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Notes on Painting Oak Cabinets

We often receive requests to quote the refinishing of oak kitchen cabinets to a solid pigmented finish such as white, off-white or mid tone colour.

Spray painting finished oak cabinet doors to white or lighter colours in general can be a real challenge. The presentation of the grain is always an issue.  We find that customers can sometimes not be happy with the results so we put together this blog entry to detail what to expect when spray painting oak cabinet doors.

oakwoodOak is a very porous type of wood – the gain has deep crevices that cannot be penetrated by the light spray finished created by spray painting equipment – what happens is that spray usually dries prior to seeping down into the gain.  On finishes done in white, lighter and mid tone colours the grain can appear darker and pimple like after the spray finish is applied.  When the boards are painted darker colours (darker browns and grays) the effect is not so dramatic.

Using a brush and roller is the best way to start painting a set of oak cabinet doors – especially if you are going to paint them white.    The brush and roller are the best methods to penetrate the deep crevices of the grain within the oak.  If you spray the primer it will dry on the surface before it makes into the grain – you’ll end-up with a pimpled finish. 

Grain Fillers:  You can apply products known as grain fillers but I have two general issues with grain fillers.

  1. cost – the time required to apply the gain filling material plus all the other costs of refinishing usually make the project cost prohibitive
  2. filling the grain and building a consistent presentation across 30 to 50 cupboard doors will also be a significant challenge and contribute to costs.

Here are few pictures of oak cabinets doors painted in white to highlight what I mean:

Photos of Oak Kitchen Cabinets Spray Painted White:

This picture is a larger presentation – some customers will say well that’s no so bad – honestly I don’t think this picture gives credit to just how bad it could look.


Here is a close up picture of where the paint wasn’t able to seep down far enough into the grain.  These cabients where spray painted.

As an alternative:  if we use dark colours (not mid tones) a very nice visual presentation can be created.  The darker colour creates less contrast within the presentations of the grain.  A number of examples are provided below but typically we are talking about using a darker brown or a very dark gray.   Such as:


Ben Moore – Espresso Bean – CSP 30


Ben Moore – Wrought Iron – 2124-10


Ben Moore – Grey – 2121-10

Oak Kitchen Finished in Grey:

Here are some photos we did of oak kitchen finished in gray – the colour is Steel Wool by Ben Moore.

Oak Cabinets Finished in Dark Brown (Espresso Bean):

Oak Kitchen Spray Painted Dark Grey – Wrought Iron

Oak Kitchen Spray Painted Dark Grey

OAK Cabinets Painted Black

Other articles on painting oak cabinet doors white:

Pine Spray Painted Black

Spray Painted Furniture

Spray Painted Furniture using Kem Aqua By Sherwin Williams – the colour is Ben Moore Black magic!

We only do a limited number of furniture pieces per year.  Turn around time is typically 3 to 4 weeks.

Spray Painted French Doors

For this project we used Ben Moore Advance done in a pearl finish.  Its a water-based alkyd, very durable but takes a very long time to dry.

Although it would have been nice to paint the doors using a lacquer its not to practical if the customer is doing the rest of the trim (casing and baseboards) themselves.  You need a system that both you can the customer can apply  – Ben Moore Advance or Sherwin Williams Pro Classic are good for this – the down side, as i already mentioned – its take too long to dry and that eats up shop resources.

Refinished Kitchen Cabinets – Burnett St, Oakville Ontario

This grand kitchen was recently refinished by Sharrard Painting and Fine Finishing.  This designer kitchen built by Retaylors in 2004 was in need of a fresh coat.  And thats what we did; over 130 pieces were removed and taken back to Retaylors finishing facility (which we manage) for a wash, sand, prime and two finish coats.   The colour is Barvarian Cream and the black – is just that “Black”; both Ben Moore colours.  The product finish was KCI (Katalic Coatings) post cat lacquer done in a 25 sheen.

Primer Recommendations for Everyday Painting Projects

Picking the right primer is one of the critical factors to delivering  quality painting product on budget.  A good primer will seal the surface allowing both easy and even distribution of the finish product.  Primers can also be used to build up or level out a surface.  The right primers can be very effective at filling in subtle surface variations and moving you closer to creating that perfect finish.  Knowning the right primer to use will put you on the right path.

When to use primers.  Anytime you have unfinished or bare wood or unfinished drywall you should be applying a sealer or primer.  As well:

  • A lot of people also over look the fact that drywall  pulled back or exposed down to the brown paper is also an unsealed surface.  When the brown paper is visible you will need the application of a sealer BEFORE the application of polyfilla or drywall compound.  If you do not seal the exposed brown paper the polyfilla will not stick too well to the paper.  This will cause the pollyfilla to peal of the wall when rolling the finish coat – the water from the latex paint reacts with the surface and pollyfilla falls away from the wall.
  • Converting from high base colour (eg dark red, blue) to an off white colour will typically require the application of a complete coat of latex wall primer.

Types of Primers

shellacprimersShellac:  best type of primer to use for sealing in stains, wood knots, crayons, markers, etc.  Also good for sealing in open grain woods from tannis which is the yellow bleeding we see after we put white paint on wood such as oak.  Shellac primers are harder to clean up you will need to use Methyal Hydrate.  The Sherwin Williams product is a good solution – these can be purchased in gallons, quarts or spray cans.

Premium-Latex-PrimerLatex:  latex primers are great for drywall finishes.  My goto product for priming drywall is the Para Premium hi hiding primer-sealer.  This stuff has a very high solid content and is great for filing in subtle surface variations.  Two coats of the Para Hi-Hide on bare drywall is all I have on my basement ceiling.  It looks great.

Alkyd or Oil Based Primers:  should be used for sealing in wood trim.  MDF trim sealed using an alkyd based primer will not swell as much MDF primed using a water based or latex primer.  If your trim is made of wood the latex primer will also raise the gain = all your trim will need to be sanded smooth after the application of latex primer.

STIX is great for maple wood and various veneers

STIX is great for various veneers and glossy surfaces

UMA:  ureathane modified primers.  These are now the go to product for painting glossy surfaces such as veneers.  A lot of painters use them for painting cabinets since they can be brushed on and sanded easily.  STIX is an example of an UMA based primer.  I find wood surfaces that have been treated with STIX need to dry for full 24 hours before they can be finish sanded.

Surfacers:  these are light bodied primers that sand very well.  They should sand up to a fine powder and not a gummy film.  These are typically used in applications where finish appearance is of the utmost importance (eg. furniture and cabinets).  The surfacers are usually part of a lacquer based system such as Sherwin Williams Kem Aqua.

Red Oxide: used to prime metal surfaces.  As professional cabinet painters we don’t often have a need to prime metal but when we do we like to use the Rustoleum Red Oxide primer in 12 oz areosol cans.  These can be purchased at Home Depot.

88001C_4Concrete Sealer:  should be used when painting brick surfaces for the first time.  The sealer prevents all your paint for soaking into the brick.  The idea here being that the sealer is half the cost of a can of paint.  The Behr product from Home Depot is a product that I have used often.

Conclusions:  when it comes to primers you do really get what you paid for.  I learned this time and time again.  Cheap primers might due when it comes to painting drywall.  But for priming MDF, wood and special glossy surfaces you need more gusto – its gotta seal the wood but it should also sand nicely – to a fine powder like substance.

Pull Out Drawers for your Kitchen Cabinets

Recently one of our customers asked us to spec out some pull out drawer boxes for their kitchen cabinets.  After looking around at standard out-of-the-box kits we realized the we would be spending considerable $s before we even did the install.  I’m glad to say we made these 6 drawer boxes for half the cost (installed), and we can say they were custom made.  A little modest on the design but, as the customer said, “perfect and highly functional”.

Tips on Building Custom Pull Out Drawer Boxes:

All the material was purchased from Home Depot:  rails or drawer rails are attached to the sides of the cabinets – a 5/8 shim should be attached to either side to both provide clearance from the hinges and to reinforce the strength of the box.  Determining the width of the box is easy:

Width of Box = Cabinet Width – (1 inch for rails + (width of support shim *2)).

Therefore if your cabinet is 24 inches wide and your support shim is 5/8 of inch then your drawer box size is = 24 – (1 + (5/8 *2)) or 24 inches less 2.25 inchs or 21.75 inches.  The depth of the box is either 22, 20 or 18 inches.  A 22 inch deep box works for most standard cabinets.

Home Depot can do all the cutting for you.  Thats the hard part and they have the perfect percision saw to make it happen.  In Oakville they will charge you up to 8 dollars to cut up a 4 by 8 sheet of material.  For the 8 dollars you can get enought cuts to build yourself 6 to 8 drawer boxes.  Additionally they sell the various options for drawer slides – see



Handy Links Related to Painting and Construction in North America

Here are some handy links related to painting and construction in Canada.

The Canada Construction Portal for products and services : the portal

How to Links:

Filling wood grain in Oak Panel Doors:


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