White Kitchen Cabinets, lower, after being refinished with professional lacquer spray.

Professional or DIY Cabinet Painting | What You Need to Know

Have you ever wondered whether its worth the effort to paint your kitchen cabinets? Well, not all painting is created equal. Read on to learn about painting and lacquering cabinetry, with tips to help you plan a beautiful and affordable new look for your kitchen.

 

Do it yourself or hire a professional?

The do-it-yourself option is popular for low-budget kitchen updates. However, this is a time consuming option, and unless you have a lot of experience painting wood, an option that will have a “home-made” sort of finish. That look can be great in the right kitchen, but it’s something to keep in mind!

What to know if you do it yourself:

  • this option is good for: experienced do-it-yourselfers; rustic or casual kitchen styles
  • this option is bad for: first time do-it-yourselfers; formal kitchen styles

Prep, tools, and materials are key

  • You cannot use a latex primer (even Bulls Eye 1-2-3) if you want to maintain a solid colour.  There are some latex products that will stick to the oil finishes out there, but they will not be able to block the tannins in the wood, so discolouration will begin to occur within 6 months to a year
  • Use an oil primer first and a latex top coat. There are paints that are specifically formulated for cabinetry and these are the best to use for a long lasting finish
  • You will see brush marks as well as the grain of the wood, so paint with the grain
  • Thoroughly clean and lightly sand all the surfaces you are painting
  • Be prepared for multiple coats. This is a job that will take multiple days.
  • There are some do-it-yourself re-staining products out there, but we do not recommend using them in your kitchen unless you have used them on smaller wood projects and have a good sense of what your final look will be and the process involved.
  • There are lots of online resources outlining the steps for DIY painting. We like this one for the detailed attention it gives to the preparation phase.

Professional Painting and Resurfacing

  • this option is good for: people who don’t want to do the time and labour of a DIY paint job; kitchens that will benefit from a professional finish.
  • this option is bad for: kitchens with bad layouts or poor quality cabinetry

Brushed painting

This is the same technique as a DIY paint job, but with a professional who is familiar with working with wood grain the outcome is a nicer smoother finish the most DIY’ers can achieve.

There’s a high probability that you will be able to see some wood grain texture, and the paint itself can be more susceptible to wear and tear than a lacquer spray finish, especially during the 30 day curing period that latex paint requires. In particular, you can get “lap marks” during this period, where the painted door sticks to the painted frame.

Lap marks can be reduced by leaving the doors off for as long as possible, and having the painter use a paint that is specially formulated for cabinets. Done well, this option can look quite nice and be very durable and long lasting.

Spray painting with lacquer

If you want your cabinets to look new, then a company that sprays and uses a lacquer finish is the way to go. This is the same process by which cabinetry is painted in a factory, and will give you a brushless, “new” look with a very durable, long-lasting finish.

To get some more information about spraying your cabinets professionally, we contacted Cabinet Rehab and Clean State whose results we’ve seen first hand, and who we would happily recommend to any of our clients. Both have much more info on their websites, so don’t hesitate to check them out!

What is the difference between spraying and painting?

Cabinet Rehab: Lacquer has a very fine pigment and can only be sprayed.  The formulation of lacquer is what provides that beautiful smooth finish without any brush or roller marks.  Lacquer is also much harder and more durable than any other paint.  The life expectancy is about 30 yrs.

Clean State: The biggest difference is the professional’s knowledge of getting paint to adhere properly. Cabinets can have a lot of food and grease and this should be properly cleaned. The final kitchen looks new and complete, not “refurbished.” It has a smooth finish with cupboard doors matching frames and boxes, no sloped paint on hinges ceilings or mouldings, and minor cabinet repairs or modifications where necessary.

Are there cabinets that can’t be refinished?

Cabinet Rehab: We can refinish any substrate, whether it be natural wood, pre-painted or melamine cabinetry.  As long as you are happy with the foot print of your kitchen and your base cabinets aren’t damaged beyond repair it can be refinished.

We don’t get into building new boxes but can do modifications such as shortening over appliance cabinets.  We can also modify doors that have external hinges to accept hidden euro hinges, or upgrade to slow close hinges.  If someone doesn’t  like the detail of their doors we do fabricate new slab or shaker style doors / drawer fronts.  Changing glass door fronts is also common, and we fill the existing hardware holes so hardware can be updated.

Clean State: I thoroughly clean and repair cabinets before painting, and make small repairs. I can hang new doors, change out hinges on existing doors, do minor carpentry, add crown mouldings and under counter lighting.  Sometimes cabinets could be too old and worn to be affordable and it might be better getting new doors or a new kitchen, in which case I can install new cupboards in an existing kitchen, or provide a complete install of simple kitchens.

What is one thing you’d like people to know about professional refinishing?

Cabinet Rehab: It’s not necessary to replace your cabinetry as long as your happy with the foot print. Refinishing is approximately 1/3 the cost of replacing and you also avoid further expenses such as the need for a plumber, or damages that can be caused during tear out. We coordinate our services with other contractors on a regular basis to give our clients the kitchen they deserve at a price they can afford.

Clean State: Painting is worth the money spent, usually about 25% of a new kitchen. I usually have about 2-3 weeks of lead time, and take an average of 5 days to complete a kitchen.

Finding the right professional is key

No matter what type of painting you decide on, you will be more happy with the job if you make sure you find the right professional. Remember to:

  • Get quotes from multiple companies, with details on what the job will and won’t cover
  • Ask to see examples of their work
  • Look for recommendations from previous clients
  • Make sure you’re comfortable asking them questions and with how they answer. Good communication can help avoid a lot of potential problems!

If you are in Waterloo Region and you’re not sure if painting is the right option for you, feel free to contact Lenore, Clean State, or Cabinet Rehab with your questions. If you’re not sure if the layout is workable yet, check out our Repair or Replace: Kitchen Edition post for a few tips.

Top picture, wood kitchen cabinets, text "before"; text title "Lacquer Refinishing"; lower picture white kitchen cabinets with text "after"

A before and after from Clean State. A completely new look, even with the old backsplash!

Close-up of cabinet before and after lacquer refinishing. Upper photo wood, lower photo grey.

Cabinet Rehab completely changed the look of these cabinets! (photos by Brass Ring Imagery).

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