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Professional Kitchen Cabinet Refinishing Process

When it comes to interior painting projects, there is no single project that is more labor-intensive than cabinet refinishing.

Interior cabinet refinishing requires a lot of time, skill, and product knowledge to professionally refinish cabinets. On the other hand, refinishing cabinets is relatively inexpensive, especially when compared to even some less expensive replacement options.


Let’s be honest, most cabinets are found in either kitchens or bathrooms. Either way, having these areas occupied for any amount of time can be a pain.

So, when you are starting a cabinet refinishing project you want to make sure you are doing all that you can to keep the area clean while working.

Since the project will likely take several days, go the extra mile to mask the flooring with paper, plastic, and tape, instead of a dropcloth. Doing so will enable easier cleanup during each step. It will also keep the flooring and other items clean throughout the entire process.

In many cases, dropcloths shift and move around, allowing dust and other contaminants to get trapped under the dropcloth.

Preparation Step 1 (Sanding)

Most stained wood cabinets are top-coated with polyurethane or other urethane enamels. Woodgrain orientation and the amount of polyurethane (or other enamels) will determine how much sanding is needed. Typically, oak has a deeper grain orientation and requires more sanding. If the cabinets are worn, due to age, you should find sanding the polyurethane down to be relatively easy.

If you desire to remove the stain finish, it will require additional sanding. During this process, 120 grit paper is suggested. Having an orbital and mouse detail sander will expedite the process.

Preparation Step 2 (Priming)

Properly priming is by far the most important step of the entire process. A premium primer is applied to bond the first top-coat of paint to all surfaces.

If this step isn’t conducted correctly, all other coats applied afterward will easily chip and peel off. You can either spray or brush the primer coat. We recommend spraying for a more uniform look.

However, the most important part of this step is what most painting contractors get wrong. The primer used should always be an oil-based or shellac-based bonding primer, and this kind of coating has to be given time to properly cure.

Some oil primers require 3-5 days of cure time. Shellac primers will dry much faster. Either primer you decide has to be completely cured prior to any additional applications or processes.

Assuring adequate dry time will enabling proper bonding. This step is often overlooked and rushed by most painting contractors. Either the wrong product is used or inexperienced contractors don’t allow proper dry times.

Preparation Step 3 (Re-Sanding)

After the primer coat has cured, this step is considered to be a detailed sanding process. It’s not meant to be an aggressive process.

With that being said, we suggest using 240 grit sandpaper or more. Keep in mind one or two passes by hand is all that is needed during this process. You don’t want to take off the primer coat by sanding too much.

Preparation Step 4 (Caulking)

This is the most controversial part of the process. The controversy derives from the conversation of arguing the pros and cons of caulking cabinet doors.

Caulking the faces of each door makes the overall aesthetics appear more desirable – ridding doors from visible cracks.

Cabinet doors are made in sections often referred to as panels. However, the most overlooked fact is, to reduce checking/cracking – panel doors are designed to allow slight movement. Usually, the flat center facing section of a cabinet door or (panel) is separate from the outside corners.

If where the panel meets the corners are caulked, the caulking can crack and even be pushed out from shifting due to expansion and contraction. Temperature and moisture variation will induce the movement of the panels. We suggest caulking all other cracks and leaving the panel to move freely.

Preparation Step 5 (Puttying & Wood fillers)

Another important part of the process – putty and wood fillers will smooth nail holes, dents, and minor open wood knots.

If the grain orientation of the wood is still undesirably visible, this process can be the most subjective and time-consuming. In many cases, a special filler will have to be applied to reduce undesired visible woodgrain.

Preparation Step 6 (Detailed Sanding)

This step is the final step before paint application. This step is specific to sanding wood-filled, puttied, or caulked areas. Run your hand over the surface. Make sure there are no rough or uneven areas. Again, 240 or more grit sandpaper is suggested.

Paint Selection

Assuming that you have already purchased all materials – it’s time to make sure the paint selected is an enamel that is self-leveling, resists yellowing, and low odor.

We suggest using waterborne Alkyds or Acrylic Enamels specific for cabinet applications. Extremely high-end oil resins are also suggested. If you desire interior oil-based paint, we suggest Benjamin Moore Satin Impervo low lustre enamel.

Just keep in mind lacquer-based products are the most durable. But also are the most expensive.

Paint Application

Now it’s time to do what you have been waiting for – paint those dated cabinets. For top-coat application, we suggest spraying over-brushing.

Allow for 1-2 days between coats if you’re using paint. In most cases, two coats will be needed for most all applications.

Remember, two light coats will offer a better finish than one heavy coat. Applying interior paint too heavy can cause the paint to contain heavy stipples and could cause the paint to drip or run.

Simply put, heavy applications will create unwanted texture, which is counterintuitive – since we spent so much time sanding to make sure the surface was smooth.

Final Product and Usage

If you have had the cabinets painted you must allow a few days prior to re-installation. Another benefit to using lacquer is quicker dry times. With lacquer, you can literally hang the doors the same day.

Allow 2 weeks before cleaning or wiping the cabinets. No abrasive chemicals can be used until after 1 – 3 months. After 3 months enjoy those cabinets.

Yes, it was a process. However, you were able to personalize and salvage your pre-existing cabinets at a fraction of the price it would have cost to replace them.


If you are in the market to refinish your interior kitchen cabinets, bookshelves, bathroom vanity, or transition your stained interior trim to paint – let the professional at A Touch of Color Painting get the job done for you. After all – after reading this blog – you know it’s going to be done right!

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