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How To Get Factory Finish on Cabinets

Follow these steps to get a factory-quality finish on your kitchen cabinets without extraordinary skill, tools, or expense.

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Want a dramatic before-and-after moment in your kitchen? Few things can make over a kitchen faster than painting or replacing your existing cabinets with a smooth, factory-finish style paint job. If you think it’s too late for your dinged-up, yellowed cabinets… think again!

You can get a smooth, enamel-like finish at home if you are willing to put in a little extra time into prep work and clean up.

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Nothing compares to the durable, impenetrable finish cabinet manufacturers can put on your cabinets while they’re still in the factory. The catalyzed conversion varnish they use in-house is only possible in that factory setting. Still, you can get a finish that is equally as beautiful and very near that level of durability at home — if you prepare for it.

Prep Your Cabinets for Paint

The trick to that glossy, chip-resistant finish is patience. Don’t skimp on your prep work, and don’t rush the process— that’s it! It’s as simple as that. So even if you have a color palette ready to go and are dying to open those cans and get started, take the time to prepare your surfaces and tools.

Choose Your Weapon

Step number one is deciding which method you want to use to finish — or refinish — your cabinets. Your options for applying primer and paint are to use a paint sprayer, foam rollers and brushes, or a combination of the two.

Don’t be intimidated by the idea of purchasing a paint sprayer; decent varieties can be found for around $100 and can save you a lot of time. You will also need to invest in a respirator mask for indoor painting to protect yourself. These are inexpensive and can be found at any home improvement store, so (again) don’t skimp!

Search for the highest quality paint brush and roller you can find at your paint store, possibly velour or mohair styles, for the smoothest application that doesn’t leave roller or brush marks.

Tape Off the Surrounding Areas

We know it’s tempting to get to the painting and trust that you’ll be very neat and tidy, but unless you want to risk a painted floor debacle, tape things off and leave nothing to chance. Tape off floors, walls, counters, any hardware like drawer tracks, and the inside of cabinetry if you don’t want it painted. Note: There are eco-friendly recyclable paper drop cloths that you can feel better about using with abandon.

Sprayers paint quickly but do require you to tape off everything in your kitchen or bath (and we do mean everything) to avoid getting primer or paint on floors, walls, etc. If you want the ease of a sprayer but don’t want to do the intense taping session, use a roller and brush on the cabinets and only spray the cabinet doors in another area.

Remove Doors and Old Paint

Whether you’re starting with brand-new builder-grade cabinets or are ready to refinish the in-need-of-some-love cabinets you inherited with your house, you’ll need to remove your cabinet doors and drawers and have a clean raw surface to work with.

The easiest way to get this is by sanding the door down. For doors with intricate woodwork designs, you may need to apply a paint remover first, clean the doors, and then begin sanding by hand or with an orbital sander. (This is well worth the cost of buying or renting for a cabinet job!)

Once your paint or previous finish is completely removed, clean and degrease all of your surfaces.

Take Your Time Sanding

Now for more sanding — sorry, it’s the key component to a factory finishpaint job. If you’ve roughly sanded your cabinetry to remove its previous finish or are using a raw surface, you will still need to sand it in preparation for your new finish.

Use 120-grit sandpaper on the orbital sander (or by hand). Take your time working over all of the surfaces of the cabinets. As you work, try to gently create a roundover edge on new cabinet doors. This takes a steady, light touch. Get into all those nooks and crannies of the doors by hand because your finished product is completely worth it!

Deal With the Wood Grain

Do your cabinets have a pronounced wood grain, a physical texture that can be felt with your hands? If so, you’ll need to fill those grooves with wood grain filler, especially with oak cabinets.

Use a small putty knife (or an old credit card) to apply a thin layer to one section. Swipe the knife or card over it to press the filler into any grooves and gently smooth the excess over to the next section of the wood. Repeat this process on any surfaces with grain that you intend to finish.

Once your grain is filled, give all of your surfaces a good once-over with 220-grit sandpaper and treat yourself to your favorite snack.

Caulk the Cracks

Dust the doors down with tack cloth or compressed air and caulk any cracks in the seams between the cabinet door frames and the floating panels in their center. You only need the tiniest bead of caulk and a smoothing tool to make these parts of the door appear as a solid whole.

Prep Your Paint and Primer

Consider your kitchen or bathroom layout, ventilation, and local building codes when deciding between oil-based paint and urethane acrylic enamel. Oil-based varieties are the most durable and high gloss, but they tend to yellow over time and have a high VOC output that has led some states to ban them.

Urethane enamel, though not quite as vibrant and durable, has much safer VOC levels and faster drying times. Whichever style you choose, be sure to get a primer that is made to work with this type of paint.

Apply Your Paint

Whether you invest in a paint sprayer or use a brush and roller, we’ve got you covered by including tips on both methods. Let’s start with the paint sprayer.

Spraying Primer on the Cabinets

Remove any residual dust from your cabinets and doors with a tack cloth or compressed air.

Load your sprayer with primer and begin making passes over the door, working two coats on one side, then moving to the other.

After your primer is dry, lightly sand all surfaces with 220-grit sandpaper. Remove any dust with a tack cloth and compressed air.

Using a Sprayer To Apply Paint

Load your paint into the sprayer and adjust PSI according to the paint manufacturer’s instructions. With the nozzle ten to 12 inches from the cabinet surface, apply paint using a one-third overlap to keep the application as smooth as possible.

Alternate your spray pattern from up and down to side-to-side for the best coverage. You can find painting tripods to rest cabinet doors and drawers on while painting; just make sure you do the fronts last.

Let your first coat dry, then sand them gently with 220-grit sandpaper by hand. Once dry, use a tack cloth to wipe it down and apply a second coat to each surface.

Use a Paint Roller and Paint Brush

So you want to use old-fashioned elbow grease to paint your cabinets? It’s not that much more work and can be a very meditative and satisfying experience.

Apply Your Primer With a Brush First

You’ll apply primer first with a brush to “cut in” those hard-to-reach crevices and edges, then go back over the surface with a roller. After your primer is dry, sand everything gently with 220-grit sandpaper. Remove dust with a tack cloth or compressed air, and get ready to paint.

Paint Cabinets With a Brush and Roller

Begin painting less visible spots to practice getting your brush and roller pressure just right. You want to apply a smooth, thin layer without drips. As with your primer, cut in first with a brush, then use the roller for larger flat surfaces and raised areas.

Give each surface one coat. If it looks a bit uneven, that’s okay — the second coat will fix it. Not having unusually thick or drippy areas is the goal. After your first coat dries, lightly sand it with 220-grit paper, removing dust with a tack cloth or compressed air.

Apply your second coat just as you did the first. If you are using painter’s tripods for painting doors, make sure the last side you paint is the one that’s most visible.

Clean Up Your Stuff

You may not intend to use your painting tools again after this job is finished, but most cabinet projects take multiple days, and you will need to clean all of your tools out after each product used with it and at the end of each work day. If not, you’ll be making an unplanned run to the home improvement store for more tools.

Clean your sprayer according to the manufacturer’s instructions, and use soap and water for latex enamel. Oil-based paints will require soaking your brushes in mineral spirits. Don’t be in a rush while you’re cleaning your tools because it is impossible to get a smooth finish on cabinets with stiff bristles.

Photo Credit: (Left) Backsplash


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Date Posted
May 29, 2023



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