Painting Kitchen Cabinets

Now that we have new appliances (ordered in mid-March, last arrived mid-August), DW would like to get the cabinets painted. We’ve had two different contractors, each with very different approaches:

Sarah: Will take drawers & doors with her. They’ll be lightly sanded, primed, and then painted with what she calls “chalk paint”. This isn’t the kind of thing you use to write chalk on though, but the addition of some type of talc or plaster-of-paris to a high-end Behr paint. This makes for a better, smoother finish and also speeds the drying process. After that, she polys everything. The cabinet bodies would be done at our home with brushes and rollers.

Kenny: All work is done on site, either in our backyard or in the garage. They’ll remove the doors & drawers, sand, then apply two coats of Sherwin-Williams cabinet paint. The cabinet bodies would be done either by sprayer or by brushes/rollers.

Both have good references and Sarah has arranged a visit to a customer’s kitchen so that we can see and feel what the final product looks like. (We were concerned about the finish and if the thickened paint would wipe out the detail in the moldings.)

My question to forum readers is: What are your reactions/experiences/recommendations with the above methods?


brushes and rollers

  1. Personally, I would ONLY spray and NEVER brush or roll.

Because brushes leave brush marks and rollers leave sort of a mottled surface texture.

Sort of the same reason cars are sprayed, not rolled… except by some DIYers and it looks like it.

  1. I’d want to see IN PERSON, samples of their finishing work. Better to find someone who does it right than to have something very difficult to correct.

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How old are the cabinets? If ancient from an old house, they might have multiple layers of old paint. In that case best to strip off the old paint before priming and painting. That can be done with chemical strippers (which can be toxic so good ventilation required). Better is to heat the paint with a blow torch (or propane torch or electric heat gun). It will soften and be easy to scrape off with a putty knife. And of course be aware you could be dealing with old lead paint. Be careful.

If recent, after say 1970, not to worry. Should be fine.

How much gloss do you want? Notice that cars have very high gloss paint that is almost like a mirror. But appliances usually use a semigloss paint. Some find that more attractive.

If done right, brush or roller works well. But I agree spray paint is best especially if you want high gloss.

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The cabinets are the original “builder grade pressed wood” ones with some vinyl or something on the exposed ends to simulate wood. The bottoms have white formica. For a number of reasons, we’re not going to replace the cabinets.

Kenny said the special “cabinet paint” has some amount of “self leveling” to help hide brushstrokes.

Sean (new, third guy): Will remove doors & drawers and work at his shop. Like Kenny, he would build some plastic “curtains” around the kitchen to control dust and spray them in place. Sean says he uses Benjamin Moore “Command” paint – it’ll stick to anything and he’s even used it outdoors in the rain on metal. Three coats, with the initial one acting as a primer. I did ask about whether or not he used a poly on top, but he said that poly shouldn’t be used on paint. The “Command”, he said, would be more than enough protection, esp. since we were easy on the cabinets, didn’t have kids or dogs, etc.

Nobody is talking about stripping the cabinets. Universally, they all say a light sanding to help with adhesion.

I’ll report back on the “chalk paint” Wednesday after we view it.

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Cabinets have large flat surfaces at eye level. Any small defect will be very visible. The cabinets before painting need to be perfect or at least what you want. Any small scratches, dents or cracks will be there after painting – only the color changes.

At least was our experience. We had our cabinets sprayed with lacquer – the same kind of paint on your car. The guy took doors and sprayed those at his shop. He came into our house, hung plastic from the ceiling, walls, etc. and spray the boxes on the wall. The spraying took maybe 45 minutes. Plastic hanging hours.

I don’t know what cabinet paint is. I would go to a SherwinWin Williams store and ask them what they recommend for cabinets. We once painted bathroom cabinets with the highest grade of oil based paint. That paint was OK, but not as good as sprayed lacquer.

For sure insist on names of people whose cabinets were painted over a year ago – preferably two years ago. Look at those cabinets.


I’ve never had cabinets painted, but my Dad did, and the results were amazing. Of course I should mention the little old man who did it was a true craftsman and the process took several weeks. He did the work at Dad’s house, in the garage except, obviously, the cabinet frames which stayed in place in the kitchen and bathrooms.

He cleaned, fixed any dings, then painted, sanded, painted, sanded, painted, sanded, and then, yes, painted and sanded. Four full cycles, presumably a higher number grit with each sanding, and they looked like brand new from the factory.

I have no idea what kind of paint or any other details, just that it can be done and it can look great. Depends on the person doing it, so yeah, ask for references. And, FWIW, pictures mean nothing you have to see things in person to get a real sense.

My BIL, actually both of them in recent years have had their cabinets painted, but I know they both used local contractors, but I never caught the paint brands… We looked at it here, but our doors are all vertical grain oak with walnut users for the handle area, made by Huggy Bear, I don’t see the exact type in their online site, but similar to these:

Anyway, I won the option of not painting them…

I do have a savvy painter, Ben, if the need ever arises… Kelley Moore is his, and my preference for paints. Last gallon I needed for touching up the bathroom where I added towel bar backers cost me $129! Ouch! But the master bedroom and both baths were that same color… I’m ready for fixits…

Auto finishes are tougher, epoxies, even, we had repairs done on our RX7 many years ago, it was a 2 part epoxy, and I’d bet today there are even better, tougher paints out there!

I know I see wear on places in the house where folks casually touch, moldings near switches, corners, columns… So daily contact with cabinet doors, drawers has to be tough on them. Even with pulls, handles, there is wear n tear…

Anyway, just my 2 septs…


We went to see the kitchen done with her (Sarah’s) version of “chalk paint”. We can away impressed with the attention to detail in doing the job as well as the quality of the finish (esp. in a home with kids). The only hangup was that some larger flat surfaces on the island were painted with a roller/brush and you could see some strokes in it.

We asked about that and Sarah said that since then she’d gotten a smaller, detail sprayer and could spray on-site for the flat surfaces. That will be our plan – she’s taking the doors and drawer faces away to her workshop where the larger sprayer can be used. The flat surfaces (around the island, ends and bottoms of the cabinets) will be sprayed. Molding and cabinet face fronts will be brushed. Quote for the job is $3300 which seems pretty reasonable. We’re also looking at getting new glides for the drawers.

When everything is done, we’ll have pretty much redone the entire kitchen – new appliances, counter tops, backsplash, flooring, wallpaper.

How’s it going?

For what it’s worth, my sister is in a 1920s brick house that was renovated about 10 years ago; the owner before her had the cherry cabinets (Home Depot type) painted white with chalk paint, and it looks spectacular. We did not even know that they originally were cherry until the stove was moved out of position for a repair; there were a couple of unreachable spots still in the original finish.

I am contemplating doing that at my house. I’ve used chalk paint on small pieces of furniture and it does dry quickly. Most chalk paint manufacturers sell some sort of clear-coat sealer.

good luck!

Well, to finish it all out… We had the cabinets painted and couldn’t be happier with the results. Everything looks fantastic and the workmanship was excellent. All in all, it’s one of the easiest contractor experiences we’ve had and we’ve offered recommendations to others folks.

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Question: were they spray painted in place or brush painted?