How to Paint Oak Cabinets and Hide the Grain

Materials

How to Paint Oak Cabinets | Learn about our proven process for how to paint kitchen cabinets and how we hid the grain to achieve factory-like results.

Before we dive in– there is one thing I really want to emphasize. I truly feel that filling in the grain is what made this project so successful. I know that step is the hardest- but on our test pieces that didn’t have filler we were left with black grain even after several coats.

We had additions to this project that you may not have to worry about. For example, we had to add trim pieces to the doors to accommodate the new hidden hinges. Our previous shelves were warped fiberboard and were covered in shelf-liner, so we opted to replace them and built high-quality cabinet-grade plywood shelves (with a chunky trim piece on the front).  We also added crown molding and had to do some carpentry to strengthen the sink cabinet to hold our new Farmhouse sink. Some of the cabinets were damaged and sagging, so we had to reinforce them. Once we accomplished all of that, we could finally start on the painting process!
The “process” or prep work is probably 95% of the project. Once you get to the painting, it moves very quickly! But unfortunately, you’re in for a long process before that happy step.

Materials: How to Paint Oak Cabinets | Learn about our proven process for how to paint kitchen cabinets and how we hid the grain to achieve factory-like results.

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1.Shop Vac 2.Shop Vac Brush Attachment 3.DeWalt Orbital Sander 4.Step Ladder 5.Painter’s Tape 6.TSP Substitute 7.Plastic Sheeting 8.Gorilla Tape 9.80 Grit Sandpaper Discs 10. 80 Grit Angled Sanding Block 11.DryDex 12.3-Inch Putty Knife 13. 1-1/4-Inch Putty Knife 14.220 Grit Sandpaper Discs 15.220 Grit Sanding Block 16.KILZ Original Primer 17.KILZ Spray Primer 18.Mini Roller Kit 19.2-Inch Paintbrush 20.320 Grit Sanding Block 21.Insl-x Cabinet Coat22.Paint Measuring Cups 23.Distilled Water 24.HomeRight Finish Max Pro 25.Satin Polyacrylic(optional) 26.Air Compressor (optional) 27.CaulkingDIY Kitchen Island & Building Plans | Learn how to build this gorgeous furniture-style DIY kitchen island with this tutorial and free step-by-step building plans from Nina Hendrick Design Co.!

 ALSO: Don’t forget your safety equipment! A Paint Project Respirator, Safety Glasses, and Hearing Protection are always a must!

 About The Paint:

DIY Kitchen Island & Building Plans | Learn how to build this gorgeous furniture-style DIY kitchen island with this tutorial and free step-by-step building plans from Nina Hendrick Design Co.!

This was a very important part of the process for me. As I mentioned above, a lot of research went into my decision to use a paint sprayer and Insl-X Cabinet Coat Enamel (p.s. they did not sponsor this post in any way- they have no idea I exist!). For color, I chose not to tint it, but since it’s a Benjamin Moore Product, they will tint it if you wish! In it’s natural state, it has an ever-so-slight bluish tinge (but much much less than the graphic on the can- that is actually an example of the paint when tinted blue!), which I actually really liked. But keep this in mind if you are hoping for a warmer color- you may have to go one shade warmer to counteract the blue. It’s best to talk to your local paint store expert and see what they recommend.

It is an acrylic water-based enamel. It was already pretty thin, but through trial and error, we determined that the best results were achieved with our paint sprayer when we diluted it 8% with Distilled Water. We are being very specific about the Distilled Water- we tried it with tap water and the minerals in our water reacted negatively to make the paint discolor and run. To achieve the 8%, that is where your measuring cup (and probably a calculator) will come in handy! Make sure to mix it well.

My favorite aspect of this paint- and the reason why I recommend it so highly- is that it has really great self-leveling properties. It has provided the closest thing I’ve seen to a cabinet factory finish without being the real thing. It also has not chipped so far within a couple of months since the cabinets have been painted, so that is promising as well! You can read details from the manufacturer here.

 The Paint Sprayer:

I wrote in my first tutorial for this project, “ We chose [The PaintReady Sprayer] in part because of its relatively good feedback during our research. Another bonus was that we could pick it up at our local [Big Box Store] immediately, and it was fairly inexpensive compared to other options. One concern we had while testing it out was its tendency to create an ‘orange peel’ texture. But with the correct dilution of the cabinet coat, some adjustment of the paint sprayer, and the self-leveling properties of the cabinet coat, we were able to eventually figure out the best way to achieve a smooth finish.”

All of the things I wrote were true. That was our first experience with a paint sprayer, and we eventually got it to work in a way that was satisfactory for the project. It was somewhat frustrating, but we assumed it came with the territory.

We assumed right, there is certainly a learning curve when it comes to paint sprayers. However, once we worked out the correct dilution for the Finish Max Pro (with the paint a little thinner than the original tutorial), we agree that the paint has an even smoother texture. It is, therefore, a better tool. We’ve also never experienced the dreaded “orange peel” (a.k.a. air bubbles in the paint.) with this paint sprayer.

Update 9/20: I have disabled the comments on this post due to volume of repeat questions. If you have any question at all about this project, chances are that it is answered either in the comments of this post, in the ebook, or in my follow-up Kitchen Cabinets FAQs post. You will probably find your answer quicker than I can get back to you! If you have checked the resources and comments but still cannot find the answer, feel free to send me an email, and I will do my best to help you out as I am able! 

Page 3 → Prep Work

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59 thoughts on “How to Paint Oak Cabinets and Hide the Grain

  1. What an excellent tutorial! Were your cabinets oak? Mine are maple so maybe I wouldn’t have to worry so much about the grain?

    • Thank you so much Elaine! Yes, my cabinets are oak. Maple is a very smooth wood and is generally what “designer” white cabinets are made from (Kraftmaid, etc.). Lucky you, you would get to skip the grain filler if you decided to do this process! :) If I had maple, I would still make sure to de-gloss, sand, and prime before spraying the cabinet coat.

      • Thanks so much for all your info. Do you know f the Cabinet Coat yellows over time? I was told that BM Advance could. Deciding between the two. Also, how long was the curing time? Some say BM takes a few months. EEk!

        • I have used both products. I prefer the Cabinet Coat for anything that you will be using as a surface (like a shelf), but the BM Advance does work very well for wall treatments and doors. In my particular experience, we didn’t experience yellowing with either product. The Cabinet Coat is especially bright white still! The curing time for the Cabinet Coat was fairly quick, it was only about a week. I would agree about BM Advance, it takes a long time to cure. I grew impatient and put things back on my office built-ins about a week after they were painted with BM Advance and things stuck and chipped the paint.

  2. I am hoping to paint my oak cabinets this summer and this was a great tutorial to get me started. We have a great paint sprayer already, but knowing what paints and primers to use are great. All that prep work is what has kept me from digging into the job sooner. Thanks for sharing such an in-depth tutorial!

  3. I’m just wondering if you happened to try out the Benjamin Moore Advance paint that lots of people recommend to paint wood cabinets? They said it has a hard finish and is very self levelling? I have oak cabinets just like these and want to paint them soooo badly but everyone keeps saying I’ll hate the finished product because I’ll see the grain, but I love white and hate my dark oak cabinets! So this summer I hope to find myself painting cupboards! Thanks for all the tips! Your kitchen is awesome!

    • Hi Lyndsay! I painted my office cabinets and built-ins with Benjamin Moore Advance. It’s true that it has a very hard finish, and it was self-levelling. Unfortunately, a year later it’s chipping. So I crossed it off my list of possibilities! But that is what I paint my trim with in the rest of my house, and I am very happy with it for trim!

  4. Wow – your kitchen is seriously STUNNING and what an amazing detailed tutorial! We are going to be painting our cabinets this year (though the doors aren’t oak so we won’t need to minimize the grain) – but your tips on the paint and sprayer are super helpful. Pinning this post- a couple of times!!

    • Thank you for your kind words and the pins Krista :) Best of luck with your kitchen- I’d love to see how it comes out!

  5. Wow–first of all, you have a LOT of cabinets! I have maybe half of what you do and while I want to paint my cabinets, I am totally procrastinating, so you are my hero! These look beautiful. This tutorial was so thoroughly written–I especially appreciate the part on covering up the wood grain, because that is a worry of mine–thanks for sharing your experience!

    • I would love to know about the hidden hinges as well. I just scheduled a painter to do our kitchen (after doing 2 bathrooms I have no desire to tackle the kitchen!) and I am researching hinges. I have been looking into Blum hinges, but am curious about yours. Thanks!!!

      • Hi Theresa! Changing the hinges was a bit of a process. Our cabinets were partially inset with a 1/4″ lip. We had to first add a thin filler strip so that they would sit flush. Then we had to figure out the correct angle for our overlay before we ordered the hinges. We worked with Blum (http://www.blum.com/us/en/01/20/10/) and they had excellent customer service to help us figure out the particular angles and corresponding parts we would need! Our particular parts probably won’t be of use to you- there are thousands of combinations- but they will help you find the right ones based on your specific measurements. We ended up eventually ordering the Blum hinges from Amazon, as it was the best price. I’ve attached a photo link of the filler strip and recessed space that the hinge went in. As I said, it was a bit of work- but I think it really helped give the room a more professional look. I hope that helps!

        https://www.ninahendrick.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Step2.jpg

  6. ha. we are almost at the end of our kitchen cabinet project and couldn’t agree with you more on your points and suggestions. we too sprayed everything and wouldn’t recommend any other way to get that smooth consistent finish. your kitchen looks beatutiful. congrats on a job well done and that I know took lots of time and effort.

      • Nina, I wish to use this tutorial to paint unfinished oak media cabinets/bookcases. Since I am starting with smooth, unfinished oak, do I need to do anything different, or start with the Dryex and follow the steps as shown?

        • Hi Patty! I would still follow the tutorial, including the Drydex. But- Lucky You- you will probably have much less sanding to do before the first step! :)

  7. Nina, you may be one of the few who can answer this question: We also want to paint our oak kitchen cabinets which are similar to yours, but rather than a rectangular shaped inlay, they are that awful cathedral style inlay. I would rather have a plain flat panel than to see that awful arch (especially on the more narrow cabinets). In all your research, what product could I use to completely fill those deep crevices made by the arch shape?

    • Hi! We’re actually going to leave just the Cabinet Coat, for the time being. It’s holding up very well, and is extremely easy to clean!

  8. Thanks for the detailed tutorial! We are getting started in two days on the kitchen in the home we just bought (it has the ugly grainy oak too). We have two weeks to do it – hoping that is enough time!! I am printing out your post to help guide me!

  9. Hi again. How long did you wait to hang the cabinets and put on your hardware. I have read in some places to wait as long as two weeks!! I was thinking letting it dry for 24 hours….Thanks!! We are starting NOW! =)

    • I’m so sorry I missed this- I want to make sure the answer is here for future reference- the Cabinet Coat takes about a week to cure! I hope you love your kitchen, Jill!

  10. Your kitchen is beautiful. Great job! I’m sitting in my garage now following your instructions. The cabinets have been sanded and I’m reviewing the Wagner sprayer instructions. I know I can do this. Wish me luck!

  11. Did you ever decide on a sealant? We just finished my craft room and are looking to move to the kitchen next. We used Polycrylic on my desk top, but it has a tacky feeling to it, and I’ve already pulled up the paint in several places because my machinery will stick to the desk. It’s been a few months since we’ve applied the Polycrylic. If you used it on your kitchen cabinets, have you had this issue?

    • Hi Jessica! I actually decided to leave the Cabinet Coat as is- no poly or any other kind of sealant. 6 months later there is no chipping whatsoever, even where the drawers and cabinet doors bump the cabinets. And that’s with two young kids slamming things shut all of the time :) I have been so impressed with the Cabinet Coat!

  12. Did I miss how long this took? That is vital information to be used to convince my husband! From the day you actually started taking things apart to rehanging the cabinets, how long did this take? THANKS!

    • Hi Amy! It really depends on the size of your kitchen and the pace you choose to work. We did it in phases, during weekends, and took some breaks when it got overwhelming. It took us 4 months. If you wanted to get it done all at once, it could be done in a week straight (assuming the kitchen is the same size as ours!). I know that sounds like a ton of time- but I would personally do it again in a heartbeat!

      • I think ours is about the same size and layout as yours. I just love how yours turned out! I am thinking about tackling just the kitchen island first because I think that would be cute white either way. Then I can get a little taste for how it will go and make my mistakes on the parts that don’t show.:-) Thanks for the detailed tutorial!! That really helps me see how it will REALLY go. I am in favor of kicking my family out for a week and going for it! Ha!

    • Hi Mary, it is 12′ wide! Technically we left less open space around the island than a kitchen designer would recommend- but we can still move easily and open cabinets and appliances without issue- so we are happy with it :)

  13. Hi Nina! I noticed when you put the new backsplash in you removed the granite edge piece that went up the wall (I am not sure what it is called) when u removed it was the granite underneath ruined at all? I would like to remove mine as well so the backsplash goes all the way Down to the counter top like yours does now. Thanks!

    • Hi Colleen! I apologize for being so late to answer, I took a step back from the blog when my daughter was born last winter. This is a really great question! Our countertop was not damaged by removing the matching strip of backsplash, but there was silicone adhesive left behind that we carefully scraped off. Also, a word of caution- in our bathroom the backsplash strip was used to hide a very uneven gap between the countertop and wall. If you discovered something like that, I would recommend installing a thin piece of white trim around the perimeter to cover the gap before you begin your tile.

    • You would have to check with the manufacturer of the paint sprayer you choose. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s important to use oil-based primer in this process to prevent tannin bleed from the oak. Oil based primer doesn’t thin easily (I believe it requires a chemical) and won’t cover as well once it’s thinned. I would use a brush or roller at full strength and sand it well between coats. We did both spray can primer and brushes, depending on where we were working.

      • Hi Nina. We’re bored of our lovely solid oak kitchen. Of course not all of the wood is actually solid oak e.g. Cornicing and plinth covers at floor level. You can see that when you contrast the naturally ageing oak. So the question is how does the veneer look when painted?

        Thanks

        Judi

        • Hi Judi,

          Our kitchen was all solid oak, no veneers, so unfortunately I didn’t research how veneer looks when it’s painted. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help!

          Nina

  14. Hi, I’m just curious how your cabinets are holding up and if you decided to do a top coat at this point. I know you said it took you 4 months. What was your process? Would you just do sanding on a few cabinets a week? Also did you pray inside your cabinets? Thank you!

  15. Hi, Nina, your new kitchen looks fabulous! For the last few days I’m searching for information about how to renew ours and I’m now about to come up with a real plan thanks to you! Your advice and thorough information are priceless. Thank you very much, Nina. I wish you all the best.

  16. Hi! I am so thankful for this blog. my husband and I have just spent the last 2 months painting our kitchen cabinets. The boxes are done and look great but the doors (which we just finished today) look awful. We barely survived the first attempt and now we are facing it again. :( I read your blog and I felt like all of our issues were covered here. The black grain shows through and we have the orange peel look. We have the same paint sprayer and we trade a sanding sealer that was recommended on another blog. We are going to sand everything off and try the drydex but i’m a little nervous about mixing the paint to avoid the orange peel look. Can you help me?

    • Hi Alicia! We found it was best to add the water in slowly in order to thin the Cabinet Coat. For example, try adding in 2% dilution first, then test it and see if there’s orange peel- if so, adjust the sprayer and a another 2% of water. Build your way up until you achieve the correct consistency without orange peel and without over-thinning. I hope that helps and good luck!!

  17. Beautiful job! What did you have to do to your base cabinet to make it ready for the farmhouse sink?

  18. We are currently in the process of sanding our cabinets and we just aren’t sure how sanded they have to be? Do they just need a light sanding or are you bringing them back to an unfinished wood? I’ve been a little picky and have sanded some of them right back to natural (with the exception of a few spots that you just can’t really get that well), but am just not sure if that’s necessary.

    • Hi Rebecca,

      We basically brought them back to unfinished wood! That was the only way to open up the grain for the Drydex. Basically you have to open up the grain in order to eventually fill it in. I hope that makes sense!

  19. Wow professional job!!! I noticed you replaced your under-
    mount sink with a farm sink, and you had to cut your cabinet down. Can you tell me how you went about that??? How did you measure for your sink? I currently have granite but with a cheap drop in sink.

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