How To: Paint Pine Kitchen Cabinets (in a small space & by your self)
Updated: Jun 24
Before I started painting our kitchen cabinets I read so many blogs, watched YouTube tutorials and all of them made is seem 1. Easy and 2. Fast. With titles like "paint your kitchen in 3 days" or "complete kitchen makeover in a weekend" I thought this project was going to be a breeze. I was wrong.
Now I hope that this doesn't dissuade you from painting your kitchen cabinets but I also hope it helps you set realistic goals so you don't get half way through and feel frustrated like I did. With the cabinets all painted and hung I can take a step back and realize why it took me three weeks to paint my cabinets instead of three days. Which actually inspired me to post this for people who have a limited work space to tackle this project. I didn't have a garage or workshop to paint in, only a dining room table, so I had to be creative with what I could do in such a small space.
First things first, lets do a quick overview of what you will need to complete this project (big hint you won't need a work shop or garage, even though that would be handy if you had access to one). For reference I was painting pine cabinets that had a gloss coating on them but the same steps could be done for other wood. I also painted the walls (BM Swiss Coffee) before the cabinets, so if there were any drips I wouldn't have as big of an issue.
120 grit Sanding block/ sponge
Primer (Benjamin Moore Stix Primer)
Cabinet paint of your choice (Benjamin Moore Advance Interior Paint, Rainy Afternoon)
Tack cloth or lint-free dish cloth (I used toss away blue dish cloths)
4" foam roller (could use smaller/bigger depending on your cabinet door size)
1.5" angled paint brush
Drop cloth (I used an old flat bed sheet ripped in half)
Painters tape (frogtape, I SWEAR by this. Do not cheap out on tape)
Stands to lay cabinets down on (I used tealight candles wax side down but I know people also use solo cups)
Drill/screwdriver (to remove hardware and take the cabinets off of the boxes)
Additional items you may need are new hinges, TSP cleaner and new cabinet pulls/knobs. I know some people spray paint their hinges but ours were OLD and covered in gunk. It was time to replace them. I also just used soap, water and a good scurbby sponge to clean the cabinets because I wanted to limit my hardware visits as much as possible. I personally feel that TSP cleaner is not a necessity if you don't mind putting some elbow grease into it.
As I said, I was working in a limited space, aka my dining room table, so my setup was tight. I tried one nice day to paint on my deck and the wind caused such a mess, so I really wouldn't recommend it. Paint cures best at an even temperature so an indoor work space is ideal.
The cabinet doors will need to lay flat to dry properly so I used a drop cloth on top of my dining table with tea light candles as stands for the doors. I have seen people use solo cups, which may have been easier but I used what I had on hand since I was doing this during the first stages of COVID-19 lock-down. I also didn't do this straight on the floor because I wanted to save my back and also my dog and cat's hair would likely cover it if I did. Now it's time to get into it.
Clean the cabinets - As I said above you can use TSP cleaner to make this job easier but I just used some good grease fighting dish soap, hot water and a good sponge to get the years of grease, grime and food off of the cabinets. This step took me a few hours to do and is important. I cleaned the cabinets while they were hung and when I removed them gave them another scrub, I found this easier then cleaning the doors off of the base.
Number your cabinets and drawers - Make a simple drawing of your kitchen numbering all of the cabinet doors and drawer fronts. THIS WILL BE VERY HANDY when you go to put the cabinets back up. Just use painters tape and a pen to put numbers on each of your cabinets. (I kind of skipped this step and it was confusing later and it ended up taking me more time figuring it out). This is also a good time to take a before picture which can be useful if placement becomes an issue at the end.
Remove hardware and doors - Take the cabinet doors and drawer fronts off of the base cabinets. Unfortunately the previous owners of our house used different screw heads for the hinges so this step was actually the most annoying because I kept having to change the head of the drill. Also the hinges were almost caked on so I really had to scrub around them once the hardware was all off. NOTE: I did this project in sections. I have a galley kitchen so first I did the base cabinets on one half of the kitchen, then the uppers of the other half and the lowers to the second half.
Lightly sand down top finish - Using your sand block give the cabinet doors and base boxes a good buff. If you have an electric sander you could use it but I was trying to eliminate as much dust as possible as I was doing this project in our dining room and I didn't want to have to tape off the whole kitchen. If you have a garage or workshop you could use a hand sander, but you'll still need the block for the base cabinets. The point of this is to scuff off the top glossy finish, making it easier for the primer to grab.
Remove dust and start taping - You can use a tack cloth for this but I went ahead with what we had on hand, a roll of those cheap throw away blue cloths you can find at the dollar store. Vacuum as much dust as possible and then wipe down everything with the lightly dampened cloth or dry tack clock. Once everything is dry go around the walls of the base cabinets with FrogTape to make sure the cabinet paint doesn't get on any adjacent trim or walls. NOTE: The advance paint is oil based whereas most wall paint is water based so trying to paint over any mistakes with regular wall paint won't be easy.
OPTIONAL STEP: If you have any gaps, dings, dents or large scratches in the cabinets using the wood filler before priming would be good if you are not going for a rustic/farm house look. I used white wood filler as I knew I was covering the cabinets with paint anyways. If you want to switch from a knob to a pull you would need to drill a second hole. If you are changing the placement of your hardware or switching from a pull (double hole) to a knob (single hole) you will need to use wood filler and sand down flat before priming and painting.
Prime time - Now it is finally time to prime. I found it easier to work in sections since I was limited for space, so I did the base cabinets on one half of the kitchen. Using the brush go around all the edges in an even coat, then fill in the flat parts using your foam roller. Be sure to try to get the paint as flat as possible with limited drips or pooling. Since my cabinets have an inlay design I wen't back when the brush was dryer to remove extra paint buildup. I gave the doors 24 hours to dry before painting the second side but the can does say you could do it faster, I just wanted to be sure I didn't mark up the cabinets by not waiting long enough. NOTE: The STIX primer is stinky so make sure to have your kitchen fan running and open a few windows. Also be sure to wash off your roller, brush and paint tray after using it at the end of every painting day.
Sand for the second time - This is less vigorous of a sand, as long as you don't have any major paint drips. The point is to remove brush stroke and get it as flat as possible before you paint it with the cabinet colour. Again you will need to vacuum up and wipe off the dust.
First coat, first side - Using the brush you will repeat step 6 and edge around the cabinets before going in with the foam roller. The trick with rolling any paint is not to apply too much pressure, that is how paint pooling and drips happen. If you keep an even amount of paint on the roller this should go smoothly. Make sure to do a light coat around the edges of the doors so it doesn't build up when you go to flip them over for the second side. For the drawer fronts and cabinet doors you will only be able to do one side at a time because the paint needs to dry for 24 hours before a second coat or flipping the doors over.
Sand for the third time - I can say by the end of this kitchen DIY you will never want to sand again. All jokes aside you'll repeat step 7 to remove any unwanted drips, pooling or brush strokes to give you an even surface for your second coat. Again make sure all dust is removed and the cabinets are smooth and dry.
Second coat first side - This should be the last coat of the first side of your cabinets. Try to be as meticulous as possible and not overload your brush or roller so you leave a glossy finish. Now you'll need to wait 24 hours for it to dry and to get started on side two. Remember that since you've numbered the cabinets you'll need to move the tape with the cabinet number to the painted side the next day as well.
Paint the other side, first coat - Since you have primed both sides of the cabinet doors in step 6 you can flip the half painted cabinet over once it's dried for 24 hours and do your first coat on the second half. I would strongly suggest waiting 24 hours for the Cabinet (Advance) paint to dry, I tried to rush this process and flipped them over too early and it stuck to my lifts (tealight candles) and I had to sand and touch them up again.
Lightly sand first coat, second side - This should be the final sand for the cabinets and I bet you are super happy to hear that. By now you are a sanding pro but I'll say it again for repetition. Simply give them a buff to remove excess paint, wipe down to remove dust and get ready for your final coat!
FINAL COAT - This is it, you've finally reached the boss level! You are on to your final coat for the cabinets and the end is in sight. Remember step 10? Ya, me neither so I'll refresh and say this is important to try to get rid of any brush strokes with the foam roller and use a light touch for the paint brush. Something I likely should have mentioned before is that the Benjamin Moore Advance is a self leveling paint, so it will do some of the work for you, but you still want to be as neat as possible.
The waiting game - After doing your final coat I would suggest letting them dry flat for 24 hours then propping them up (aka leaning against a wall) somewhere to dry for another 24 hours. This paint actually takes a long time to properly cure but I found 48 hours was dry enough to attach the hinges and hang them.
For our kitchen I had to repeat steps three through 14 about four times before the whole kitchen was done because of the amount of space I had to lay the doors on. As you can imagine this meant the project took quite some time. During it I was starting to get a little discouraged and annoyed, but now seeing them all painted I can't help but smile and be proud of all of the hard work I put into this and I promise you will to.
Lets hang out - The easiest way to put your doors back on is to lay the cabinet door face down, screw on the hinges then attach to the cabinet base. Hanging them on your own is not easy and may require the use of a foot or your body to lightly lean against it. My husband helped me hang three of the cabinet doors and let me tell you it was a hell of a lot faster. So I would say if you could get some help to hang them it would be easier, but be sure to practice social distancing rules in your province.
Accessorize it - The last and final step is putting your knobs/pulls back on. I ordered new knobs as our cabinets had preexisting single holes and I couldn't be bothered with changing the holes, also knobs can be less expensive so there is that bonus. I picked up mine from Home Depot and honestly they took over a month to arrive during COVID so it wasn't the best experience but I do love them now.
Even though this was one of the most time consuming projects I have done on my own, mainly because of a small amount of space, I would say it is actually my most rewarding. Everyone says the kitchen is the heart of a home and I'm so happy that our heart looks that much prettier after painting.
If you follow this, or are inspired by my colour choice to paint your kitchen I would LOVE to see it. Feel free to tag me on Instagram at @newfoundexplorer so I can see your awesome work!