PART 2: Painting 30-year-old Oak Cabinets White
Paint will save you the most money on a kitchen renovation.
My house was built in the 1980s. And the kitchen has not changed! In an ideal world, I would replace my cabinets and get all new ones. But why bother?! My kitchen cabinets are in decent shape for their age, just dated looking. Plus replacing them would cost at least $20K. Paint & materials cost just a couple hundred dollars. And all those cabinets get to stay out of landfill. (Besides, I'd rather spend $20K on travelling than on my kitchen.)
In total, I have 27 cabinet doors (in different shapes & sizes), 9 drawers and 1 cutting board.
For cabinet doors, you will need a large work space. I used 4 folding tables over drop cloths, and under a 10x10 canopy on my deck. I could fit about 10-15 doors out at a time with this set-up, and was fortunate to have ideal weather (low 70's and low humidity). Ideally, I would have a fancy drying rack for stacking the cabinet doors to dry, and a 10,000 sqft dust-free warehouse, but sadly, I did not. So I set up some space in my garage for drying (a few shelves, some plastic bins, and another table, the washing machine and a box). Eventually, I just let things dry under my 10x10 canopy, and brought them inside already dry at night.
A must have: plastic paint pyramids! These are for propping the cabinet doors on when they are laying flat on the tables, so they don't stick to the tables! They also allow for airflow underneath the cabinet doors while they are drying, so you can flip them over and paint both sides a little sooner. And they make it easier to catch drips.
Whatever you do, do NOT skip this step! Cleaning your kitchen cabinets is THE single most important thing you must do before painting them. It does not matter what type of paint you're using, you MUST clean them. (Even brand new raw wood cabinets will need to be wiped down before painting)
Invite a friend over to help you. Even better, have a cleaning party!
Materials: Krud Kutter Deglosser, Denatured Alcohol, and fine grit sanding blocks. Also several Scotch Bright sponges, a scrub brush, a bucket, clean lint-free rags, cleaning gloves. A sink or tub (or a hose outside) for rinsing.
Kitchen cabinets - especially older ones - are usually covered in dirt (fingerprint oils, cooking oils, food splatters, drink splatters, and everything else you can think of). You MUST get all this stuff out of the way so that your paint will stick to the actual cabinets, and not the-spaghetti-sauce-from-last-night's-pizza disguised as cabinets. "Take your time, do it right, you can do it baby..."
To Spray or Not To Spray, that is the question!
Ask yourself: where am I going to paint? If you can take off your cabinet doors (just do it), and paint them outside or in a garage, or in a workshop or studio, I would highly recommend spraying them. If you can set up proper ventilation and a spray booth inside your kitchen, then spray your cabinet bases too. But if you don't have the space or set up to spray everything, don't worry - you can use brushes and foam rollers too!
Materials: Primer, Paint, Synthetic paint brushes, stir sticks, foam roller (& tray), foam brushes, a paint sprayer. And don't forget Paint Pyramids! Multiply the number of cabinet doors by 4 and that is how many paint pyramids you need.
Originally, my plan was to re-use my existing cabinet hinges. Here's what I did:
My 30-year-old oak cabinets were especially crusty, and it took about 5 hours to clean them.
If you don't like to clean, I suggest hiring someone who does to help you. Or invite your friends over and have a cleaning party!
My friend Mychelle was generous enough to help me, and it still took the two of us 5 hours!
Here's what we did:
1. Scrub both sides of the doors with Krud Kutter Gloss-Off and the green scratchy side of a scotch brite sponge. Make sure you are wearing gloves! Although this product is non-toxic, it can sting if it gets into a cut, and dry out your skin. This product not only cuts through and cleans dirt, it also eats into the surface a little bit - like a light sanding without the sandpaper! Leave it on for at least 15-20 minutes. Then rinse it off completely. The bottle says you can leave it on and paint right over it, but I disagree. If you want paint to stick to your cabinets, and reduce the chance for chipping or crackling, you need to get everything out of the way - especially soap! You wouldn't leave shampoo on your hair, would you? Rinse, rinse, rinse!
2. For extra insurance and to make sure ALL the soap residue is off: Mix Denatured Alcohol & water in equal parts. Using a clean Scotch Brite sponge, scrub the cabinets with the scratchy side, and wipe away any residue with the yellow side. Keep rinsing the sponge until it comes back clean. Then you are done!
3. Dry off your doors, drawers & cabinet bases with a clean rag or lint-free paper towels. Now you are ready for painting!
Painting oak cabinets white is tricky. Oak is full of tannins and has a heavy grain. (But white cabinets look so fresh and clean!) Sadly, over time they can yellow, show dirt easily, and chip from handling.
Priming them first will help reduce chipping, bleed through, and will allow you to use less white paint. You want to prime them.
Everyone has their favorite primer. Personally, I prefer to use water-based products, and have a couple of my own favorites.
My go-to primer is Stix primer when I need to use a water-based primer. But it is not always the best choice! Primer serves two major functions: it helps paint stick to a surface, and/or it blocks stains and bleed through. Stix is great for helping paint stick to difficult surfaces (like tile and linoleum)! But it's not so great for blocking stains. And it does nothing to prevent bleed through. A shellac-based primer is a better option for priming oak cabinets!
General Finishes has created Stain Blocker Water Based Primer that REALLY blocks stains well! Other water-based primers I've used are great for blocking wall stains or mold, but not wood tannins like Mahogany and Oak (and knotty pine). These woods all have tannins in them that re-activate when wet. So they will bleed right through a water-based primer. Not Stain Blocker though! 2 coats and you can paint a piece of Mahogany white without any signs of pink bleed-through! It's a beautiful thing. I first applied one coat of Stix primer to a few of my oak cabinets, and they bled like crazy. So I got out the Stain Blocker, applied 2 coats and said goodbye to the yellow/brown stains.
Frankly, using two primers is not necessary. Next time, I will skip the Stix Primer on Oak and go right to the General FInishes Stain Blocker Primer, which also sticks very well to wood.
You can roll or spray (or brush) primer. onto your cabinets. Use foam rollers and foam brushes for a smoother finish. Spray the primer for the smoothest finish.
A word on spraying:
If you have a lot of cabinets, and can set up a workspace in a well-ventilated area, it is worth it to purchase an inexpensive sprayer! This will make your project go much faster, and your cabinets will look more professional.
I have several sprayers. My favorite one is the the simplest and least expensive one: the Homeright Finish Max. I'm not going to teach you how to use it here (there are plenty of Youtube videos you can watch for that).
But I will give you a few spraying tips.
I honestly never noticed the veneer in the center panels of some of my cabinets. But after washing the doors, and putting on a coat of primer, the veneer started to bubble! Not on all the doors, but on a few. Fortunately, this meant it was easy to scrape off.
Once I scraped it off, I took some Wood Icing Textura Paste, and trowled it over the area where the veneer was scraped off, spraying a little water on the Wood Icing Textura Paste while troweling to keep it smooth.
Wood Icing Textura Paste is a fabulous product! If I wanted my oak cabinets to be ultra-smooth AND painted white, I would take the Textura Paste and mix it with water. Then spread the watered down paste over the oak panels. Once dried, it sands like wood so can be polished to a very smooth finish while getting rid of the wood grain.
Ah, the joys of painting outdoors. Even though I was spraying underneath a 10x10 tent, the bugs and dust were getting into my nice white cabinet finishes! Once I attached 3 of the 4 tent sides to my 10x10 canopy, the debris lessened significantly.
Getting debris out of your dried paint means sanding it out, and touching up the paint. Fortunately I learned this lesson and put the tent sides up while priming, and didn't have to touch-up paint and topcoat.
If you can paint your cabinets in a relatively clean, dust/debris free environment, just do it.
Drips happen! And sometimes they dry. But they are simple to fix. Here's what you need to do:
Use a razor blade, and gently scrape off the dried drips. Then use a 220 grit sandpaper to sand the drip area smooth. Then with a small paint brush, cover with a tiny bit of primer and let it dry. Then touch up with paint and let it dry. Then touch up with topcoat and let it dry. This is a good technique for any dings you might find later on as well.
Paint touch-up is easy!
White painted cabinets may yellow over time! Two reasons painting Oak cabinets can be tricky because:
1 - oak tannins can bleed through a water based paint (causing them to yellow) or,
2 - The paint or topcoat can turn amber over time.
Using General Finishes Stain Blocker primer over oak cabinets is the best way to prevent yellowing from bleed through. (Using an oil-based or shellac-based primer can also prevent bleed through.)
Another trick for minimizing yellowing: mix a little bit of paint (up to 10%) into the first 2 coats of topcoat. This worked like a charm with my cabinets.
General Finishes also makes a professional product, Enduro Poly, that can be tinted to match any color (including white) and does not yellow! It must be sprayed on though, so was not an option for my cabinet bases.
***UPDATE*** General Finishes just released a Brushable White Poly which is a non-yellowing white paint and topcoat in one! I'm looking forward to trying it out soon!
STEP 6: PAINTING & SEALING
Once the cabinet doors, drawers and bases were cleaned and primed, I sprayed the doors with 2 coats of Milk Paint (equal parts Antique White & Snow White), followed by 2 coats of High Performance Top Coat (HPTC) in Satin with ~10% Milk Paint mixed in, and finally 1 coat of straight HPTC in Satin.
This may seem like a lot of layers, but once all the doors are layed out, spraying goes pretty quickly.
Like most of us, water-based paints like 70 degree, sunny weather. They dry quicker in warm, dry weather, and slower in cool, damp weather. Once you start painting, wait until your paint or topcoat looks dry and feels "room temperature" (ie. does not feel freezing cold) before re-coating.
WHAT I DID: Once the cabinets were cleaned, I layed out about 15 doors on top of paint pyramids on my tables. I sprayed one coat of "product" (primer, paint or topcoat), on each door, let it dry and then sprayed the second coat on the same side. Once dry, I'd swap in the rest of the doors and do the same thing. Next, I did the second sides with the same product. Once two coats were on each side, I gave my sprayer a thorough cleaning. Then I filled it with the next "product" and repeated the process. While waiting for things to dry, I'd go in and paint my cabinet bases to make the most efficient use of the drying times.
STEP 7: RE-INSTALLING THE CABINET DOORS
My decision to put new hinges on my cabinets came with a price: 5 screws per hinge. 58 hinges. Numb thumbs. Fortunately some of the holes lined up with the previous hinges, so they were fairly easy to position. But this is really a 2-person job! You can either mount the hinges to the cabinet doors first, then attach them to the base, or the other way around. I found mounting the hinges to the base first then having my husband hold up the door while I attached the hinge to the door worked for me. Once my hands got tired, we'd switch off. The final results were totally worth it!