How to Paint Natural Wood Kitchen Cabinets

The challenge of painting natural wood kitchen cabinets is that it can be hard to keep the wood grain patterns from showing through the paint. If a smooth, painted look is what you’re going for, this is a serious problem, so here are some tips to help you avoid it, and get the look you want.

1. Clean Thoroughly

The first step (after disassembly, of course) is to thoroughly clean every surface that will be painted, using heavy-duty cleaners and degreasers. You don’t need to worry about damaging the finish with the cleaning products, because you’re about to replace it!

2. Sand

Every surface that is going to be painted needs to be sanded, not to make it smooth, but to make it rough, to give the paint something to adhere to.

3. Caulk & Fill

Using caulk and wood putty, fill any cracks, crevices, deep scratches, or holes. You want a nice, even surface for the paint to adhere to, not for it to seep under cracks and disappear. Sand the caulk and putty down smooth after application.

4. Prime

Depending on the type of wood you’re covering up, you may need several coats of primer or lacquer undercoat. Let each coat dry completely, then sand it to rough it up for the next coat, until you can’t feel the wood grain anymore by hand.

5. Oil-Based Paint

Even though it involves some odor, and yellows with age, oil-based paint is the way to go for wood cabinets. Latex paint simply chips and cracks too easily for something that takes the kind of abuse that kitchen cabinets do, so it’s worth the extra effort and time to do it right. Besides, by the time it might yellow with age, it’ll probably be time to re-paint anyway.

6. Multiple Light Coats

Start with very light coats of paint, drying and sanding in between. Continue this until you can’t see the wood grain showing through anymore. For doors and drawers, you can spray. For the cabinet bases, you can get away with fewer coats by hand, as they won’t be nearly as exposed or visible.

7. One or Two Heavy Coats

Finally, you’ll need one (for most woods) or two (for heavy-grain woods like oak) heavy coats of paint. If you’re going to use two, let it dry completely (this one will take days) before sanding and applying the final coat. The result, once everything has dried and cured and been reassembled, should be gorgeous, silky-smooth cabinets you’ll enjoy for years to come!

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