durable process; however, good results might be obtained at lower cost by painting.  Be forewarned that a great cabinet painting job may be daunting to the do-it-yourselfer, unless you have the time and patience to do it right.

Whether you do the job yourself, or engage a professional painter, the secret to obtaining a good and lasting finish on any paint job is mostly about the preparation as well as the application of quality, appropriate products.  Often, in attempt to do the job quickly or cheaply, the most important steps are skipped, and the results would be less-than-satisfactory.

Two major concerns about painting over knotty pine, as pointed-out by your painter:  Adhesion to the old finish, and blocking the knot stains that would likely convey through an inadequate paint job.

You might want to think about removing the hinges and hardware first, as it will create a better job if the doors and drawer fronts are finished "off the boxes".  This allows you to do a complete finish job without having to "cut" around the hardware.

Always start by cleaning and lightly sanding the existing finish.  Use 120 grit sandpaper.  Make sure to take your time to sand the difficult crevices, nooks and crannies as well as the flat surfaces.  This creates a "tooth" in the surface to which a primer can bond.  Thoroughly clean the resulting sanded surface with mineral spirits and allow to dry, at least overnight.

Apply a good quality stain-blocking primer, preferably by hand-brushing, which works the primer well into the surface.  My preference is NEVER to use a fast-drying primer, for those tend to leave unsightly ridges and brush strokes in the surface.  Standard-drying oil- or shellac-based primers will "lay down" much better.

When the first coat of primer has dried, you may see surface irregularities, such as cracks and fissures, especially around the knots.  You might want to fill these with bondo or wood filler and sand smooth.  If you're changing the hardware, this is also the time to patch the old holes, and create new ones, as might be required.  Spot-prime these patches.

Next, apply a second coat of the primer / stain blocker.  The paint can instructions will likely indicate that one coat does the trick, but in my experience, this second coat is good insurance.

Finally, apply two coats of the best quality finish paint you can buy.  Don't skimp on this, either.  A cheap gallon of paint is about $25 or $30; the best is $50 or $60.  Considering the value of your labor and interest to have the finish last under demanding conditions (everybody bangs up their kitchen cabinets, don't they?), this is an extra $30 well-spent.

To obtain a beautifully-smooth finish, I recommend using an oil-based (alkyd) paint.  Yes, it's easier to clean your painting tools with latex; however, alkyd will lay-down better, and create a much harder, more durable finish.  This might be brushed on; however, if you or your painter have access to a sprayer, a sprayed-on finish is even better.

As your doors, drawer fronts and frames will look so lovely after your fabulous new paint job, the old hardware will likely appear old and dingy.  Pretty new hinges and hardware, for just a few bucks per opening, complete the job.

I have little doubt that you will curse my advice during this lengthy and arduous process.  As always; however, you will have no regrets afterwards for a job done right!


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Comments (2)Add Comment
written by Pinestrip Flooring, March 12, 2011
For professional wood stripping in scotland uk please go to
written by, March 12, 2011
For intricate details you may have to use a solvent stripper.

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