How to Paint Kitchen Cabinet Doors – The Complete Step by Step Process

You can use this process at home to refinish your kitchen cabinet doors.  It is similar to the methods Sharrard Painting follows for professional cabinet refinishing:

A)  Take them off:  Remove, label doors and all other hardware.  See our blog post on Tips for Painting Kitchen Cabinets for more information about this.

B)  Wash Doors:  unfortunately not an optional task, all doors must be washed with tri-sodium phosphate or a comparable de-greaser.  It’s almost a type of dry washing since the doors cannot get too damp or else they will warp, loosen or suffer other damage.  You need to scrub up, rinse and pat dry each door in a timely fashion.  Remember this is wood you cannot let it soak in the tub for an hour to get 10 years of grease off.  Thicker layers of grease can be removed gently with scrapers and flat blade razors.

  • Ensure the doors are dry before sanding.
  • Use old finishing pads or old sanding sponges and wet sand with the cleaning solution.

C)  Sanding: scuff sand the doors and sand out sags and runs from the previous finish.  Scuff sanding means 5 to 6 quick passes with sandpaper.

  • Use sanding sponges for the groves and expect to use a lot.  The smaller cheap ones are easier to use but only last 2 or 3 doors before they need to be replaced.
  • Using a combination of spade-shaped mouse sander for the corners and orbital sander for the front and sides and you will save a lot of time.
  • Be systematic in your approach to getting the work done and not missing any corners, sides or fonts.
  • For the initial sanding of the varnish coat use 120 – 150 grit sandpaper.  Don’t polish the varnish with higher grit sandpaper.
  • Use 150 if you’re new to using those tools.  Practice sanding on the backs of the doors.  A moving orbital sander can leave rotation marks on the surface if not placed on to that surface correctly.
  • Dust, consider doing the sanding outside if possible and wear a mask to protect your lungs from the fine varnish dust.

D)  Dents, Cracks and Holes:  Now is the time to fill small holes with wood filler.  The Le Page Tinted Wood Fillers work well in most applications.  Avoid using latex caulking such as DAP to fill in cracks, over time it will crack and weather poorly.  The tinted wood fillers can be used just as easily, as well they can be sanded smooth, unlike latex caulking.

E)  Modifications: If changing door hardware now it is the time to see if it fits correctly or needs to be moved.  Drill new or larger holes as required now and not on a freshly painted door.

F)  Dusting: completely dust the doors, remove all dust, use dry paintbrush to sweep out cracks and be very detailed.  Vacuum each piece to remove all the varnish dust, a bristle vacuum attachment works well for the detailed job.

G)  Clean up:  vacuum your work area and get ready to paint.

H)  Drying Station:  if not already done construct a drying station.  A professional lays out all the doors in advance and ensures that a freshly painted door can be removed from the paint station and placed onto the drying rack without any of the wet paint being touched.

I)  Prime coat:  Match the primer to the paint and the paint and to the surface being painted.  Prime the backs of the doors first and follow the manufactures instructions for dry time. Flip over prime the other side.

J)  Sand: Using 220 grit sandpaper do another quick scuff sand after the primer coat has completely dried and completely dust and vacuum the door prior to the first coat of paint.  Use a dry paintbrush as a fine whisk to get into the corners.  If possible take each door outside, or away from the painting station to avoid dust contamination at the drying racks.

K)  First Coat of Paint:  paint the BACK of the DOOR first (both coats of paint).  If you paint the backs first any marks left from the painters’ pyramids (only if you’re in a rush) will be on the back of the door – drying time is as per the paint’s instructions.  Overnight drying before flipping the doors and painting the fronts is usually recommended.  Water-based enamels such as Ben Moore Advance will need a full 16 hours of dry try between coats.  While the paint may feel very dry after 5 to 6 hours I never attempt any repaints prior to the interval of time recommended by the paint manufacturer.

  • Yellow bleeds or stains coming through white primer are a sign you need to use an oil-based primer with shellac such as BIN by Zinsser.  If not dealt with the yellow will continue to bleed through to the finish coat.  If the yellowing is only in a few spots then use a spray can of BINs and only spot prime.  If the yellowing is extensive you will need to apply a complete coat of the BINs shellac-based primer.

L)  Painting the Sides: each time you paint a door do the sides lightly (not to thick) with a roller. Use light coats on the sides because you end up putting 3 coats (1 primer, 2 finish) on the each door (technically because you paint the front and back of the door you get to apply up to 6 coats on the sides),

M) Second coat of paint: Between the first and second coat use 320 grit sandpaper.  If it’s not covering completely after the second coat don’t force it, just accept that you’ll need to apply another coat.  You likely applied too light of a coat during the primer or painting process or both but that’s OK since the end results of applying the paint too thick would be much worse.

N) Dry Time and Re-hanging the doors:  Within hours the surface is dry to the touch but the paint is still soft and will scratch, chip or scuff easily.  During the initial week of drying try not to handle the doors too much initially and don’t try to hang the doors before they have begun to fully cure, this takes about 5 to 7 days.

You can see why using a paintbrush and consumer-grade products is a problem because after every coat of paint you need to wait 24 hours before you can “really” work on them.  It takes 8 days just to paint the doors and drawers.

Refinishing Cabinet Doors with Traditional Brush and Roller

  • Day One – Prep,
  • Day Two – Prime both sides 1x AM / PM
  • Day Three – Prime Sand Backs, Prime Sand Fronts, Prime Backs 2x
  • Day Four – Prime Fronts 2X
  • Day Five – Prime Sand Backs, Prime Sand Fronts, Paint Backs 1x
  • Day Six – Sand Backs, Paint Backs 2x
  • Day Seven – Paint Fronts 1x
  • Day Eight – Sand Fronts, Paint Fronts 2x
  • Day Eight to 14 – cure
  • Day Fifteen – pack and install

Vs Spray Painting with post cat conversion varnish

  • Day One – Prep
  • Day Two – AM Prime Fronts & Backs / PM Sand Front & Backs including Filling
  • Day Three – AM 2nd coat of Primer / PM Sand backs of all pieces
  • Day Four – AM Spray Paint Backs / PM Spray Paint Fronts
  • Day Five / Day Six – pack or install

Professional Cabinet Painting – Notes for Contractors

Here are some handy notes for the local cabinet painting contractor in Toronto, Mississauga, or the Oakville area.  If you are thinking of providing cabinet refinishing as a service these are some factors you need to consider.

Space and Spray Booth: to paint doors and to have space to allow the doors to dry and cure.  Sharrard Painting & Fine Finishing has a 2500 sq ft painting and fine finishing shop with a compliant spray booth located in central Oakville. 

Lacquer vs Paint:  professional cabinet painting requires the use of lacquer – post catalyzed lacquer is the best to use.  It will cure the quickest.   The product that dries the quickest is usually also the hardest and therefore the best to use.  Consumer-grade paints, like Ben Moore Advance, will take 4 weeks to fully cure and therefore are impossible to use in a commercial setting.  Whether to use solvent (oil-based) lacquers vs water-based lacquers is something to also consider.  I prefer solvent-based lacquers when repainting kitchens and waterbased based lacquers when dealing with new MDF.

Gloss Level:  lacquers come at a gloss level that is expressed as a percentage – it varies from brand to brand.  You really want to avoid using high gloss or semi-gloss products in kitchens, especially repaints. A twenty-five percent sheen is about the highest I would do, this is the equivalent of a satin or pearl finish.  Clear coats on stained – 15 to 10% is the recommended gloss level for a clear coat on cabinetry.

Spray Painting On-Site is an Art.   Make sure you have the right venting tools, especially a portable air exchanger.  Some firms use a brush and roller to paint the onsite elements.  We don’t.  After you tape off about 100 kitchens it will start to become a lot like clockwork and you figure out the best way to do it.   We’ve done over 700!  When spraying your topcoat work in sections and tape off competed work to protect it from overspray.  If you use post-cat lacquer you can put green tape on top of the topcoat within about 1 hr of spraying it.

Don’t SPRAY Paint Oak Cabinet Doors White:  this is a loose / loose situation, it looks awful and you will have wasted your customer’s money.  See our post on painting oak cabinet doors.

Supplies:  you’ll need to buy a lot of sanding paper, tape, and masking material.  Autobody shops usually know where to buy this sort of stuff at the best rates – buying sandpaper and masking material from the paint store is good for one or two jobs but if you do it all the time it will become too expensive.

Dust: created by sanding, keeping the doors dust-free between coats is key to keeping presentations of your work from looking like crap.  Completely clean up (vacuum * 2 prior to the primer coat and finish coats.

Grease and Dirt:  has to be removed – it is one of the most critical and yet overlooked steps in the entire process.  You can actually do some sanding and washing at the same time if you use burgundy finishing pads as a scrub pad.

Removal and Rehanging of doors – putting them back up will take twice as long if you’re not the guy who took them down.  18 Doors can take an afternoon if there are lots of adjustments to be made.  Your customer will expect you to create level cabinet doors and to fix any rubs the drawers might have had with cabinet doors.  These have to be fixed because the rubbing of the doors will scratch the paint off within weeks of you declaring you’re done. Learning how to take apart and put back together a kitchen takes many iterations since the systems used vary between job to job.

Graco 395 Fine Finsh Pro – Air Assisted Spraying provides great finish.

Material Usage:  If you decide to move into spraying remember you`ll use twice as much primer and twice as much paint.  Sharrard Painting spray paints all cabinet finishes but we do it off offsite at our shop in Oakville.  We use air-assisted pumps and pressure pots connected to a 250 lbs compressor.

Transporting the doors:  if recently painted they will easily get damaged during the move. Invest in padded moving blankets if you’re in it for the long run.  Cardboard corners are my preferred way of packing and transporting doors – these can be purchased from Uline.

Summer Humidity: we use post catalyzed lacquer so our paint dries in 30 mins and cures in less than a day but if you’re using consumer-grade cabinet paint like Ben Moore Advance it will take much longer to dry than normal paint.  During the summer rush remember that summer humidity will double the cure time of the paint.  That is going to be a big deal when your sweat-covered hands need to manhandle those doors getting them back onto the hinges and onto the base cabinets. The longer the doors have to dry and cure the better the experience is for everyone.

Spray Painting Kitchen Base Cabinets, Kick Plates, Crowns & Gable Ends.

By Todd Sharrard.  When refinishing kitchen cabinets the painting of base cabinetry refers to the refinishing of articles that cannot be removed and painted off site.  In your standard kitchen this includes things such as the kick plates, gable ends, valance and crown mouldings; it can also refer to the painting of the stile and rail edge banding that surrounds each cabinet carcass.

This is our refined process for spray painting the on-site portion of any kitchen cabinet refinishing project – your typical 30 to 45 piece kitchen will take two people about two days to go through this entire process (the on-site work only).  It is labour intensive, yes very much but, the goal is to make the kitchen look not painted, but in fact, constructed in the colour of choice.  The gable end, crowns, and valances may end up being the most visible elements of your kitchen cabinetry so they should be spray painted, just like the cabinet doors and drawers.


  • cabinet carcass is the cabinet box or shell without its cabinet doors or drawers.
  • the term rail is used to refer to the horizontal edge of a carcass or cabinet door
  • stile is the vertical edge of the carcass or cabinet door
  • carcasses can be frameless typically with European style hinges or have a face frame attached with overlay hinges.

Factors that Impact Site work

  • site work in condos is hard, ventilation can be an issue especially since the kitchen is not equipped with windows
  • large open concept kitchens can also be a challenge to tape off and contain dust.
  • oversite cleanliness of the site and other work being done at the same time.
  • cabinet contents – it’s an easier and therefore better job done if the kitchen has been completely emptied

Tools & Sundry List:

Beyond your standard painting tools and accessories, these are the critical items I need for finishing base cabinets in your typical 45 piece kitchen.

  • 3 stage or greater HVLP turbine sprayer or portable compressor-based sprayer
  • Good quality rosin paper or flooring paper
  • Dnya Patch Pro (best for lacquer) – Dulux, Home Depot
  • 3m Easy Masker

    Hand Masker – toys for big boys, not essitenal for the DIYer, that aside, I can’t believe i used to work without one.
  • Good quality 1.5 inch masking tape.  3M blue tape is good for a DIY job.
  • Paper Rolls or Plastic Rolls – 12 inch (used with 3M Easy Masker)
  • 24-inch plastic painters flim
  • Sharp Knife
  • 400 / 320 / 240 Grit & 120 Grit * three stages of sanding and somewhere in that range but nothing less than 320 for the last coat
  • red and grey finishing pads * these are optional but sure do help with sanding details and washing

Spray painting base cabinetry can be tricky, in fact, its harder and more time-consuming than painting the actual doors and drawers.  The nature of the task is difficult since the base cabinets have many intersecting points, corners and edges and most painting equipment wasn’t made to paint a 1/2 inch strip.  All this translates into the perfect setting for a lot paint sags and the occasional holiday (missing a spot).

Step by Step Process: Continue readingSpray Painting Kitchen Base Cabinets, Kick Plates, Crowns & Gable Ends.

Notes on Painting Oak Cabinets

We often receive requests to quote the refinishing of oak kitchen cabinets to a solid pigmented finish such as white, off-white or mid-tone colour.

Spray painting finished oak cabinet doors to white or lighter colours, in general, can be a real challenge. The presentation of the grain is always an issue.  We find that customers can sometimes not be happy with the results so we put together this blog entry to detail what to expect when spray painting oak cabinet doors.

oakwoodOak is a very porous type of wood – the gain has deep crevices that cannot be penetrated by the light spray finish created by spray painting equipment – what happens is that spray usually dries prior to seeping down into the gain.  On finishes done in white, lighter and mid-tone colours the grain can appear darker and pimple-like after the spray finish is applied.  When the boards are painted darker colours (darker browns and greys) the effect is not so dramatic.  It’s for these reasons we typically do not paint oak cabinetry a white, off-white, or mid-tone colour.

Grain Fillers:  You can apply products known as grain fillers but I have two general issues with grain fillers.

  1. cost – the time required to apply the gain filling material plus all the other costs of refinishing usually make the project cost-prohibitive
  2. filling the grain and building a consistent presentation across 30 to 50 cupboard doors will also be a significant challenge and contribute to costs.  With the cost of labour you might as well purchase a new set of cabinet doors and hang them onto the existing frames (this is known as “re-FACING”)

Although, I have seen this type of work (grain filling) done on furniture pieces (tabletops) for a kitchen cabinet door it’s not practical.  It would be much cheaper to buy new doors.

If you have been invited to this page based on your request for a quote. Please review the samples below.  For oak cabinetry we provide two service options:

    1. Spray-finish the kitchen in a darker colour, or
    2. ReFace the kitchen with new doors, drawers and toe kicks.  Reface or grain fill the larger gables as required.  Paint the edge banding to match the finish.

Here are a few pictures of oak cabinets doors painted in white to highlight what I mean:

Photos of Oak Kitchen Cabinets Spray Painted White:

This picture is a larger presentation – some customers will say well that’s not so bad – honestly, I don’t think this picture gives credit to just how bad it could look.


Here is a close up picture of where the paint wasn’t able to seep down far enough into the grain.  These cabinets were spray painted.

As an alternative:  if we use dark colours (not mid-tones) a very nice visual presentation can be created.  The darker colour creates less contrast within the presentations of the grain.  A number of examples are provided below but typically we are talking about using a darker brown or a very dark grey.   Such as:


Ben Moore – Espresso Bean – CSP 30


Ben Moore – Wrought Iron – 2124-10


Ben Moore – Grey – 2121-10

Oak Kitchen Finished in Grey:

Here are some photos we did of an oak kitchen finished in grey – the colour is Steel Wool by Ben Moore.

Oak Cabinets Finished in Dark Brown (Espresso Bean):

Oak Kitchen Spray Painted Dark Grey – Wrought Iron

Oak Kitchen Spray Painted Dark Grey

OAK Cabinets Painted Black

Other articles on painting oak cabinet doors white:

Spray Painted Furniture

Spray Painted Furniture using Kem Aqua By Sherwin Williams – the colour is Ben Moore Black magic!

We only do a limited number of furniture pieces per year.  Turn around time is typically 3 to 4 weeks.

Spray Painted French Doors

For this project we used Ben Moore Advance done in a pearl finish.  Its a water-based alkyd, very durable but takes a very long time to dry.

Although it would have been nice to paint the doors using a lacquer its not to practical if the customer is doing the rest of the trim (casing and baseboards) themselves.  You need a system that both you can the customer can apply  – Ben Moore Advance or Sherwin Williams Pro Classic are good for this – the down side, as i already mentioned – its take too long to dry and that eats up shop resources.

Refinished Kitchen Cabinets – Burnett St, Oakville Ontario

This grand kitchen was recently refinished by Sharrard Painting and Fine Finishing.  This designer kitchen built by Retaylors in 2004 was in need of a fresh coat.  And thats what we did; over 130 pieces were removed and taken back to Retaylors finishing facility (which we manage) for a wash, sand, prime and two finish coats.   The colour is Barvarian Cream and the black – is just that “Black”; both Ben Moore colours.  The product finish was KCI (Katalic Coatings) post cat lacquer done in a 25 sheen.

Project Review – LA Kings / Staples Center

Oakville, Ontario:  Sharrard Painting and Fine Finishing through its association with Retaylors just completed the refinishing of the new Coaches Corner for the Staple Center in Los Angeles.  The project involved the finishing of over 100 pieces of solid birch and birch veneer.   Each piece under went the following finishing schedule:

  1. 150 grit sanding
  2. Staining – dry for 24 hours
  3. Application of Supergard Valspar Clear – Sheen 25, via Graco 490 with 410 tip
  4. Sanding with 320 grit
  5. Application of Supergard Valspar Clear
  6. Sanding with 500 grit
  7. Application of Supergard Valspar Clear

Do to fire code regulations every piece had to be sealed on both sides.   As per Valspar two coats of the clear coat provided adequate fire resistance required to meet local code legislations.

What a fun and exciting project for us to complete, thanks to Andrew and the team at Retaylors for the opportunity to work on such great quality pieces.

Spray Painted Kitchen Cabinets Done in Sherwin Williams Kem Aqua Lacquer

ANCASTER, ONTARIO.  These cabinets were refinished by Sharrard Painting and Fine Finishing last fall.  They were spray painted using an 395 Air Assisted Sprayer from Graco for the shop work and a Capspray 8100 (3 stage turbine) for the on site work.  The colour is CC-20 Decorators White.  The cabinet doors are made of very heavy and solid MDF core board.  They were primed with two coats of Kem Aqua Surfacer and  two coats of Kem Aqua Loss Gloss Blending White.

Update 2020:  Sharrard Painting does not use Kem Aqua Lacquer any more.  It does not have durability and wear when compared to post cat solvent-based lacquers.  Because it is a low VOC it’s a good intermediate level lacquer if you don’t have the proper venting or spray booth available but it can be very hard to spray if you don’t get the variables right.


The mushroom glazed finish was very popular 10 years ago, I really liked them but keeping with the times today means a solid, glossly finish, no glazing.  Glazing is a great technique that helps to hide a lot of imperfections in the finish and i can see why finishers used so much.

The ‘corbals’ under the island and the range hood will be a real challenge to finish in a solid white.   The inside of the glass cabinet and its shelves will need to be refinished.  The crowns could come off but moving them you risk breaking the seal in the corners.


Good quality flooring paper is where it starts.  The stuff we are using here is called Anchored paper (not red rosin paper) and it comes from ICI / DULUX paints in Oakville.  Great stuff – kind of rubber like – somewhat water / solvent proof, unlike rosin paper.  Using a 3M hand masker one for paper and one for plastic film is great.



Finish coat done in Kem Aqua Low Gloss Blending White – tinted to CC20 Decorators White (Ben Moore).  Customer replaced floors with beautiful hardwood but still needs to replace the back splash; the two tone countertop (island is done in different colour) is a sharp look!


Primer Recommendations for Everyday Painting Projects

Picking the right primer is one of the critical factors to delivering  quality painting product on budget.  A good primer will seal the surface allowing both easy and even distribution of the finish product.  Primers can also be used to build up or level out a surface.  The right primers can be very effective at filling in subtle surface variations and moving you closer to creating that perfect finish.  Knowning the right primer to use will put you on the right path.

When to use primers.  Anytime you have unfinished or bare wood or unfinished drywall you should be applying a sealer or primer.  As well:

  • A lot of people also over look the fact that drywall  pulled back or exposed down to the brown paper is also an unsealed surface.  When the brown paper is visible you will need the application of a sealer BEFORE the application of polyfilla or drywall compound.  If you do not seal the exposed brown paper the polyfilla will not stick too well to the paper.  This will cause the pollyfilla to peal of the wall when rolling the finish coat – the water from the latex paint reacts with the surface and pollyfilla falls away from the wall.
  • Converting from high base colour (eg dark red, blue) to an off white colour will typically require the application of a complete coat of latex wall primer.

Types of Primers

shellacprimersShellac:  best type of primer to use for sealing in stains, wood knots, crayons, markers, etc.  Also good for sealing in open grain woods from tannis which is the yellow bleeding we see after we put white paint on wood such as oak.  Shellac primers are harder to clean up you will need to use Methyal Hydrate.  The Sherwin Williams product is a good solution – these can be purchased in gallons, quarts or spray cans.

Premium-Latex-PrimerLatex:  latex primers are great for drywall finishes.  My goto product for priming drywall is the Para Premium hi hiding primer-sealer.  This stuff has a very high solid content and is great for filing in subtle surface variations.  Two coats of the Para Hi-Hide on bare drywall is all I have on my basement ceiling.  It looks great.

Alkyd or Oil Based Primers:  should be used for sealing in wood trim.  MDF trim sealed using an alkyd based primer will not swell as much MDF primed using a water based or latex primer.  If your trim is made of wood the latex primer will also raise the gain = all your trim will need to be sanded smooth after the application of latex primer.

STIX is great for maple wood and various veneers
STIX is great for various veneers and glossy surfaces

UMA:  ureathane modified primers.  These are now the go to product for painting glossy surfaces such as veneers.  A lot of painters use them for painting cabinets since they can be brushed on and sanded easily.  STIX is an example of an UMA based primer.  I find wood surfaces that have been treated with STIX need to dry for full 24 hours before they can be finish sanded.

Surfacers:  these are light bodied primers that sand very well.  They should sand up to a fine powder and not a gummy film.  These are typically used in applications where finish appearance is of the utmost importance (eg. furniture and cabinets).  The surfacers are usually part of a lacquer based system such as Sherwin Williams Kem Aqua.

Red Oxide: used to prime metal surfaces.  As professional cabinet painters we don’t often have a need to prime metal but when we do we like to use the Rustoleum Red Oxide primer in 12 oz areosol cans.  These can be purchased at Home Depot.

88001C_4Concrete Sealer:  should be used when painting brick surfaces for the first time.  The sealer prevents all your paint for soaking into the brick.  The idea here being that the sealer is half the cost of a can of paint.  The Behr product from Home Depot is a product that I have used often.

Conclusions:  when it comes to primers you do really get what you paid for.  I learned this time and time again.  Cheap primers might due when it comes to painting drywall.  But for priming MDF, wood and special glossy surfaces you need more gusto – its gotta seal the wood but it should also sand nicely – to a fine powder like substance.