Breathing new life into old Kitchen Cabinets | Sisu Painting

glazed cabinetry by Cylilna

Kitchen cabinets can get worn out and outdated fairly quickly, but the cost of replacement is often prohibitive.  Because painting is the easiest and most affordable way to refresh a look, clients often ask, can I paint over my existing kitchen cabinets?

The answer is yes, painting or glazing your existing cabinetry can breath new life into old kitchen cabinets!  These solutions provide a relatively inexpensive way to update your kitchen, but it’s important to understand which techniques to use, and how to use them,  in order to achieve beautiful and lasting results.

Most cabinetry is made of wood laminates or softer woods such as poplar, maple or birch. These are the best surfaces for painting. I do caution against painting melamine unless you are knowledgeable about the level of preparation and priming necessary to succeed, because it gets tricky.   Likewise, if your cabinetry is made of press board, with or without a tacky paper finish, I recommend replacement over refinishing.

The most common problems people encounter when painting or glazing cabinets stem from insufficient preparation.  If the cabinets have a clear coat (polyurethane or lacquer) finish, they must be thoroughly de-glossed to assure proper adhesion of the new finish and to avoid chipping or paint failure.

Painted cabinets can be delicate, but if they are prepped properly and painted with the best products, they can remain beautiful for years to come.

The process I recommend for  Painting Cabinetry:

  1. De-gloss the original finish using a chemical de-glosser in combination with a lot of sanding.
  2. Prepare the surface by thoroughly cleaning, sanding, filling holes and smoothing surface with bondo and/or caulk, and sanding again. Note: If the wood is grainy, such as oak, the grain will tend to show through the paint.  Therefore, special care must be taken to sand, fill and smooth during the preparation phase.
  3. Apply an oil based primer for best adhesion and to seal in the tannins.
  4. Apply two coats of oil based paint by hand brushing. I recommend  Benjamin Moore’s Satin Impervo for the very best results. Hand brushing will result in a much more even and smoother appearance than spraying.
  5. Note: I recommend spraying, rather than hand brushing, on hardwoods and laminates (see spraying instructions below).

glazed cabinetry

The process I recommend for Glazing Cabinetry:

Glazing cabinetry is appealing because old cabinetry is effectively turned into beautiful and functional works of art, like the cabinets pictured to the left.

  1. De-gloss and carefully prepare the surface for glazing, as described above.
  2. Apply one coat of  waterborne paint.
  3. Apply one coat of glaze.
  4. Seal with three coats of polyurethane.

The process I recommend for Spraying Hard Wood Cabinetry:

  1. De-gloss and prepare the surface as described above.
  2. Apply a primer coat and follow up by thoroughly sanding the surface.
  3. Apply two coats of water based durable enamel paint. I recommend waterborne paint because the maintenance is easier.  There is no reason to use an oil based product when spraying since the waterborne products level nicely when sprayed and are very durable.  For kitchen cabinets, I recommend PPG Breakthrough! which is extremely durable.  This product should only be applied by a well-trained professional.

Note:  I do not recommend urethane products on cabinetry because they tend to cause chipping and cracking over time, and are nearly impossible to touch up.

Painting and glazing cabinetry is a big job, one that few homeowners want to undertake on their own. That’s where we can help!  Give me a call and let’s talk about your cabinetry needs.   You’ll love our green approach to reclaiming and re purposing old wood or existing cabinetry for a beautiful new look and feel!

Until next time,


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25 Responses to Breathing new life into old Kitchen Cabinets | Sisu Painting

  1. My bathroom cabinets are oak, as is the trim around the tile counter top. The trim and upper part of the cabinets show fading and wear, which appears to be due to years of water dripping/splashing. I’d like to get these cabinets and trim painted and glazed like you talked about. My question is this: Will the paint and glaze show signs of water wear over the years like the oak has? Is there a particular finish that would minimize this problem? Thanks for your useful information!

  2. Nancy says:

    Good question, Susan! All painted or clear coated surfaces will wear over time, and it will really depend on the amount of abuse. However, when we glaze the cabinets (which your cabinets sound like perfect candidates), we also clear-coat with three coats of a waterbourne, food grade polyurethane that is an extremely durable finish. This finish can take a lot of abuse and will last for years to come.

    Polyurethanes will repel water, whereas lacquer finishes will wear off with water. It’s important that when you clear coat cabinetry or any exterior substrates that you use urethane based products instead of lacquers. Many times, professionals will use the lacquers because they are easier to work with and dry at a much faster rate. Beware of any professional trying to sell a lacquer for these purposes. Lacquers are great and should be used on interior wood work that will not be exposed to water repeatedly.

    So, long story short: If glazed and polyurethane is applied correctly, you should not show signs of water wear under normal conditions.

  3. Thanks for the tips Nancy!

    I had no idea that urethane would chip and crack over time. I appreciate the advice!

  4. Nancy,
    Great information. I get questions quite often about options for cabinetry. Very good advice that you give to take a good look at the quality of the cabinetry before refinishing or painting as it will look great on the outside, but it needs to function properly as well.

    Would you mind if I re-post this on my blog?

    April Bettinger
    Nip Tuck Remodeling

    • Nancy says:

      Hi April,

      Thanks for reading my blog and adding your thoughts. I would love it if you re-posted the blog. Thanks a ton!


  5. Sherry says:

    Nicely done Nancy! This is great information for anyone thinking about remodeling their kitchen. Painting your cabinets is a great alternative to new cabinets.

  6. Nicole W. says:

    Nancy… It is amazing what a little paint can do to revamp the look of a room! Especially when it comes to changing the total look of some old woodwork…Thank you for sharing this info with us :)

  7. Shane says:

    I started out as a painter in the 70′s and the fundamentals I can see are still the same. The materials used have greatly improved. What I really like now is the water based lacquers and dye stains. They make our handrails look like a piece of furniture.

    • Nancy says:

      The water based products have come a long ways and the solvent based products are starting to decline in quality because of stricter regulations on the VOC’S, (volatile organic compounds). Which products do you use Shane? Your stairs and railings are so beautiful that you must use only the highest quality.


  8. Justin says:

    Nancy-This is great information. I will pass this to my clients.

  9. Nancy says:

    Thanks for visiting my blog, Justin!

  10. Ty Kraft says:

    Nancy…We are currently looking into having our cabinets re-finished and I found your blog to be extremely helpful. Thanks for the great information.

    • Nancy says:

      Thanks for reading the blog Ty. If you need me to take a look at your cabinets to see which finish would be best, I’d be happy to.

      Thanks, Nancy

  11. Nancy,
    I can hardly wait to have Sisu refresh my tired old laminate cabinets! This information is your blog is so practical and useful. Thank you for making it available!

    • Nancy says:

      Thank you Delila! We can’t wait either. Your house is already cute as a button; just like you! It will be fun to put the icing on the cake.


  12. Ryan Bruzan says:

    Invaluable information! Great post, Nancy. I learned a few new things. You are correct about painting melamine; same goes for painting thermofoil doors and drawer fronts. I’m been testing products here and there for best adhesion. Have you ever tried XIM primer?

    • Nancy says:

      Ryan, I use a lot of XIM Peel Bond and Trim Magic, but I have not tried their bonding primer. Do you recommend it? I would like to try it sometime. Thanks for the comment on my blog, I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog and hope to have more for you to read soon!


  13. Michelle says:

    Nancy – I have just bought a new home with beautiful high end oak cabinets. However beautiful they are, the brown color is not to our style and we would like a matte white look. Is it possible to do a full matte color or will it always have this aged look to it. Thanks – Michelle

    • Nancy says:


      I am assuming you are concerned about the grain. Oak cabinetry does have a lot of grain, so it makes painting them especially challenging. I have oak cabinetry too, and it’s not my style either. Although the wood is beautiful and extra durable, it doesn’t look good with my more modern and eclectic style, so I painted them and put a glaze on them. We also finished a kitchen with the same challenge and I will soon adding pictures to my website. Glazing the cabinetry gives the cabinets a super high end and classic finish that mixes with a lot of styles. I would be happy to discuss options with you.


  14. Nancy Hicks says:

    I am in the process of having my old oak kitchen cabinets redone. I want an antiqued glazed off white look. I have talked to several painters who have said the grain will always show through the paint. Is that because they are not willing to take the time to prep with bondo or a wood filler?

    I was also wondering what is the best, durable paint to use if you want to have glazing just in the corners. Can you just use glaze over an oil base paint? I am afraid that a poly top coat will yellow over time.

    • Nancy says:

      Hi Nancy,

      Excellent questions! Let me take the easy question first. There are water based polyurethanes that do not yellow. Benjamin Moore makes one that is food grade called Stays Clear. That’s what we typically use over glazes. Also, there are oil glazes that you can apply over oil based paint. I’m not sure where you live, but if you are in the Portland area, you can purchase them at Brush and Trowel. Now, for the question about the grain. The painters you have spoken with are correct. You do not want to fill the grain in with Bondo and wood fillers as these can fail over time. Oak is naturally grainy and the grain is always going to show through. That’s the nature of the wood. But, glazed oak is beautiful. We use the grain to our advantage and bring out the beauty of the grain. You can still have white cabinets with glazing. I do not recommend oil based paints for cabinetry. I prefer using a 100 percent acrylic latex. If you are going to paint, then glaze and apply three coats of polyurethane, you can use just about any enamel; I recommend Sherwin William’s ProClassic Hybrid or Benjamin Moore’s Aura as the base coat. As with any paint job, the prep is a critical step. Use a high build oil based primer for your base coat. You may want to prime twice and sand really well to minimize the grain. When you prime, you should back roll the primer (assuming you are applying with an airless sprayer). This will work the primer into the grain. This will take extra sanding because you will not want any stipple from the roller. Once you have a good base coat and everything is well sanded, paint two coats, apply the glaze and then apply the three coats of polyurethane. Three coats is a must for the right finish and durable results. Glazed cabinets are nearly impossible to touch up, so have a durable finish is a must. I hope this answered your questions.

  15. Ange says:

    what colour paint are you using for your cabinets. It’s exactly the colour I want to use.

    • Ange says:

      Is the glaze coloured as well?

      • Nancy says:

        Hello, thanks for looking! We choose a base color of paint and then we tint the glaze. The glaze is tinted black, which comes out more gray than black. The base color is Sherwin William’s 6235 Foggy Day. Photos do not translate colors well and computer monitor’s are notorious for tweaking the color, so make sure to test the color first.

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