Matt is a professional painter and freelance writer, sharing his knowledge, house-painting tips, and product reviews.
Best Tools for Painting Your Kitchen Cabinets
If you're sick of looking at the outdated cabinets in your kitchen every day, but you don't want to spend thousands of dollars buying new ones, painting them is the perfect DIY solution, especially if you're remodeling your kitchen on a budget.
Preparing and painting wood cabinets is a tedious process no matter what, but you're going to save a lot of time and energy using tools that make the work easier. I paint cabinets several times per year for my painting business and I'm going to talk about the tools and supplies I use for my projects.
This article focuses more on tools I use for my cabinet painting projects and not my process for surface preparation or painting. I wrote a separate article that focuses on preparing kitchen cabinets for paint and another article explaining the process for spray painting cabinets, which is how I paint them. I don't brush and roll.
Sanding is everyone's least favorite part of any painting project, but it's a step you don't want to skip. When you're faced with the task of having to sand over 20 doors, an orbital sander is a must. Don't sand doors without one. Not only will your hand feel numb at the end of the day, but the sanding itself will be less effective without an electric sander.
There are many sanders to choose from, but I'm a long time user of Makita power tools. I own a Makita drill and their sub-compact impact driver, which is my favorite tool for removing and installing cabinet doors. I also own and use the Makita orbital sander to do the sanding for all of my cabinet projects. This is an awesome sander if you're looking for one that will last. The sander has five speeds and accepts any five-inch sanding disc.
3M Hand Masker
The hand masker by 3M is by far one of my most useful tools that I've used throughout my painting career to mask surfaces before spraying or rolling. This tool is extremely useful if you're spraying your kitchen wall cabinets. If you're spraying, the door openings must be covered with tape and plastic to prevent over-spray from blowing inside. Even if you're brushing and rolling them, you still have to cover appliances and countertops with plastic. Masking without the 3M hand masker takes forever, trust me.
What the hand masker does is it applies tape and plastic to the surface at the same time, instead of having to tear off tape and do this separately. I couldn't imagine doing my projects without this tool. I've owned and used the same masker now for close to 20 years. The plastic rolls come in various sizes, but 48-inch is what I use to cover door openings, appliances, and countertops. The 99-inch rolls are perfect for draping down over walls and windows. I also use the same plastic to set up a dust barrier between the kitchen and adjacent room.
Rotating Spray Rack and Drying Rack
Using a rotating rack is a must when spraying the doors. This allows you to stand in one place and spin the door with ease instead of having to walk around the door over and over. You can certainly spray doors off buckets, but there's too much fatigue from constantly bending down, and you also lose time waiting for paint to dry on one side of the door before you can turn the door over to paint the other side.
The rotating spray rack that I use, along with the matching drying racks, allow me to spray both sides of the door on the same day and store them on the drying rack with the wet side down, literally saving two to three days not having to wait for one side to dry. As a painter and small business owner, using those racks enables me to make money faster.
Most people brush and roll their cabinets because they don't know how to use a sprayer, but it's actually easier than you think. Having to brush and roll multiple coats of primer and paint on doors is extremely time-consuming, but using a sprayer will save you a couple days of labor, or more. I definitely recommend using a sprayer for at least the doors.
I own and use a Graco 495 airless sprayer for all of my cabinet painting projects. I've used Graco spray equipment throughout my painting career and definitely recommend the brand. I use fine finish tips and leveling paint to get a super smooth finish on doors.
Renting a contractor-grade Graco sprayer from a paint store or rental shop is the way to go if you only plan on using it one time.
Zip Wall Dust Barrier System
I use the Zip Wall dust barrier in my customers homes for dust and over-spray protection. This product was a game-changer for me and well worth the investment if you're a painter who will use it more than once. I own four of the 12-foot poles, which fit the height of all the kitchens I've used them in, so far.
The Zip Wall makes setting up a dust barrier so much easier because I don't have to climb up my ladder anymore to tape plastic to the ceiling, or worry about the tape pulling paint off the ceiling upon removal. I also don't have to worry about the plastic falling down, which was an ongoing problem before I started using this product.
Best Supplies for Painting Wood Cabinets
Now that I've gone over some of the tools I use for my cabinet projects, I'll go over some of the supplies that are very useful too, especially if you're spraying.
Graco RAC-X Fine Finish, Low Pressure Tips (FFLP)
The only airless spray tips I currently use for cabinets are the green FFLP tips by Graco. These tips allow you to spray paint at a lower pressure and produce a smoother finish. The spray tip size I use a lot for cabinet doors is 210. The green tips by Graco are part of their RAC-X line, which last longer, including the blue tip guards that must be used with these tips.
When you combine these spray tips with high quality paint that levels, you get a very smooth finish, making them great for cabinets. If you own an airless sprayer of a different brand you can even use a RAC-X guard and tip on your spray gun because most tip guard threading is universal.
Some folks who are new to painting cabinets might not even know that grain filler is very useful if the wood being painted has an open grain. Oak, for example, is extremely grainy and difficult to cover with primer and paint alone.
There are so many grain filler products on the market, but the one that's worked well for me is Aqua Coat. What I've found that works the best is to prime the surface first with a nice solid coat of primer, apply the grain filler, sand, and apply a second coat of primer.
3M Detailing Sanding Sponges
These sanding sponges are awesome for sanding in between coats of primer and paint. The sponges have an angled edge that make it easy to sand small grooves and corners on cabinet doors where other sponges can't reach effectively.
These sponges are covered in sandpaper and available in various grits. I use 220 and 320 grit the most for in between coats. If you use sand cabinet doors with regular sanding sponges meant for drywall, or sandpaper with too coarse of a grit, you're going to leave visible scratch marks in the paint.
Durham's Water Putty
This stuff is cheap and awesome for patching shallow holes and knicks in cabinet doors. The putty dries hard and doesn't shrink much, but deeper holes usually require two applications.
I keep a can of Durham's water putty handy for quick patch work. The putty dries hard for sanding in less than 10 minutes. This product sands fairly easily as long as you don't layer it too thick.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2019 Matt G.
Matt G. (author) from United States on August 08, 2020:
I wouldn't say there's a huge noticeable difference but sprayed looks smoother. Yes, I spray the frames and the doors.
Judy Tyndall on August 08, 2020:
When painting kitchen cabinets, do you generally spray the boxes as well? Will there be a noticeable difference between the sprayed doors/drawer fronts and the rolled boxes? Thanks