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Painting the Cabinets, Step-By-Step

Source: Martha Stewart Living, September 2004


But not if you trim and paint existing wood cabinets and replace the hardware. With the right tools and a can-do attitude, Amy and Peter accomplished every detail themselves for about $500 (the frames took two weeks, the only time during the remodeling they couldn't use the kitchen). Here's how:



  1. Empty the cabinets and drawers, and organize their contents in labeled plastic bins so you can easily find things while the kitchen is under construction. You may take this opportunity to reorganize a bit, discarding worn and unused items. Infrequently needed pans and tools can be stored in the basement during the renovation; keep the bins that are packed with everyday tableware and kitchen supplies handy for use.

  2. Remove the doors and drawers. Use good screwdrivers to prevent stripping heads. If reusing the hardware, keep it in labeled plastic bags.

  3. Label the drawers (on the underside) and doors (on the inside where a hinge will be attached) with masking tape; write the location on each strip of tape as you remove the pieces. Before you do any patching, priming, or painting, wash the surfaces. Amy used trisodium phosphate (TSP) cleaner, which is specially formulated to remove grease and grime.

  4. Fill unwanted holes and crevices. Use a putty knife to fill each hole with wood or auto-body filler; let dry. Mound wood putty over the hole. Let dry; sand flat. Amy replaced the handles with knobs, so she filled in one of the two holes on each door.

  5. Sand all surfaces, covering appliances, counters, and open doorways with plastic sheeting and lining floor with kraft paper. Use a random orbital sander on flat surfaces, following the wood's grain; sand grooves and edges by hand with fine-grit sandpaper. Work on drawers and doors in the garage or basement to keep dust out of kitchen.

  6. Wipe down all surfaces with a tackcloth, which is treated with a sticky varnish to remove dust and other particles.

  7. Prime all surfaces to create a uniform base for the paint color. Start with the cabinet frames (the sooner they're done, the sooner you can use them again). Make long, steady brush strokes going with the wood's grain. Run a wide dry brush over the wet surface to even out brush marks. For doors and drawers, prime grooves first, then flat surfaces. Finish with the edges (horizontals then verticals). Let dry, and prime the doors' backs.

  8. Add molding to the cabinets for a finished look. Amy attached a cornice at the top and 1-by-2s and shelf-edge molding along the bottom. When all of the molding is in place and primed, the cabinet frames are ready for painting.

  9. Design a built-in shelf to create additional storage or display space under the smaller cabinets typically found over the sink. Amy added a recessed shelf over her sink.

  10. Paint the doors, drawers, and cabinet frames. Amy used an oil-based formula. It takes longer to dry than water-based paint, but it wears well and is easy to clean. Apply two coats, using the same technique that was described for priming in step 7.

  11. Dry and touch up the doors, resting them top down (on their least-visible surface when reinstalled) on two strips of wood and leaning against a wall. Once the cabinets are painted, reinstall the doors and drawers with their new hardware. Empty your storage bins, putting everything back where it belongs.

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