When I had originally shared my tutorial From Hate To Great: A Tale of Painting Oak Cabinets, I had absolutely no idea how many people were looking for a tried and true way to transform their outdated kitchen cabinets! I’m so glad I have been able to help and inspire so many cabinet painting projects.
I have had lots of kind words about how my kitchen turned out and I thank you all so much! With that, there have also been hundreds of questions that I’ve received via comments, emails, and social media. In this post, I wanted to share the most frequently asked questions to hopefully help jump start your own” hate to great” cabinet transformation. Let’s start by addressing the number one most asked question…
1. How are they holding up?!?
The simple answer is great! Here are some pictures of the kitchen cabinets today:
A bit over a year later and they have held up beautifully! I have had my fair share of oopsie-daisies including, but not limited to: whacking pots/pans into cabinet doors, accidentally scraping the stick vac against the bottom of the cabinets countless times, dripping tomato sauce down the cabinet and not realizing I did so until days after, or my most recent oopsie when the bronze finial from my paper towel holder went flying out of my hand whacking directly into a cabinet. Throughout ALL of these (and probably some more my husband didn’t tell me about) the paint job hasn’t budged! No peeling, no chips, no worn areas. I truly believe this is thanks to the amazing-ness that is General Finishes High Performance Water Base Polyurethane Topcoat. It can take a flying finial beating and allows me to clean off crusted-on pasta sauce with just some paper towel and warm water. I can’t speak more highly of this stuff. It is KEY to durability!
Three other things I would HIGHLY recommend to ensure your painted cabinets stay looking their best:
- Door Bumpers : You absolutely need these. These tiny little rubber stickers prevent wood on wood contact which will ultimately over time, create wear on your finish.
- Hardware (knobs/pulls) : Knobs/pulls eliminate the need for you to touch the door or drawer to open it, in turn there will be less touching the paint job and less chance for any wear.
- Soft Close Adapters : You can read all about how great and easy to install these babies are here. But from a practical POV the soft close prevents the cabinet doors from slamming against the boxes. This proactively prevents any wear… and trying to slam the doors will entertain you for hours.
Full disclosure, I do not have children or pets, so I can’t speak from that perspective on wear and tear. But given my experience above, I think it would pass the test!
2. Why did you put the cabinet doors back on before applying the poly?
I wanted to be able to apply the poly to both sides of the doors at once. This was to expedite the process, otherwise it would have taken double the time to allow them to dry, then flip over, and apply to the other side. It also allowed for easy application (standing up vs. hunched over the doors laying flat!)
3. Why did you leave the hinges on the doors when painting?
I left them on because they were already adjusted for that door so leaving them on allowed me to put them back on easily and quickly. Otherwise I would have had to re-adjust them once they were up. It eliminated the time to take them off and put them back on. If you feel more comfortable taking them off, go for it. I found leaving them on to be a big time saver. (And if you get paint on the hinge, a little rubbing alcohol takes it right off!)
4. Can you see the grain? What does it look like?
Yes. You can definitely see the grain. Before painting them I was obsessing over that. I did not want to see that severe oak grain. But the only way to get them truly smooth is to use a grain filler which is a very messy, time consuming, sanding-required process that I simply did not want to get involved with. So I bit the bullet and slapped an extra coat of the primer on any super grainy doors. Now that they are complete, the grain honestly doesn’t bother me at all. If anything, it shows you have real wood cabinets under that gorgeous paint job!
Here’s a picture showing the grain in harsh direct light:
And here’s a close up of a drawer:
Don’t fear the grain, embrace it.
5. How many coats of primer did you apply? How many coats of poly did you apply?
2 coats of Zinsser 123 Water Based Primer on the cabinet boxes and doors. 3 coats on doors that were really grainy.
3 thin, even coats of General Finishes High Performance Water Based Polyurethane Topcoat applied with a staining sponge. The more coats you apply, the stronger your finish will be once it completely cures (see original tutorial for more on this and for info on how many coats of paint.)
6. Did the topcoat/poly yellow?
Nope, so far so good. One of the reasons I chose the General Finishes High Performance Water Based Polyurethane Topcoat is because of its better-than-the-others reputation for not yellowing over time. Again, full disclosure I do not get harsh sunlight in my kitchen and my home is a smoke free environment, both contribute to yellowing. Also keep in mind my cabinets are Antique White, not a pure white so any yellowing would be less noticeable.
7. Satin finish vs. Semi-gloss finish?
I went with a Satin finish as I wanted a slight bit of shine. Semi-gloss is shinier and I felt it may make the grain look more prominent. It’s really personal preference, but both will work and both are available in the General Finishes topcoat.
8. Drying times?
Drying times for the primer, the paint, and the poly are going to vary based on climate. In more humid climates or during more humid times of year, drying times may be longer. I’m in the northeast and my primer dried enough for a second coat within about 6-8 hours. The paint I left 24 hours+ between coats to be sure it was dry. The poly dries pretty quickly, but I did one coat per night for a few days, so I left 24 hours between each application. The complete curing of the paint and poly takes 60 days, so be very careful with the cabinets until then!
9. The added trim on the bottom of the upper cabinets, can I see closer pictures?
Your wish is my command:
At the time I added the trim for a more custom look, but now it also hides inexpensive, awesome wireless LED lights! I wasn’t expecting them to be as good as they are. They are remote controlled and add some sexy mood lighting in the evening. You know, to set the mood for loading the dishwasher…
10. Why Sherwin Williams ProClassic paint?
I answer this in the original tutorial, but I still get this question often. Sherwin Williams is pro-quality paint. Yes, it’s expensive, but it’s a heck of a lot cheaper than new cabinets and quality does matter when it comes to finish and durability. Practically, I didn’t want to deal with a paint sprayer and because this paint is self-leveling it could easily be applied with a foam roller for a smooth finish. It’s also nice and thick with great pigmentation so less coats would be needed for full coverage.
11. My cabinets are a different kind of wood, will this work?
I’ve never tried this method on a wood other than oak, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t work. As long as the cabinets are not raw wood this method should work just fine. I would recommend doing a patch test if you’re unsure.
12. Would this process work on oak bathroom cabinets? Will it hold up?
Yup! Check out my master bathroom makeover here. I used the exact same process on those cabinets and they’re holding up beautifully!
13. Any other tips, suggestions, comments?
- If you want to use this method, do it exactly how I did. If you deviate and use different products or methods it will most likely change the outcome. For example, one reader chose to sand her cabinets down then follow my process. This “unsealed” the oak and allowed it to release tannins and bleed through the paint. This is something a water-based latex primer won’t stop, you need an oil based primer. Another example is when a reader painted her cabinets then chose to use a different poly which yellowed her white paint immediately. If you do deviate from the process, do your homework before hand so you know what to expect.
- Always buy paint samples before you buy the gallon(s)! Paint chips don’t sufficiently show the color, do a test cabinet drawer or back of a door before committing to the entire kitchen to make sure you like the color in your space.
- If you are painting your cabinets as part of a bigger kitchen reno, make sure the cabinets are the very last thing you do! You don’t want them getting bumped, banged, or messed up from tearing off countertops, ripping up floors, or painting walls.
- As a friendly DIY reminder, before you begin this project make sure you’re comfortable with the materials and process. I encourage you to do some additional research. This exact process and these exact materials worked wonderfully for me, but as always, DIY at your own risk!
If you have a question that wasn’t answered here or in the original tutorial, feel free to comment/reach out and I’ll do my best to help you.
Finally, I want to share a few images of other fantastic HATE TO GREAT transformations that readers and fellow DIYers have shared with me! I absolutely LOVE to see your before and afters, so if you use this method, please reach out to send pictures!
What a difference! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: It’s amazing what some paint will do! Are you ready to tackle your cabinets? Go forth future cabinet painters – you got this!!!
This post is not sponsored, all opinions and instructions are my own. Please DIY at your own risk. This post contains affiliate links. Before and after images are shared with permission.
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