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Best Methods: How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets

There are critial steps to take when painting wooden kitchen cabinets. Done right, it gives the entire kitchen a livened appearance and can also save on purchasing a whole new set of wall and base units being installed anew. To begin:
  • Only if the cabinet surfaces have a sealed finish; wash the surfaces in a solution of TSP and a sponge, everywhere that is to get painted. Careful not to 'soak' the wooden pores of the surface.

  • Inspect the installation of the cabinets on the walls. Check for desired level, side-by-side snugness and for any potential sagging and re-screw or secure as needed. Cabinets susceptible to sagging include partial units overtop fridges and range stove tops. Mouldings must also be secure, including upper crown sections, cove and quarter round pieces. Tighten and nail as needed and this could take a brad nailer.

  • Patch and sand any dents and scrapes that breach the wood surface with a quality wood putty, then sand.

  • Pull drawers out of their tracks and remove slider assemblies. Although these could be masked, removal ensures a more complete, cleaner and continuous coverage. Remove door-pulls from the doors. Consolidate loose hardware in a bucket, or wider bin so as not to affect them with scratches.

  • Scratch-sand all surfaces to be painted with a sanding sponge or paper; 150 grit or thereabouts should do.

  • For spraying - hang doors through their open door pull handles on a taut cable or wire. This will prevent any edge contact during the application and drying/curing phase. Elevate drawers on surfaces like empty buckets or other. If you are applying with a brush and roller (the roller to lay the material on that is soon to be brushed out), consider a drying agent that will retard the drying period, thereby helping to bring about a 'leveling effect'. HVLP sprayers normally give excellent results, however given that the surfaces are painted in a continuous, unbroken pattern and not gone over again once made wet. For airless sprayers, start with a new fine finish tip, whose tip size is coordinated with the type and viscosity of paint material.
  • If bare wood exists, this will require priming; noting that to achieve a fine finish, lacquer primer may be shot through a sprayer and sanded between successive coats which will require an approved breathing apparatus, green masking tape and some lacquer thinner - though be warned; the paint fumes are powerful and this is more of a commercial product, some painters choose not to use it for this very reason - the lacquer is shot to achieve a build, but only on tighter grain woods, for example, maple and birch species (unlike oaks with their recessed grain patterns). The lacquer also however may be too 'hot' (chemically) for use atop other finishes, and actually begin to crinkle. Hence, the lacquer is used mainly by cabinet shops and finish spray shops. Priming pre-painted cabinet surfaces are an option, based on the integrity and 'grab quality' of the existing finish. First, for spraying, apply masking with at least 12" paper off a masking roller.

  • After priming is complete and dry, caulk any open seams. This will promote a 'solid appearance' particularly for where paints are lighter shades, which will have the effect of creating more noticeable shadowing effects around gaps that exist.

  • Spray or brush out at least a second coat, even if the first coat gives visual coverage. The added coat is for the wearability factor.

  • When complete, and the applied paint achieves a 'set' effect (unlike the 'cure', which usually takes days if not weeks) pull the masking.

  • Reinstall hardware and tracks only after paint has cured.

Lastly, after the paint is fully cured and the cabinets have been allowed to air out fully, line the shelves and drawer bottoms with shelf-liner. Anywhere dishes, glasses and utensils may come into contact with the newly painted surfaces.

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