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Guide to Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Last Updated Apr 7, 2014 · Written by Rob Schneider

One of the cheapest and easiest ways to give your kitchen a makeover is to paint your kitchen cabinets. If you don't have time or don't trust your DIY skills, a painter in your area can give you guaranteed professional results and the cost will be far less than a complete kitchen renovation. If you do want to tackle the job yourself, you can get everything you need from your local paint supplier. Either way, there are some things you need to know, so read this quick guide to painting kitchen cabinets before you get started.

©Solid Kitchens 'N' Cabinets

Get the Right Paint for the Job

No matter what material your kitchen door and drawer fronts are made of, you need to choose the right kind of paint if you want to get satisfactory results that last:
  • Melamine is the most common kitchen cabinet material and the one that is most commonly painted with the wrong type of paint. When you look at the smooth surface of melamine, it's easy to think that a good coat of oil-based enamel will do the trick. However, most paints will not adhere adequately to melamine. For melamine, plastic and other smooth surfaces, you need to use a urethane reinforced oil based paint.

  • Most paints will adhere to timber if the timber has been sanded down to the bare wood. This can be a time-consuming and unnecessary chore, though. First find out what the original finish was and then choose your paint accordingly. Newer timber kitchen doors have a clear polyurethane finish. For these, you will need to use a polyurethane paint formulation. Older cabinets may have a lacquer finish. The best way to paint these is with a latex paint after properly preparing the surface.

Surface Preparation

No matter what surface you are painting, you need to prepare it before you paint it. If there is any dirt or grease on the surface, clean it will a non-oily, grease cutting cleaner first. Most professional painters recommend TSP (trisodium phosphate). After that, you need to sandpaper the entire surface to give it "grip." You don'rt want to rough it up too much, though. 240 grit sandpaper is perfect. Use a sanding block on flat surfaces instead of your fingers to avoid oversanding and denting the surface. A good hardware store in your area will be able to supply you with everything you need.

Painting Tips

If you are going to be painting with a brush, the quality of your brush is going to make all the difference to your final finish, so start with a good quality brush. Brush strokes are unavoidable, though, so brush evenly in one direction only if you want to achieve professional looking results. Two or three thin coats are always better than one thick coat.

A great way to get a beautiful, unique finish is to use a "faux antique" paint process. This is a 3 step process:

  1. First you apply a base coat.

  2. Secondly, you apply a special "cracking medium." Available at most good paint suppliers, it is a clear, easy to apply coating that makes the once fine art of antiquing something any DIYer can do.

  3. Finally, you apply a top coat in the colour you want to be most prominent. When it dries, it will crack and split open in a random pattern, revealing the base colour behind it.
If you want a smooth, glossy surface, find a local cabinet maker with spray painting facilities in your area and let them spray paint your doors and drawer fronts for you. The cost of the equipment, the techniques involved in spray painting and the necessity of having adequate ventilation combined with a dust free environment make spray painting impractical for a do-it-yourselfer.

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