Kitchen Cabinet Guide Part 8: How to Paint Kitchen Cabinets - My Entire Process!

So far, I’ve been easing you into the world of cabinet painting. I’ve tried to help you make some decisions along the way, gain some confidence, and get your hands on the best painting supplies possible.

Today, it’s time to do a deep dive into my personal cabinet painting process.

This is going to be a long email, but I promise, I’ve got some great information in here!

And if for some reason you still haven't download the Kitchen Cabinet Project Planner, now's the time to download it and print it out!

Let’s Dive In!


A typical cabinet job for me usually takes 5 days to complete:

  1. Prep
  2. Prime
  3. Top coat 1
  4. Top coat 2
  5. Reassemble and clean up

But let’s break this down further...

Day 1: Prep

Prep day is the biggest day of the week for me because there is so much prep work to do on every cabinet job!

I start by bringing in all my supplies and tools and organize everything on the job site for easy access. A clean job is an efficient job!

Then I go straight to cleaning. I start by running my shop vac over all the floors.

Once the floors are cleaned, I stick Keegan, my son, on the floors. He uses a clean release tape and 36” brown rosin paper to cover all the floors.

I like doing the floors first so that I don’t have to worry about walking on my clients floors.

Next, I scrub all the cabinets in order to clean and degrease them. This is more important in some kitchens than others!

After cleaning is done, I move straight into removing and labeling all the cabinet doors and drawers. I always make sure to label every door and drawer to make reassembly much easier (I mark the doors where the hinges go and put a tiny piece of tape over it).

Once all the doors and drawers are removed, I sand down everything - all doors, drawers and box frames. Then I immediately vacuum all the dust from the room.

Next comes the plastic. I use plastic to prep off the insides of all the cabinets and drawers, then I move on to appliances and countertops.

Pro Tip: Cover your countertops with plastic AND brown paper to make them more durable so you can set items on them during the job.

My last use for plastic is to create barriers between the kitchen and any adjoining rooms in order to contain my mess. I use dust barrier poles to secure the plastic in place.

If the cabinets aren’t oak, or don’t need a grain filler, this is the end of prep day. Not so bad!

Grain Filler

If I need to do a grain filler on the cabinets, I’ve got another big step. Luckily for me, I have a method for filing oak grain that works amazingly well and compared to other methods, is pretty darn fast.


I’ll be doing a deep dive into my grain filling method in an upcoming email, so make sure to look for that one, it’s going to be essential if you plan on painting oak cabinets!

I typically wrap up day 1 right here after I apply the grain filler. Monday’s are a BIG day!

Day 2: Primer

If I had to apply grain filler to my cabinets, then day 2 starts off by sanding all the grain filler smooth and once again running the vacuum to create a dust-free environment.

If I didn’t apply a grain filler, it’s straight to vacuuming.

Pro Tip: Once the job site is perfectly clean, double check all of your prep work looking for gaps, loose tape, missed grain filler and so on. You do NOT want to find these things after you spray!

When I’m 100% happy with my prep work, I bust out the primer and my sprayer.

As I've made shared in the last couple emails, the sprayer that I like the use when painting kitchen cabinets is the Wagner Flexio 5000. This sprayer has lots of benefits such as low overspray, great atomization, and low arm fatigue due to a light gun.

I dilute my primer with 20% water. A gallon is 128 ounces, so I add in roughly 26 ounces of water to my primer. If the primer seems a bit thick, I will go 25% - or 32 ounces - of water. This lowers the viscosity of the primer and makes it easier for the sprayer to atomize and lay down a nice smooth coat of primer.

Now that my sprayer is set up and my primer is thinned, it’s spray time.

I like to spray all my doors and drawer faces flat/horizontally. This makes spraying easier. It allows me to put on a thick coat and have it lay down perfectly.

I like to set up a table or prep off a countertop, then I set down 4 painter’s tripods so that my doors don’t sit directly on the table while I spray.

Then, I go through and spray all of the backs of the doors and drawers first.

While those are drying, I spray primer onto all of the cabinet box frames. This usually gives the doors and drawers close to enough time for the backs to dry, but if not, it’s time to grab a quick lunch or take a 20 minute break.

Once the backs of the doors are dry to the touch, I flip them all over and spray the fronts of all the doors and drawers.

Once that’s complete, I shut everything down for the day and that’s a wrap on day 2. I always make sure to clean my sprayer at the end of every day.

Day 3: Caulking & Spraying The First Topcoat

Day three is when the kitchen really starts to look like a new kitchen in my opinion.

I start off the day by sanding down all the primed cabinets, doors, and drawers with a fine grit sanding sponge.

Then guess what?... I vacuum again!

Yep, gotta keep my workspace perfectly clean and dust-free.

After everything is clean, I move on to caulking. This is where I caulk all the gaps, corners, cracks, and seams in the kitchen. This makes it so that I don’t have ugly looking gaps and shadows when the kitchen is finished and really takes it from looking like a DIY project to a professional finish.

Pro Tip: Always wait to caulk until after you've applied your primer. Your gaps and cracks are MUCH easier to see.

I like to use a 10-1 or higher ratio, dripless, smooth rod caulk gun - like this one.

In order to get the smoothest caulk line possible, I go over ever caulk line immediately with a smooth wet rag.

Once the caulking is complete, I do a final look over my kitchen.

  • Does any prep work need to be fixed?
  • Did I miss any gain filler?
  • Is there anything left that needs to be addressed?

Now is the perfect time to fix any remaining issues in the kitchen.

When I’m happy with everything, I bust out my sprayer and top coat again and get ready to spray my first coat.

I thin down my top coat exactly like I thin down primer. Primer does tend to be a little thicker, so I almost never go over 20% when thinning down topcoat.

Then I set up my Wagner FLEXio 5000 and spray the top coat exactly like I sprayed the primer. Backs of doors and drawers first, then boxes frames, and finally the front sides.

When done, I clean my sprayer and leave it to dry overnight.

Day 4: The Final Topcoat

If I took my time and checked everything over thoroughly on day 3, then day 4 usually goes really quick and easy. But I still make sure to check everything over one final time.

I check for missed caulk, missed grain, runs, light spray, loose tape on prep work, and anything else that stands out.

Once I’m happy with that, I spray everything again just like I did on day 3.

Day 5: Reassembly

If everything has gone according to plan during the week, day 5 is usually my reassembly, touch up, and wall painting day.

I start the day by looking over every square inch of the kitchen cabinets. I look for any imperfections and touch them up with a brush.

Once that is complete, I start putting doors back onto their hinges (this is where labeling everything can save hours!) and put on the handles.

Once the kitchen is all reassembled and touched up, I give the kitchen walls a fresh coat of paint to complete the kitchen makeover.

After that, I make sure my client is happy, collect my check and I’m on my way!

That’s How I Do It, But Your Process Will Likely Look a Bit Different

I’ve been painting for over 23 years now and have painted hundreds of sets of kitchen cabinets. So, I’m pretty fast and efficient and I can devote an entire week to a project.

If you’re painting your cabinets for the first time, expect it to go slower, especially if you’re a weekend warrior.

But you can still follow my basic process. Maybe prep day takes you 2 days, that’s perfectly fine!

Pro Tip: Set up a makeshift food prep area / kitchen somewhere else in your home. Even roll your fridge out there or set up a mini fridge. It’ll be worth it!

As you start your cabinet painting project, I wish the best of luck! You can do it!

Next Up:  All About Prep Work