Thursday, July 18, 2013

Kitchen How-To

Painting the kitchen cabinets has sparked a lot of interest from friends and neighbors on how we did it, so here's the nitty gritty. I don't have pictures of every step (again, not a pro-blogger), so if you have questions, leave a comment. Also, I looked over the Young House Love tutorial for guidance, which doesn't differ much from the procedures below, but I didn't refer back to it during the course of the renovations and followed my mother-in-law's lead instead.

This will be a crazy long post, so bear with me. I've tried to include every step along the way as well as every product we used (and I'm obviously not receiving any reimbursement for sharing brand names here).


  • Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day all-purpose solution in Geranium, my very favorite scent.
  • Next Liquid De-Glosser, purchased at Lowe's
  • Elmer's ProBond Wood Filler (to close up the old hardware holes, since we were switching from knobs to pulls)
  • 80, 120, and 220-grit sandpaper
  • rags (like old-tshirts, etc, anything not fluffy)
  • tack cloth, purchased at Lowe's.
  • 2" angled paint brush (invest in a good brush, like Purdy brushes, or Wooster, found at Lowe's)
  • 1" angled paint brush (for skinny parts of the frames - it was easier to maneuver)
  • Foam roller
  • dropcloths
  • a table or other raised surface to lay doors on when you're painting - this saves your back
  • Benjamin Moore Fresh Start primer (white, for our white upper cabinets)
  • BM Fresh Start primer tinted to 50% of Iron Gate
  • BM Advance paint in White Dove (1 gallon - we used this on 12 upper cabinets plus the frames) 
  • BM Advance paint in Iron Gate (1 gallon - we used this on 12 lower cabs plus 10 drawers plus the frames)

the primer. don't have a pic of the paint can, since the label is so covered in paint drips.

We used 80 and 120-grit sandpaper in the early steps to get the muck off, but once we started priming/painting, we switched to 220 between each coat

Step 1:
If you have small children, send them away to the grandparents' for a week. I'm not even kidding.

My MIL and I worked tirelessly, tag-teaming it with care of the girls, and Luke was a HUGE help during this process. We did all of this before we moved into the house, so he would pick them up from the house after work and take them back to the apartment for dinner, bath, bed. Then eventually we borrowed air mattresses and camped out at the house for more than a week.

It took us two weeks to complete through the final coat of paint, then the doors had to dry for at least three days after that, and then we finally hung them a little at a time over the next week. All in all, a three week process, which is painfully slow. But, it beat the amount of money we'd have to spend by hiring someone.

Step 2: 
We used Mrs. Meyer's Clean Day solution mixed with water and wiped down the insides of all the cabinets as well as all doors, drawers, and frames. This is the initial step in cutting through the grease/grime from over the years. I don't think the previous homeowner ever cleaned her cabinets.

Step 3:
Remove all cabinet hardware, making extra-special care to number the door and the corresponding cabinet base. We wrote a number on painter's tape and stuck it in a hinge hole for each door (so the number wouldn't get painted over), and the cabinet base it came from also received a matching number. Remove all cabinet doors.

Repeat the process for the drawers.

Step 4:
If you have a garage where you can work, or a large open room that has no or minimal furniture in it - utilize these spaces. We did all sanding of doors/drawers in the garage to keep mess in the house at a minimum. 

Protect your appliances with a drop cloth before you start. Using a medium grit of sandpaper (80), go over all cabinet bases/frames and all doors (both sides) and the drawers. This cuts through grease and grime even better than the initial cleaning. 

Our cabinets are oak with a varnish, so a little muscle was needed to get through that varnish and scuff it up. You will later put primer on everything, so the sanding roughs it up to give the primer something to stick to; you don't have to get down to bare wood meticulously. 

Use the same 80-grit sandpaper on your doors and drawers. We just leaned them against a wall as we finished each one. 

Step 5:
Take a tack cloth (found at hardware stores near the paint brushes) and run this over every single surface you sanded. Wear gloves. The tack cloth is very sticky and will make your hands sticky. This step picks up all the dust from sanding. 

Our doors have grooves in them, so on some of them, if the tack cloth didn't pick up enough dust, we used the hose on the vacuum to suck up the rest. 

Very important: To keep dust at a minimum, be meticulous in cleaning up the dust after each sanding step. Later, you'll lay your doors on drop cloths, so shake the drop cloths out after you're done sanding on each of those steps. It's a LOT of sanding. And a lot of repeating of steps, over and over and over and over again. 

Step 6:
Use liquid de-glosser on the doors, the final step in removing all varnish, grease, and grime. Some people skip the first sanding part and the de-glosser and use Liquid Sandpaper, and I might consider trying this on our bathroom cabinets, but for the kitchen (and my first time painting cabinets), I wanted to go step-by-proven-step to ensure that all things held up nicely. 

You just wipe all surfaces down with a rag cloth (not a fuzzy one) dipped in the de-glosser. Do this outside in your well-ventilated garage, because this stuff is fume-y. Wear a mask for when you have to do it on the frames in the kitchen. 

Step 7:
Finally, the first coat of primer! We used Benjamin Moore Fresh Start primer (ah-mazing stuff), tinted to 50% of our lower cabinet color, and un-tinted for our upper cabinets.

And please pay attention to this - buy good primer. We initially bought Kilz latex primer for the upper cabinets only (because we didn't need it tinted: big-box stores struggle to color-match a non-store brand consistently), and it is the worst primer ever.
We later read online that it has a 75% fail rate. Ugh. My MIL has used Kilz for years, but only their oil-based primer. She swears by that stuff. We went with all latex because we had the girls running around, and oil-based anything is a pain to clean up. We used the bad primer only on the upper cabinets, thankfully. We had to sand off ALL of it, on ALL of the upper cabinets, because it never dried. Days later it was still tacky to the touch, so we had to start all over. I hopped in the car, drove back to our local paint store, and bought the same BM primer that we used on the lower cabinets. I wish I had asked the paint guy at the BM store before we did all of that work, as it set us back a few days.

sanding the bad primer off. wanted to poke my eyeballs with pencils.

We let the first coat of primer dry for 18-24 hours. We shared the duty - one of us painted frames while the other painted the first side of the doors and drawers.

A note on the doors: start on the backs of each door, so that when you flip them a day later, just in case they weren't completely dry, you only slightly smudge the paint on the back, which no-one will ever see. We always ended a coat of primer or paint on the fronts of the doors.

This just got confusing - the frames are easy; you just do your coat of primer here, and let them dry. The doors take twice as long as the frames. On day 1 of priming, you prime the backs of the doors, lay them on your drop cloths, and let them dry for 18-24 hours. On day 2 of priming, you prime the fronts of the doors and lay each one out on the drop cloth as you complete them.
drying on a dropcloth, inside the house. during the sanding steps, they would be laid on a similar dropcloth outside in the garage as each one was sanded, and then after each one was tack-clothed, they would be brought inside to wait here for the next step.

Steps 8 and 9:
More sanding. This time you use a fine-grit sandpaper and sand down every front and back of doors and drawers and all cabinet frames. Run tack cloth (you'll go through a bunch of these) over all sanded surfaces. 

Step 10: 
First coat of paint! 
Paint a thin, even coat of paint on the frames. 
Paint a thin, even coat on the backs of the doors. We started with the set of doors that we finished first the day before (upper versus lower). You will always follow that rule. 
I used my 2" angled brush to paint, and then I won't over the paint with a smooth foam roller to help even out the brush strokes. Benjamin Moore Advance paint has great self-leveling properties, but we wanted to help it along a bit to make sure that brush strokes wouldn't show.
Lay each finished door on the drop cloth. Let dry 18-24 hours.

Step 11:
Repeat Step 10, but on the fronts of doors, and add a second coat of paint on the cabinet frames. You might want to keep a list with tallies to help you keep track of which coat you are on for each part. Let doors, drawers, and frames dry 18-24 hours. They should not be tacky to the touch.

Steps 12 and 13:
Yep, you guessed it. More sanding. You will sand between every coat of paint. Use a very fine grit (220) sandpaper from here on out. Lay out on your drop cloth as you finish each door.
Next, you'll take your tack cloth to all sanded surfaces. Again, wear gloves. We used cheapy disposable latex gloves. Move your doors to your inside drop cloth to reduce exposure to dust. Shake out the garage drop cloth to get rid of dust.

Step 14:
Second coat of paint on the backs of doors, using the same procedure as Step 10.
Third coat of paint on frames. [We ended up with 5 coats on the bottom frames and 4 coats on the top frames because we had a lot of wood-grain to hide - seems like so much, but it was worth the extra time to make it just perfect. Perhaps pros would argue that the BM Advance paint doesn't need that many coats on cabinets, but I beg to differ. Also, the darker color on the lower cabinets seemed a bit thinner than the white paint on the uppers, even though it was the same kind of paint.]

I should also mention - you'll notice that the drawers go at their own pace - same drying time, but no need to flip them. You'll finish those around the same time as you finish the frames. 

Step 15:
Second coat of paint on the fronts of doors.
Fourth coat of paint on the frames (if needed).

Steps 16 and 17:
Tired of sanding yet? Hope not, because here you go again. Same procedure, same 220-grit.
Tack cloth everything.

Step 17:
Third coat of paint on backs of doors. Dry 18-24 hours.
Fifth coat of paint on the frames (if needed, though you should be done by now - I'm just telling how it was for us).

Step 18:
Third coat of paint on fronts of doors. Dry 18-24 hours, til not tacky to the touch.

Steps 19 and 20:
Sand everything. Tack cloth everything.

Step 21:
Fourth coat of paint (if needed) on backs of doors. Dry 18-24 hours.

Step 22:
Fourth coat of paint (if needed, but match how many you do on the backs) on fronts of doors. Let dry and cure for 3-5 days. NO MORE SANDING!!! And the people rejoiced....

Step 23:
Mark holes for new hardware and drill. We bought a handy little guide from Liberty Hardware (found at Lowe's or Home Depot) for the cabinet doors, but they were out of the one for drawers (two separate guides needed), so we just measured the height and the width of the faces of the drawers with a tape measure, marking the center and then out from there to where our holes would be. Sounds complicated, but was really easy. Install your new hardware (or old, if you really liked it).
playing around with hardware, trying to decide which one. really liked both, but the contrast of the dark hardware won me over.

used the black knobs on the small cabinets above the range hood and the fridge


Step 24:
Re-hang your cabinet doors by replacing the hinges (we have hidden hinges that sit inside holes on the doors and attach to the cabinet bases) on the doors and hanging them. I didn't help with this part...Luke did it all. What a champ!

I do wish that we had thought to caulk all the seams between cabinet frames and the molding at the top. I tried to cover up any seams as best I could with paint, really trying to push it in there with my brush. It worked for the most part.

The island and the endcaps for the cabinet frames, as well as the kick-plates, are all laminate. We sanded and primed and painted the same as if they were wood, and I'm happy to report that a month in, they still look just as nice as the wood frames and wood doors.

I am amazed at what paint can do. The kitchen feels more open and lighter, and I am so glad we went with the two-tone look. We were originally going to have white on all of the cabinets, but my MIL talked me into darker on the bottom because in time, the kids will bump them and scratch them and make them dirty, and white shows everything. Best change in design ever.

So, a HUGE shout-out to my wonderful mother-in-law, Linda, who gave up two weeks of her time (and came down with a nasty stomach bug at the end of her time here). Thank you from the very bottom of my heart for this beautiful kitchen and for helping us make our first house a home.