Painting Stained Cabinets (The Right Way)

This is one of the most widely attempted projects for DIY'ers (Do It Yourself 'ers). I have seen hundreds of "How To" websites, blogs, vlogs and questions on social media about this and figured what the heck I'll throw out my two cents for what it's worth.

This is one of the most widely attempted projects for DIY'ers (Do It Yourself 'ers). I have seen hundreds of "How To" websites, blogs, vlogs and questions on social media about this and figured what the heck I'll throw out my two cents for what it's worth. Warning if you are offended by (opinions) then stop reading now!


If you are a homeowner and want to save money by painting your own cabinets because it's the hottest trend in designer homes today then this is the only step to follow for this particular project.... Call a Professional!

I know you are probably reading this and saying "well of course you want us to hire a professional because it is your profession and this just means more work for you, and all you care about is getting paid, blah, blah, etc. etc.". If this is you then you would only be 50% correct. Yes, I do want and need to get paid in order to support myself and my family but that is not why I am telling you to hire a professional painter or cabinet refinishing guru to do this for you. I can teach most tricks of the trade in simple terms and nonprofessionals will understand and be able to replicate a lot of what I tell them. Then there are some things that just take experience and knowledge. I wouldn't try to rewire all the electrical components in my house because I'm not a skilled electrician.

Let me explain.....


So you've been on Pinterest or the Houzz app seeing all these beautiful kitchens and the one thing that stands out are these gorgeous painted cabinets. This is a new trend in recent years but a very popular one nonetheless. You being a homeowner, naturally, wants to have a beautiful home to show off to family and friends not to mention you have to look at it every day you wake up. This is great, most people's home is a pretty good representation of them as a person. We express ourselves through colors and decoration or fancy touch screen refrigerators and mini wine fridges. Anyways, you get the point we are a society built on appearance and expression. Soooo, back to all these fancy pictures you and by you I mean the woman of the house keep browsing through on Pinterest etc. thinking about what projects you can dream up for your man to complete next. You think to yourself hmmmmm, "painting" I can do that or better yet he can do that right? WRONG! Here is where the offensive opinions begin so just another warning for the people who get their feelings hurt over things said on the web. You believe you can make your kitchen look like the dream kitchens you see in pictures because it is just a simple paint job right? Think again! One thing these pictures don't tell you is 9.99 times out of 10 these cabinets are completed by professionals with equipment the average DIY'er does not have and even if they did, they would need countless hours of practice and training in order to use them correctly.

MISTAKE #1: Estimating the time it will take.

You have decided to embark on a project that if actually done correctly will take more time than most any DIYer/ Homeowner care to bargain for. This normally leads to a rushed project and a below satisfactory outcome. The last thing you want to do is tear apart the most used space in your house THE KITCHEN to find out this is going to take 5X the amount of time that you intended because that pinterest post made it seem like a breeze. This is why professionals get paid to do this, because it is very tedious and takes A LOT of time in order to complete properly.

MISTAKE #2: Using brushes and rollers on cabinets!?!?!

Ok here is my biggest complaint and I believe it is borderline blasphemous for most people to do unless as a designer you are intentionally trying to achieve a brushed finish which is RARELY ever the case on a set of kitchen cabinets. It flat out just looks bad to have brush and roller marks all over wood surfaces. This is the main reason I advise homeowners to use a professional. The average DIY guy or gal does not have the spray equipment needed for this job nor do they have any idea how to use one to the standards required even if the did have access to a spray rig. Let me make this clear, I am not talking about your little Krylon aerosol spray paint cans you get at wal-mart or Lowes, I am talking about Air Assisted Airless machines or HVLP turbine machines that the majority of cabinet finishing is completed with. These alone are going to cost you anywhere from $1500 to $5000 to own and even then, you still don't have the knowledge to operate one. I have perfected this art over many years with different machines, materials and methods of application so trust me when I say you don't just pick up a gun and go to spraying paint on cabinets.

MISTAKE #3: The most important part, ADDING VALUE TO YOUR HOME!

The whole reason you started this project in the first place was to create a better visual appearance for your kitchen. Overall as a homeowner we want to increase the value of our home not decrease the value or make the place harder to sale right? One of the easiest ways and first things people do to increase value in a home is adding a fresh coat of paint or using some updated colors, most of you know that. Now here is where things get fuzzy because while adding a fresh coat of paint can increase value it can also decrease it if not done correctly. Think about it, how many times when looking to purchase a new home or even renting a place you judge it by it's colors. "Ohh my God, Becky, did you see the color of that kitchen!?... That has to go!" 9/10 people searching for a new home will scratch a home off the list just because of paint and you say "well paint colors can be changed so easy". You are right, they can, but.... How many people want to spend all this money on a new home that requires them to do work, spend money and make changes before they even sleep a night in the place? I don't! With all of this taken into consideration what can we do as far as paint goes to increase value when talking about kitchen cabinets? Again, HIRE A PROFESSIONAL. Sorry to repeat myself but that is step 1, 2 & 3. This is coming from experience when I say "you can't slap a brushed & rolled coat of paint onto beautiful cabinets in a home and expect to add value". You are going to say "But Devin there are all these websites, blogs, vlogs and DIY'ers doing this online and their projects look fine so why can't I do it?" I know this might offend a lot of people that have done their kitchen cabinets like this and believe them to be the BEES KNEES but you're probably mistaken. They most likely look like the rest I have seen, terrible. Yes maybe from across the room they appear to be covered completely and paint is exactly where it is supposed to be and not on anything else that it shouldn't be. Now, if all these online DIY'ers would actually show a close up of a door instead of the entire kitchen from a far you would notice there is a huge difference in what it appears they look like and what they actually look like. Remember you are wanting to increase the value of your home not make the thing harder to sell by trying to save money on a project best left to a professional.

Here is an example of cabinets that were brushed and rolled:


Now you may be saying " I can do better than that!" And... You are probably right, I bet a lot of you could do better than this or I would like to hope anyways.

You could remove the doors and hinges so that you could cover the tight spots next to the hinge and not on the hinge itself and you could put an extender in your paint to help it lay down better and level out. You can do many things different and to the best of your abilities but this is where most homeowners try to cut corners to save time.

I understand this all to well. I have done it in my own home thinking, if I just do it like this then I can finish quicker and get to the next project Abbye (The Boss) has planned for me. This rarely ever sides in my corner and usually ends up taking me longer to do then if I just took the proper steps to prep my project to begin with.

Even if you did remove the doors and hinges it still doesn't take away from the fact that you have a stippling effect from using a roller or roping effect from using a brush. You don't see this in these DIY pictures because they don't do a close up like the example above. Don't be fooled, you will be able to see this in person and so will everyone else. There is no comparison for a set of cabinets sprayed with a nice even glass like finish. This may seem to unrealistic for many of you but this is what I do for a living and what I know as a professional. It would be the same as me trying to prepare a meal and present it to a professional chef as a 5 star restaurant entree, He is going to laugh and say "get out of here with that!" You will never achieve a 5 star look with a brush even if you read and master my blog post "how to brush doors and trim without brush strokes." The difference in doing a door or some trim compared to an entire set of cabinets is enormous. A set of cabinets has so many different angles to brush and roll around that it is near impossible to go in one direction and use the methods I explained in "how to brush doors and trim without brush strokes." People want a factory like finish on their cabinets and wood work so brushing just isn't going to cut it. No matter how hard you try you will not make a brushed set of cabinets look like something off of Pinterest unless you stand far enough away that you are unable to see the details or you take a picture with the resolution low enough that nobody can see the imperfections.

Below is an image of a beautiful set of sprayed cabinets using an HVLP Turbine and KEM AQUA + by Sherwin WIlliams. You will notice that they are completely covered inside every little crack and crevice. You should be able to notice that they have no signs of roping (lines) created by a brush or stippling (raised dots) created by a roller. Notice how the light reflects off of them evenly just as you would see in a polished car. The thing you do not see because it is clear is a protective coating that helps protect the cabinets from oily fingers, food stains, household chemical and more that would otherwise reach the painted surface. The first coat after cleaning the cabinets thoroughly was a KEM AQUA + SURFACER (Primer). The cabinets were then sanded with 180-220 grit sanding blocks to ensure the edges were not rounded or paint burned through. The second coat was a KEM AQUA + pigmented lacquer followed by another round of sanding with 220 grit sanding blocks. The third coat was a repeat of the second coat to guarantee complete coverage followed by a final round of sanding with 320 grit sanding blocks. The fourth and final coat was a KEM AQUA + CLEAR COAT with a dull rubbed effect sheen to add depth and protection of the paint (color) from household cleaning agents and general wear & tear.


Again, I'm sorry if I offended anyone about their personal cabinets or discouraged people away from refinishing a set themselves but I feel like there is a lot of misleading information out there for DIY'ers about this subject. I wanted to shed some light on this to potentially save people a lot of time and headache. Refinishing cabinets is an art and should not be trusted to just anyone. In the instance you choose to hire a professional ask them questions about their procedure and what products they will use to finish your cabinets. If anything they say sounds odd or you're not confident call me and I will let you know if they sound like professionals or if they just sound like someone trying to take your hard earned dollar. Lastly, don't be afraid to ask them for pictures of past work or reference to call and ask how their other customers cabinets turned out. Professionals will not hesitate to do this as they want you to be comfortable and confident in them & their work.

Please share this post if you liked it or comment if you have any questions below, I'd love to hear what people have to say! I won't be offended if you don't agree with me and as long as you have logical proven methods on how to do something I might even change my OPINIONS. ;)