Matt is a professional painter who owns and operates his own painting business, specializing in interior and exterior house painting.
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If you're sick of looking at the outdated cabinets in your kitchen every day, but you don't want to spend thousands of dollars buying new ones, painting them is the perfect DIY solution (especially if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, but you'll 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 the tools and supplies listed below are the ones I use for my projects.
This article focuses more on cabinet painting tools and not my process for surface preparation or painting. You can check out these other articles if you're looking to prepare kitchen cabinets for paint or the process of 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 have to sand over 20 cabinet doors, an orbital sander is a must because it's a lot easier and more effective than sanding doors without one.
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, my favorite for removing and installing cabinet doors and drawers. I also 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 uses five-inch sanding discs.
3M Hand Masker
The hand masker by 3M is one of my favorite tools for masking. I've used this handy tool throughout my painting career to mask surfaces before I spray or paint walls. This tool really comes in handy for spray painting cabinet wall boxes because you can easily cover the walls, appliances and countertops with plastic and tape for over-spray protection.
The 3M hand masker applies tape and plastic to the surface simultaneously to save time. The plastic rolls come in various sizes, but I really like the 48-inch rolls for covering cabinet door openings, appliances, and countertops. The 99-inch rolls are perfect for covering walls, entry doors and large windows. I use the 99-inch plastic to set up a dust barrier between the kitchen and adjacent room.
Rotating Spray Rack and Drying Rack
Using a rotating spray rack is awesome for spray painting cabinet doors because you can stand in one place and spin the door with ease instead of having to walk around the door over and over. You can spray paint 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, saving two to three days not having to wait for one side to dry. The racks were a game-changer for my painting business.
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 highly recommend using a sprayer for at least the doors.
I own a Graco 495 airless sprayer and used it exclusively for all of my cabinet painting projects until I started using the Graco GX19 Finish Pro. This sprayer is a lot cheaper and easier to transport. I love my Graco 495, but the GX19 airless sprayer has become my go-to for painting cabinets. I've used Graco spray equipment throughout my painting career and definitely recommend the brand. I use fine finish tips and pigmented pre-catalyzed lacquer to get a super smooth finish on cabinet doors.
Renting a contractor-grade Graco sprayer from a paint store or rental shop is another option to consider if you only plan on using it one time. Paint sprayer rentals are cheap for only a day or two of spraying.
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 use the 12-foot poles so I have a little extra length for vaulted ceilings, but the 10-foot poles cost less and work fine in most kitchens.
The Zip Wall makes setting up a dust barrier so much easier because you don't have to climb up a ladder anymore to tape plastic to the ceiling, or worry about the tape pulling paint off the ceiling when you take it down. Using these poles eliminates the chances of the plastic falling down during your painting project.
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 than the black RAC-5 tips from Graco. The spray tip size I use almost exclusively for cabinet doors and frames is 310. The green tips by Graco are part of their RAC-X line that use the blue tip guards. In my experience, these tips and guards last longer than the less expensive option.
When you combine these spray tips with pre-catalyzed lacquer, or high quality paint that levels, you get a very smooth finish, making these tips great for cabinets. If you own a non-Graco airless sprayer 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 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 Softback Sanding Sponge
The 3M softback sanding sponges are seriously awesome for sanding in between coats of primer and paint. I highly recommend them for cabinet painting. I used the 3M detailing sponges previously, but the Softback sanding sponges last longer and are easier to work with. I also find these sponges to sand better too than the ones I used before.
I use the fine grit Softback sponges to sand between coats of primer and the pre-catalyzed lacquer I use, but these would also work fine for paint. The fine grit does not scratch the finish. The sponges are a little rough when brand new, but they dull after sanding a few doors. I like these sponges because they sand well and I can fold them to fit into tight spaces and corners.
Durham's Water Putty and Bondo
This putty has been around forever. It's cheap and works well for patching shallow holes and knicks in cabinet doors. The putty dries hard and doesn't shrink much, but deeper holes usually require two or more applications. I keep a can of Durham's water putty handy for quick patch work. The putty dries hard and sands easily as long as you don't layer it too thick.
Durham's putty is good, but I like Bondo wood filler better and use it almost exclusively for cabinet painting prep. Bondo Multi-Purpose putty works well too. The wood filler is a two-part patching compound that uses a cream hardener to make cabinet repairs more durable. The only disadvantage is the foul odor and difficult sanding, but Bondo wood filler does not shrink and it's also water-resistant.
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