Home Zone: Painting kitchen cabinets

INDIANAPOLIS – One of the best ways to improve the look of your home, or just to increase resale value is to update your kitchen.  You can completely tear out the old and put in the new, but that will cost most people upwards of $10,000.  Instead, update and transform your outdated kitchen cabinets using paint.  That’s exactly what one resident of Indianapolis did.

Meet Jerry

“At first when I got the prices, I was really really shocked.  The quotes were up to $6,000 just to paint the cabinets.  And I thought this is something I could do, so I did a lot of research,” said Jerry Green.

Jerry went straight to the internet to search for “how to” videos on cabinet and drawer painting.  He looked at many and settled on one video in particular using a Wagner sprayer.

Prep before paint

The first step is to prepare whatever you plan to paint by emptying out your drawer and cabinets, and if necessary, remove appliances.

Clean the items to be painted and fill any dings or holes with wood filler so you have a smooth surface.  If you don’t clean everything well, the paint won’t stick.  Any kind of degreaser will do the trick.

“Just empty the things out you need to and then you tape off with brown paper on the insides of the cabinets and the drawers, then it’s sanding,” said Jerry.

It’s also a good idea to number the drawer and cabinet knobs and pulls and hinges and anything you remove.  After labeling them with tape and a marker, put them inside the drawer or cabinet where they came from so it’s easy to know what goes where when you reinstall them after painting. 

Before painting, you also need to lightly sand the cleaned wood with a medium grit sandpaper to smooth any wood filler and abrasions.  Then wipe off the dust from sanding. 

Brush, roller, sprayer: Which will it be?

Next, choose how you want to paint your cabinets.  You can use a brush, a roller, or a sprayer.  Generally you will get the smoothest finish from a sprayer.  That’s what Jerry did.

“I tried using a roller and it just looked bad.  That’s when I opted for the sprayer.  But before any painting could happen, I taped up plastic all around the kitchen to stop any overspray.  It was all around my kitchen,” said Jerry.

It can’t hurt to practice painting on something besides your cabinets, especially if you are using a new tool like a sprayer.  Jerry used a semi gloss latex paint, a little thinned.  Read the spray and paint directions and practice.  Many manufactures will include a practice poster. 

Jerry used what the video recommended which was a FLEXiO 5000 with paint sprayer and detail finish nozzle attachment. It comes with a spray poster and instructions but use whatever sprayer you think is best.

Prime time

The next step is to prime the cabinets starting with the upper cabinets and moving to the lowers.  Wagner recommends starting first with the crown molding and moving to the inside edges next.  Then move to the front of the cabinets.  After a couple hours, the primer should be dried.  Check to see if there are any rough spots and lightly sand them.  Clean that off and then it’s time to paint a couple top coats. 

Staining wood with white spray gun, close-up shot. Application of flame retardant ensuring fire protection, airless spraying.

Let’s paint!

You will want to adjust both the material and airflow settings on the sprayer to get your desired finish.  Also, make sure to hold the paint sprayer 4-6” away and release the trigger after each pass. It’s also a good practice to overlap your passes by 50% to ensure even coverage. 

“When you’re painting, I liked the idea that if I went up and down and the cabinet doors were still on, I could do both sides at once. For the drawers, I painted them side to side, going with the grain and holding the sprayer perpendicular to the cabinets,” said Jerry.

Allow the cabinets to dry after priming according to the paint manufacture’s timeline. If there are any rough edges, use 220 grit sandpaper or higher and sand the surface. The paint spraying techniques you use for priming are the same you’ll use to apply the top coat.  Generally you will need 2 coats for a nice clean finish.

“What I found out is if I took my time and didn’t get all whacked out and said there’s bleed through and there’s this and that and went back, the second coat really made them look nice,” said Jerry.

Dry and reassemble

Don’t get impatient when you are just about done.  Let the paint dry overnight and then come back in the morning to put everything back together. Jerry used two gallons of primer for his kitchen and five gallons of paint.  The total cost for the paint, sprayer and materials was about $1,000 which is a fraction of what he would have paid someone else to do.  And now he has the satisfaction of knowing he did it himself.

“Really anyone can do it.  If you make a mistake have a damp sponge and wipe it off.  I’m very impatient and I wanted it done a lot quicker.  But if you want everything to work, you have to settle down a little bit and get it done.  That’s where the wine comes in,” said Jerry.

If you have a project you’ve done and have video of it, contact Scott Jones at [email protected].


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