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 Painting Kitchen Base Cabinets, Kick Plates, Crowns, Valances and Gable Ends.

By Todd Sharrard.  When refinishing kitchen cabinets the painting of base cabinetry refers to the refinishing of articles that cannot be removed and painted off site.  In your standard kitchen this includes things such as the kick plates, gable ends, valance and crown mouldings; it can also refer to the painting of the stile and rail edge banding that surrounds each cabinet carcass.

This is our refined process for spray painting the on site portion of any kitchen cabinet refinishing project – your typical 30 to 45 piece kitchen will take two people about two days to go through this entire process (the on site work only).  It is labour intense, yes very much but, the goal is to make the kitchen look not painted, but in fact constructed in the colour of choice.  The gable end, crowns and valances may end up being the most visible elements of your kitchen cabinetry so they should be spray painted, just like the cabinet doors and drawers.


  • cabinet carcass is the cabinet box or shell without its cabinet doors or drawers.
  • the term rail is use to refer to the horizontal edge of a carcass or cabinet door
  • stile is the vertical edge of the carcass or cabinet door
  • carcasses can be frameless typically with european style hinges or have a face frame attached with overlay hinges.

Tools & Sundry List:

Beyond your standard painting tools and accessories these are the critical items i need for finishing base cabinets in your typical 45 piece kitchen.

  • 3 stage or greater HVLP turbine sprayer or portable compressor based sprayer
  • Good quality rosin paper or flooring paper
  • Dnya Patch Pro (best for lacquer)
  • 3m Easy Masker


    Hand Masker – toys for big boys, not essitenal for the DIYer, that aside, I can’t believe i used to work without one.

  • Blue Tape 1.5 inch 8 to 10 rolls.
  • Paper Rolls or Plastic Rolls – 12 inch (used with 3M Easy Masker)
  • 24 inch plastic painters flim
  • Sharp Knife
  • 400 / 320 / 240 Grit & 120 Grit * three stages of sanding and somewhere in that range but nothing less than 320 for the last coat
  • red and grey finishing pads * these are optional but sure do help with sanding details and washing

Spray painting base cabinetry can be tricky, in fact its harder and more time consuming than painting the actual doors and drawers.  The nature of task is difficult since the base cabinets have many intersecting points, corners and edges and most painting equipment wasn’t made to paint a 1/2 inch strip.  All this translates into the perfect setting for a lot paint sags and the occasional holiday (missing a spot).

Step by Step Process: Continue reading

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.

Project Review – LA Kings / Staples Center

Oakville, Ontario:  Sharrard Painting and Fine Finishing through its association with Retaylors just completed the refinishing of the new Coaches Corner for the Staple Center in Los Angeles.  The project involved the finishing of over 100 pieces of solid birch and birch veneer.   Each piece under went the following finishing schedule:

  1. 150 grit sanding
  2. Staining – dry for 24 hours
  3. Application of Supergard Valspar Clear – Sheen 25, via Graco 490 with 410 tip
  4. Sanding with 320 grit
  5. Application of Supergard Valspar Clear
  6. Sanding with 500 grit
  7. Application of Supergard Valspar Clear

Do to fire code regulations every piece had to be sealed on both sides.   As per Valspar two coats of the clear coat provided adequate fire resistance required to meet local code legislations.

What a fun and exciting project for us to complete, thanks to Andrew and the team at Retaylors for the opportunity to work on such great quality pieces.

Spray Painted Kitchen Cabinets Done in Sherwin Williams Kem Aqua Lacquer

ANCASTER, ONTARIO.  These cabinets were refinished by Sharrard Painting and Fine Finishing last fall.  They were spray painted using an 395 Air Assisted Sprayer from Graco for the shop work and a Capspray 8100 (3 stage turbine) for the on site work.  The colour is CC-20 Decorators White.  The cabinet doors are made of very heavy and solid MDF core board.  They were primed with two coats of Kem Aqua Surfacer and  two coats of Kem Aqua Loss Gloss Blending White.

Update 2020:  Sharrard Painting does not use Kem Aqua Lacquer any more.  It does not have durability and wear when compared to post cat solvent-based lacquers.  Because it is a low VOC it’s a good intermediate level lacquer if you don’t have the proper venting or spray booth available but it can be very hard to spray if you don’t get the variables right.


The mushroom glazed finish was very popular 10 years ago, I really liked them but keeping with the times today means a solid, glossly finish, no glazing.  Glazing is a great technique that helps to hide a lot of imperfections in the finish and i can see why finishers used so much.

The ‘corbals’ under the island and the range hood will be a real challenge to finish in a solid white.   The inside of the glass cabinet and its shelves will need to be refinished.  The crowns could come off but moving them you risk breaking the seal in the corners.


Good quality flooring paper is where it starts.  The stuff we are using here is called Anchored paper (not red rosin paper) and it comes from ICI / DULUX paints in Oakville.  Great stuff – kind of rubber like – somewhat water / solvent proof, unlike rosin paper.  Using a 3M hand masker one for paper and one for plastic film is great.



Finish coat done in Kem Aqua Low Gloss Blending White – tinted to CC20 Decorators White (Ben Moore).  Customer replaced floors with beautiful hardwood but still needs to replace the back splash; the two tone countertop (island is done in different colour) is a sharp look!


How to Refinish Oak Cabinet Doors

By Todd Sharrard –  Today the re-finishing of oak cabinet doors to a solid pigmented finish is a common choice amongst homeowners.  If this is what you decide to do you will be dealing with finishing issues specific to sealing wood stains and the gain of the oak wood which can be is very porus.  Use these tips to get a great presentation when refinishing oak cabinet doors.


Close up view of oak wood – notice the open and porus nature of the wood.


Sherwin Williams Shellac Product – aslo BIN by Zinsser is a shellac based primer.

1) Shellac – this is the right primer to use.  The shellac tackles a couple of  the key issues surrounding the refinishing of Oak.  Firstly the shellac will seal the grain the nicely.  The consistency of pigmented shellac is that of stain, almost water like; this is good for penetrating the deep crevices of the grain that we see in oak wood.

2) Spraying the Shellac – since the shellac dries so fast the best way to apply it is to use a sprayer device.  I have sprayed shellac using a suction feed spray gun with a 1.8mm tip – i think you could get away using a finer tip considering the consistency of the shellac; compared to other primers it is quite thin.   Brushing & rolling pigmented shellac primer.  Work fast and one piece at a time; like any other door do the detail first, keep a wet edge, dab the corners, pull out from corners, then roll the flats, use a depleted roller on the sides.  Always keep your roller wet and ready for the next board ~ don’t let the roller dry out.   Shellac cleans up nicely using Methal Hydrate (available at the paint shop).

3) Tannins – one of the bigger issues to deal with when refinishing oak cabinet doors to a solid finish is yellow stains that can bleed through the lacquer,  we refer to these as Tannins. These are the natural dyes that come from woods like oak and will definitely be an issue if your finishing the doors using a white or off white colour.  Again this is where the shellac primer reigns supreme – nothing is better at dealing with oak tannins and stains than pigmented shellac base primers.

4) Sanding after primer coats and each finish coat.  You’ll need to sand down between the primer coats and the finish coats if you want the grain of the oak to fully absorb the lacquer.  You will find that the effort to finish oak doors in a darker colour is less than finishing in an off white or white.  With the lighter colours the grain must be fully absorbed or else black pit marks will appear in the deeper crevices of the grain; sanding between primer coats and finish coat will both level off the grain and fill the deeper crevices with sanding dust to be absorbed or burnt in with next coat of primer or lacquer.

FINE FINISH TIP:  don’t recoat primers before the recommend dry time and try to let the primer coats dry at least a day before sanding.  You will sand away less edges and primer and leave a better build if you let the primer coat cure really well.


The picture above shows how the grain presents itself when oak is done in solid pigmented finish.  Even though we sand between primer and finish coats we still see the grain.

5) Surfacer (Lacquer Primer) after Shellac Primer.  Before applying a coat of pigmented lacquer some finishers will apply a lacquer based primer product called surfacer.  Unlike the shellac, the surfacer sands to a soft powder like substance.  The surfacer can be used to build up the finish and seal in the grain.

Sharrard Painting & Fine Finishing
487 Speers Rd, Oakville,
Ontario, L6K 2G4
Phone: (905) 334-3242


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