5 Takeaways from Painting kitchen Cabinets

It wasn’t that I thought cabinet painting was easy. I’d talked to enough friends who’d tried it that I knew “easy” wasn’t the right descriptor. I was just confident that it would be easy for us. Also, I knew that time was running out and that this project needed to be finished by the time the bathroom remodel was finished. So I refused to accept that there might be any road blocks with this particular part of our renovation. I did all the research, then John did his own research, and then we eventually merged our findings and agreed on the details that would make these old kitchen cabinets shiny and new again. We just couldn’t afford to replace everything in the kitchen after committing to the bathroom project, so this was as good as it was going to get. I see other DIYers and investors painting cabinets, throwing on some new hardware, and suddenly becoming an Instagram sensation.

We decided on a two-tone look: gray on the bottom, white on top. The bottom was mostly drawers and small cabinets. The upper cabinets were all the way to the ceiling and had glass doors. We’d planned on using the old garage for a makeshift paint booth, where John would wield his paint sprayer and transform the drawers and cabinet doors. We’d just cover the entryways to the kitchen with plastic and do the cabinet boxes right in the house. I spent almost an entire Saturday taping brown paper to the tile, the appliances, the countertops, and anything else that didn’t need to be sprayed.

Masked and ready to go

Lesson 1: Mask The glass with ease

John also used a pretty kick-ass Liquid Mask product on the kitchen window. What a cool way to cover the glass without dealing with tape. It was incredibly clean and easy to use. We also used this product on the French doors with all the little rectangular glass windows and it was a huge success. Not cheap, but if you’re painting around a lot of windows I’d recommend it. It also goes a long way. We were able to do 2 French doors, the back door, and the kitchen window (and still have 1/2 jug leftover!).

John got the cabinet boxes sprayed that weekend and they looked fantastic. We didn’t realize how much overspray there would be, however. He knew there would be a bit, and I did my best to allow for that with my taping/draping/covering methods, but we still ended up with little spritzes of gray paint on white surfaces. Honestly, I already decided I wasn’t going to deal with touching those spots up unless it started to really bothering me. The painting was wearing on us big time and it just needed to get done. That was one of those weekends where we didn’t get home to AR until 10:30 on Sunday night. Every project seemed to be more time consuming than the last. There were two or three weekends during this process that we’d stayed up past midnight both Friday and Saturday, then got home extremely late on Sunday (with work/school the next morning). The “easy two hour drive” was more tedious and exhausting each week. Plus, the price of gas had been slowly escalating for a month or so.

The liquid mask went on quickly and easily with a paint brush, and turned into an easy-to-peel film (this was on one of the French doors)

Lesson 2: Scrape the old crap (properly)

While he was working on spraying in the kitchen, I was in the living room with my trusty sidekick scraping the old paint off of the drawers and cabinet doors. I’m not sure if it was more tedious than taping off the kitchen or not. It’s probably a toss up. But this smelled much worse. We used a heat gun and a putty knife to ease the old, gross, tan paint off the cabinet doors in the smoothest way possible. I’ve mentioned this before, and I’m sure it will come up again, but when it comes to home improvement projects John’s attention to the little details is much better than mine.

I just wanted this task to be finished. The smell was disgusting, the mess was not fun to clean up, and the tedious nature of it was enough to make me never do this again. I really wanted a shortcut. It was going to take my multiple weekends and a lot more precision to scrape these things so they were perfectly clean. I’d planned to sand them afterward, so that would smooth out any bits of leftover old paint I didn’t scrape off. Aside from the old remnants I could not figure out how to scrape carefully enough to not ding the wood repeatedly. I understood the concept, had watched John do it, but just couldn’t get it mastered. Oh well.

My scraping station. Unless it’s too cold, I’d suggest doing this outside!

As I’m sure the foreshadowing has already helped you deduce, but after all was said and done, the ones that I scraped did not look like the ones he’d done. I mean, he put primer and two coats of the paint, so it wasn’t horrible…but it wasn’t pretty, either. I kept telling myself that no one would be living here for more than a few months at most, and it was still a drastic improvement from what it was. Lesson learned. Take the time to scrape ALL of the old stuff, properly and carefully. And just because you sand it to a smooth touch doesn’t mean you won’t still see the little imperfections and the edge of fossilized paint from the ’50s.

My helpful assistant, and the mess I made doing this in the living room (It was February and snowing). Thank goodness for the shop vac.

Lesson 3: Use a sprayer, and hang what you can

The paint sprayer, a Wagner, was a little yellow miracle. I had no interest in hand painting that many cabinets, but I was prepared to take one for the team and do it anyway. But after researching the perfect ratio of things, and practicing on the nasty old garage walls, he was basically an expert. Needless to say, he’s the one who really painted the cabinets. I like to think I helped by shoving Girl Scout cookies in his mouth every once in a while to keep his energy levels high.

Spraying the outside of the kitchen peninsula

I took the time to insert tiny eye hooks into each cabinet door that was removed, so we could hang them easily for spraying both sides at a time. It worked great. But, take care to put the hooks into an edge of the cabinet that won’t be seen since it leaves a noticeable hole. On the upper cabinet doors, we screwed them into the top of the door since it was almost at ceiling level and no one would be able to see it. On the lower doors, the hooks went in the bottom where it was closest to the floor, and again, out of eyesight. The drawer fronts, depending on what position they were located in the kitchen, sometimes had hooks on their left or right side. You’ll figure it out. But definitely hang them to save yourselves from painting only one side at a time.

Lesson 4: Label and Organize

I’m a pretty organized person. I’m a teacher, so I have to be if I want to stay on top of my life at school. But there are times when I don’t necessarily choose the best method to organize. Before I started doing all the door/drawer scraping, my thought was to remove everything and organize them all by area: upper cabinets, lower cabinets, drawer fronts. Then I sorted the glass front cabinets from the solid wood doors. I was so busy figuring out where to set them all safely while they waited to be stripped and sanded that I didn’t bother putting any kind of labels on them as to their return location. Oops. I did happen to notice penciled notes under the hinges on the doors that the prior installers had written. They had numbered the cabinet doors, and now this seems like a pretty good idea. By the time I got to the paint I’d learned my lesson and ended up writing in that same little hinge hole (then covering it with a bit of blue tape). After the painting, it was much easier to identify and match them all up.

Lesson 5: Be careful (Glass cabinet doors) and Be flexible

Lesson 3 mentioned hanging the cabinet doors to spray all the sides, when possible. This cut the time down immensely – but came with a cost. After we had all the eyehooks in the doors/drawer fronts, we arranged them in the garage to hang for the actual spraying process. The garage has a loft for storage, so we put the smaller/shorter doors hanging under that section so it was easier to walk under and around without bumping them. The tall glass cabinet doors were hanging from the beams toward the front of the garage. The overhead door was closed, and we’d used the small back door to get in and out. Things were strategically placed so John could move around with the sprayer between doors carefully in the small space.

Upward view of the well-arranged cabinet doors in the garage, just waiting to be transformed!

I went back in the house to grab something, then heard the crash. As I looked out the back door of the house toward the garage, I heard John curse and saw the overhead door about halfway up. Now, I have made innumerable mistakes throughout the process. I’ve done a lot of things that taught me lessons the hard way, and I will be careful of in the future. So I don’t really blame him and easily could’ve done this myself. But he absentmindedly opened the overhead door from the inside of the garage, not thinking through the fact that when the door went up and curled around to the inside, that it would be going under those main beams where our glass cabinet doors were hanging.

We didn’t even remove the paper to see what was underneath….a lot of the glass had escaped anyway, and you could hear the rest rattling around under the masking we’d used.

It was quite a mess, and cost us more of our precious weekend time to clean up glass and get the damaged chunks out of the way. The thing about this house being two hours away in another state is that our time always seemed so fleeting. The rush after work on Friday to get there, then cram as much work into the weekend as possible, then rush home on Sunday night – it was exhausting every single week. So, at this point, at the end of our weekend, I was prepared to leave the cabinets doorless. And for now, that’s what they are. The cabinet doors were different sizes on different sides of the kitchen. It was one of each size that broke so there wasn’t even wiggle room to move some of the doors around and make it look more even. We needed to be flexible on some things if I was going to get the house rented in a timely fashion. I’m still happy with the outcome, and it is still a huge improvement from the original look of the kitchen – even without doors on all the cabinets! We’ll work on getting some new ones made at some point…..but for now, it works, and we’ve learned so much.

After/before shot of the kitchen (I’m still learning the photo collage apps)
After/before from another angle

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