DIY Cabinet Door Painting

jeriFebruary 20, 2013

Dear Friends,

I know many of you have successfully painted your own cabinet doors/drawers and I need your help.

My new Shaker Style doors and drawers will arrive tomorrow! These are paint grade Maple with MDF panels. Please tell me how to paint these so that they have a smooth finish. I’ve read several web sites, but I’m more confused than ever! DH does have a large compressor and we are open to buying a spray gun, but I think most people roll the paint and then back brush. I will test on the back side of drawers that will not show, but I really need to get off to a good start.

I recently tried to stain/finish a wood surface for the office and I failed miserably. I don’t think I can handle another failure… :-(

Can you help?


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I bought this sprayer to use for our cabinets. It worked great. I sprayed two layers of primer (prime in the beginning and in between.) Three layers of paint, sanding (progressively finer) in between. Probably overload. But, I wanted them to be perfect. I put my doors on food cans. You could use those shirt boxes too. I did add a little water (fpe said that you'll have to when spraying their paint. I think no more than a teaspoon (maybe half) when filling the small silver spray cup.)

I also used fine paints of europe paint. My husband was totally against painting our maple cabinets. But, he thinks they look great now. It looks like a brand new kitchen. I also sprayed our trim. Put together a room or an area to spray in. Paint gets around. I put plastic over the walls (I did it in our foyer hallway. Talk about a mess.) And, then taped them down good. I blew out the room every time I started painting with the sprayer (with no paint in it.) To get rid of dog hair and dust. Do very even light coats. Move your arm like a robot almost. Keep your arm in one spot and move at the shoulder. I found that I would do the sides first. Then side by side. Trying to get all over. Then, I would go back over up and down, quickly and lightly. You don't want to get stripes in it. You might want to practice the first time. I didn't want to waste paint, so I just winged it. :) That's why I ended up with three layers. I saw that twice I had side to side stripes in it. So, I went over a third time on a few doors. Then, decided to do the whole thing over once more. Also, you have to wait for the doors to dry in between. It was 18-24 hours in FPE paints I believe. I might have done three coats of primer. I can't remember for sure. But, knowing me... I probably did.
Also, I did roller and hand paint the boxes. I wasn't going to spray them. The paint set up fine and looks sprayed. Just use good corona brushes and long strokes. I found that the hot dog rollers left stipple marks sometimes. So, I went to brushes. No more than maybe four passes.

If you do want to use the best paint on the market (imo) try Fine paints. The FPE is different than other paints. It's sticky and doesn't come off easily. Seriously sticky! I've used every paint that's available. Rustoleum (incidentally. this is the best in shiny oil finish. I'd compare it to FPE at 1/10 of the cost. you can see your reflection in our banister that I painted black.) to BM to Valspar to SW to Pratt and Lambert to cabinet coat to Farrow and Ball to pittsburgh to that lady that only does full color spectrum. I can't remember her name off hand. i didn't like the paint that she used and wouldn't do it again unless her paint brand changes. Everything on the market in my area plus two I had to special order online. FPE is the best in my opinion. But, I would consider painting in pratt and lambert's line. I have found their paint great, thick and coats well at just 42 bux at their top of the line. Great price. When you buy Donald Kaufmann paints, you get it mixed in pratt and lambert paint. I guess if it's good enough for some guy to charge 150 plus a gallon. It's probably more than fine for my home.

Cabinet coat was also sticky and a great price. I didn't spray cabinet coat, so I don't know about that. I did brush it on our laundry room cabs. They look good. But, for some reason, they seem to attract scratches more than the FPE. I'm sure it's user error.

There is another european paint line available in the US (you'd have to ask funcolors). But, I haven't tried them yet. The price point is much closer to BM from what I remember. In the fpe, I believe that I used a euroquart and a half. (I could have gotten away with one can. I did a u shaped kitchen. I think it's 140.00 a can. Oh also, get a cover or respirator (I did, but apparently, it wasn't good enough- get a better one.) I was spitting up paint and snotting paint for a week afterwards. Hello sore throats! I had fpe color match BM's ivory white. And, they also color matched Fand B's pointing. Though, they do have a color that is almost a spot on match to it. FPE is helpful and you get a box a mints with every order. Those are actually good. I looked forward to every order for them. My kids loved them!

I think from what I read on the paint forum that there are decent sprayers at harbor freight for pretty cheap. You might try them if you want to use one that works with his compressor. BTW, I bought the sprayer on ebay for 60 bux. The best money I ever spent. Try the paint forum. Look for faron or paint guy for information on sprayers and paint. A wealth of info in that forum!

The prep work is 90% of the whole deal. The waiting in between is the biggest bummer. So, just take your time. You'll be surprised in the results! Mine look fresh from the factory. It's been almost a year. And, they still look like new. Sorry my post was so long. But, I had never done anything like this and wanted to give you all the tips I had.

Here is a link that might be useful: sprayer

    Bookmark   February 20, 2013 at 11:34PM
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Kim! OMG - So nice of you to be so helpful! And I give you big Kudos for painting your cabinets when your DH was not totally on board. I'm not sure I would have been able to do that. :-) I'm so happy to hear that your results came out great!

Every where I read, and in the posts I've made on painting forums, they *ALL* say to not spray - they say the learning curve is too difficult. Really glad to hear it worked for you. I'm fairly confidant that I could master it too, but I do have to wonder if it is worth the hassle. Set up is so much harder than simply brushing. If I believed the finish would be better - that is - more like a factory finish, then it would be worth it to me. But if I can get the same finish from brushing, I'm not sure...

What primer did you use? Did spraying the primer help with the learning curve? I'm guessing that it would since you can sand any mistakes out. What did you use to sand with?

I will check out FPE - but I too would have to order it as I don't think it is carried in my area.

Thanks Kim!


    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 11:02AM
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I'm sure you guys could master it. The goal is to do light even strokes. The thicker they are the more likely you are to orange peel the paint. Give it good coats, but not too much. But, even so, I sanded some parts down (after they cured a bit.) And, repainted. Looked good as new.

I did use FPE primer. I didn't want to chance it. It was definitely more liquidy than the regular paint. If I remember correctly. I'm sure you could use bin 123. But, I was already at the point where I didn't want to take any chances. What's another hundred if I'm not going to do it again ever.

I used a little orbital sander. I think it was twenty or so bucks. I started at 150 grit to get a good base and then ended at 400 grit. I really lightly sanded it, just a soft scruff before i put the last coat.

I will say that even though I did hand paint the boxes and they look great. They don't hold a candle to the sprayed cabs. I forgot to mention this. Originally, I wanted the bottoms to be dark grey (BM's chelsea gray.) And, the tops ivory. To test it out. I purchased a small can (I believe 40 or so dollars) of the color matched gray and hand painted it on to the outside of the peninsula. I wasn't sure if I wanted to spray since I was afraid to do it. The key with hand painting is to only do a few long strokes. No hen pecking and mushing it around to get it perfect. Then, you have to let it sit and cure. A lot of the brush strokes will go away. But, not all. There are some brush strokes that you can see. I haven't repainted the outside of it as we need to add in some more trim. I haven't decided if I will repaint it the ivory or go back to the dark grey. It looks good, but it definitely does not look factory finished. Some areas it does, but some do not.

Yes, the prep is 90 percent of the job. But, that is 90 percent of the job if you hand paint. BTW, I hand painted some of the trim around the house because I didn't want to have to get the prep done. I did one side of our nook and painted our sliding door black by hand. After staring at it, I decided to paint by sprayer again. For some reason, the way it gets into the nooks and crannies fills it perfectly. Where I hand painted, the nooks are divot-ed and do not have that clean look of spray. I will mention this. It seriously takes 1/2 an hour (maybe only 20) to actually paint the doors. A minute or so a door, if that. It takes so little time. The prep of having a painting area is the real pain. You're going to do the same prep if you hand paint or not. You can't really just run in and paint. You need a dedicated area without the dust (or hair in my case.) Honestly, when you get to the painting part you'll do the job in a quarter of the time it takes to hand paint. You will get dust or hair in your paint.

Here is where it might get weird. Imagine you're painting and you get a hair in it. You're digging it out and messing up the paint. You can't just quickly repaint the area again as you'll overwork the paint. But with a sprayer, you can respray it and it melts back together.

We live in a boring 1970s colonial style home. Honestly, we'll never get back the money we've put into this home. But, we don't plan on moving. Hand painting is the norm around here. I guess that I think of it this way. If I had to do this one time and that I wasn't planning on replacing the cabinets for pretty much ever, I'd better do this the right way for me. Now, many homes such as Pirula (who's home I love) have the right kind of look/age of home to pull off hand painting. It was what was expected a hundred years ago. Not here. So, I didn't feel that bias against spraying.

I'll try and take a couple of pictures of our semi done kitchen and post them for you.

Maybe that will help make your decision. :)

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 1:03AM
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kimiko232, thank you so much!

jeri, I can't help much with the "smooth" look you want to achieve with a sprayer, because I didn't spray. But I did want to second kimiko's recommendation on FPE. The paint is absolutely hard as nails. I used the ECO line. It's been....7 years? And it's still good as new, not one chip, and believe me we use our kitchen hard. It costs the earth, I grant you, but it does stretch far, and is worth every penny.

Farrow & Ball may be the other European brand kimiko is referring to. It's also excellent. I've used it on all our built-ins and trim, walls etc. Holding up beautiful after years also. It's less expensive than FPE, but considerably more than most brands. It's fantastic paint.

If you want really smooth with no brush strokes, I think you are going to spray. There may be ways to brush and not have strokes. Beats me. I wanted the brushstrokes so I didn't worry about it. Not that the brushstrokes are in your face, but my cabinets definitely do not look like they came out of a factory. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I just wanted something else.

good luck!

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 7:07AM
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By the way, if you go over to the Paint Forum and both search and ask brushworks and Faron, you'll get some great information. I believe one of them has a treatise on painting kitchen cabinets. They're both really helpful, the Bill Vincents of paint!

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 7:18AM
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Sophie Wheeler

The key to getting a finish that you will be happy with is easy.

1. Adjust your expectations and brush paint it. A lot of people don't like the super smooth finish that spraying will give, and so they actually pay more for hand painting. If you can change how you feel about that, then that's the easiest route.

2. Buy a sprayer and practice, practice, practice. Yes, there is a big learning curve. Yes, you will get super smooth doors. But, do you have the patience and TIME needed to get to where you can have the skills? And I'm glad that kimiko had good results with the linked sprayer, but in the world of paint application, that's not really a very good product and isn't noted for giving a smooth as glass result very easily. The better quality ones are in the $500-700 range for a light professional work. You can sell it when you are done and recoup some of the money though.

3. Pay a painter to spray them. That will give you the results that you want without having to invest in equipment and time. It won't be the cheapest choice, but you will get the best results.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 7:44AM
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I'm going to spray! I do have both the patience and time, and I do want that smooth finish. I think this can work and I want to try it.

Now I have to decide on which spray gun to buy. DH has a large compressor, so I just need to decide which gun to buy.

Any recommendations???

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 10:50AM
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> Any recommendations???

Yes - read some books on the subject before you start.

Here is a link that might be useful: Book on spray finishing

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 1:31PM
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Thanks Peter! I did buy that book. I've read most of it and watched the video too. I'll read it and watch the video several more times before I try anything! :-)

What do you think of this gun? It gets good reviews and is very affordable. It also comes with a 2mm nozzle which is what I think I will need for paint.

Here is a link that might be useful: Tool Force A-C1 50 PSI 2-in-1 HVLP Spray Gun

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 2:06PM
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I just happened to see this recently. Maybe it will help. Good luck!

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 3:06PM
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I would want to spend around $100 for the gun.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 3:07PM
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