Paint Finish for Kitchen Cabinets

Paint can be less forgiving than stain. Here's advice on opaque finishes for cabinets. December 27, 2008

I have two kitchen jobs if I want to build the cabinets, but the finish they want is a creamish color. I've only stained and clear coated oak... Never have I had to do a painted set of cabinets. How do I go about finishing these? What type of wood? What to finish the inside of the cabinets with?

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor M:
Whenver I do a painted kitchen, I use hard maple for the wood. As far as the doors go, I use hard maple rails and stiles with an MDF panel. By doing the doors this way, you get solid wood for screwing your hinges to, and the stability of an MDF panel. I use pre-finished plywood for the interior of the cabinets whether it's stained or painted on the outside. The only time I paint the inside of the cabinet is if it shows from the outside (glass doors or an open cabinet).

From contributor G:
We prime with white lacquer primer, sand, color with latex flat and topcoat with laquer. Not the only method, but it works!

From contributor A:
Pre-finished maple plywood interiors. Columbia makes one of the most durable. Soft maple for wood. Prime with two coats of BIN white shellac primer. Filling defects with Muralo Spackle between coats. Topcoat with Muralo Ultra or Sherwin Williams Proclassic.

From contributor D:
I use pre-finished ply for boxes, finished loose end panels, and finish face frames before attaching. Soft maple for all painted surfaces. If client wants anything other than lacquer finish, I'll prime cabinets for them and let their painter finish because I don't want to mess up my spray system. Since painted finish is new to you, allow lots of extra time to fill and refill surfaces because a painted surface shows every blemish. Also I explain to the client that sooner or later the glue line on stiles and rails will show up. Talk with your finish supplier for the best results.

From contributor R:
When I paint them white, I lacquer seal and use semi-gloss lacquer white pigmented, painting boxes with face frames on the boxes. Build your cabs as long as they have to be; no modular boxes when painted. RP doors are built as mentioned above - if they are colored other than white, I prime with Kilz because of its high build capabilites, and spray with good oil base paint. I get much better finish on oil base with an old $30.00 cup gun and a 5hp compressor than with my 1K airless rig. I do a lot of painted cabinets and every time, I swear I will never do them again. They are much harder than any stain and clear finish - at least twice as hard, if it's new construction. I sometimes spray the boxes after install because I'm so rough they get scratched during install and I am painting the inside as well as the face frame. Man, they are a lot of work. I am trying to work up a bid on some today.

From contributor I:
Very important to go with MDF for center panels on your doors. Even than if a panel moves after you finish, it will show unfinished wood. Defects will show up 10 times more with painted, so much prep is needed. Install is not easy, as any damage will show and can be very hard to fix. Use prefinished or clear coat the inside yourself. Don't even think about painting the inside unless it is an open or glass door cab. If you have to do a painted inside cab, finish the sides and back flat before you assemble the cab. MDF for any moldings that you will need.

From contributor R:
I have caulked my panels for years on painted cabinets and never lost a door. Maybe caulk it in high humidity so it will be at its largest, but there is no compairson between a caulked door and uncaulked door.

From contributor O:
Where are you caulking the doors? On the back around the MDF or where the stiles and rails meet?

From contributor J:
I have done many painted style kitchens and colors from bright white to black and many colors between. Here is how I do it, and I have had no problems. Use a good smooth wood - maple, birch. I spray with pre-cat laquer sealer tinted the color I want, wether it's white or green. I then sand (320 grit or fine sponge) just to make smooth, and then I spray a coat of tinted pre-cat laquer that matches the sealer. Usually one coat is enough, but you could do a second coat for a more painted look. It leaves a hard, smooth finish. I have gotten the lacquer even from Sherwin Williams Paint or other comercial suppliers. If you have a problem getting the sealer tinted, use it clear then over coat with tinted lacquer, probably two coats. Play with some samples for depth of color first to be safe.

Oh yeah - if you use oak, you will see the grain, and fill the doors at any gap you do not want to see.

From contributor O:
Contributor J, the white cabinets at the very bottom of your home page is what I would like to do. Did you use the technique you just described for these cabinets, or did you do something different? Do you use a wb lacquer?

From contributor J:
If it's the ones with small glass doors over the top, yes I did. They are sort of a cream to just off white. Also the island just above those pics was done the same way, but then they were glazed and shot with a topcoat of clear.