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How to Paint Maple Cabinets: Tips From a Pro

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When prepared and painted correctly, the smooth profile of maple cabinets looks very nice coated with semi-gloss paint.

When prepared and painted correctly, the smooth profile of maple cabinets looks very nice coated with semi-gloss paint.

Can Maple Cabinets Be Painted?

Maple is a hardwood with a closed grain and a smooth surface. Unlike oak, which is a ring-porous wood with an open grain, maple doesn't usually have any surface cracks, or even much grain pattern.

When prepared and painted correctly, the smooth profile of maple cabinets looks very nice. I recommend coating with a semi-gloss paint. The preparation is also a little easier, since it doesn't require a coating of wood-grain filler like oak does. Painting maple cabinets does still involve a lot of surface preparation to get maximum durability.

1. Remove the Cabinet Doors and Hardware

Removing the doors, drawers, pulls, and hardware is a must when painting. I set up a couple of sawhorses and lay the doors down flat to work on them.

After removing the hinges from the door, number each door in the hinge cavity with a black marker and place a piece of tape over it. When numbering the doors, I count each one, starting with the upper cabinets from left to right. Store the screws in a Ziploc bag so they don't get lost.

2. Remove Dirt and Grease

I clean cabinets for paint with Dawn dish soap and a coarse scrubbing pad (green color). You can also use TSP (trisodium phosphate) in liquid or granule form.

TSP cleans wood well and dulls the clear finish on the surface a little, but the reason I don't use it much is that the residue can cause adhesion problems with primer and paint if not rinsed thoroughly. TSP can also cause skin irritation. Dawn soap cleans fine without having to worry about potential adhesion problems, but it isn't the best for grease. On greasy cabinets, one of my favorite cleaners is Krud Kutter Original.

Is Deglosser Necessary for Maple?

I have experimented with different deglossing agents, but none remove gloss as effectively as a good sanding with my Makita random orbital sander. A good sander completely removes gloss, using the right sandpaper grit. Deglossing cleaner can leave heavy residue on the surface that often requires more cleaning.

In my opinion, using a separate deglosser is unnecessary if you're sanding everything anyway, which you should be. The main reason to clean the cabinets is to remove dirt and grease so the primer and paint bond well with the surface. Dish soap with warm water, or Krud Kutter, is plenty.

3. Sand the Cabinets

The surface needs to be cleaned and sanded before painting. Maple is a hardwood, but the wood hardness is a little softer than oak, so using sandpaper that's too coarse can actually abrade the wood fibers and cause a hairy-like texture. For maple, the grit that works well for me is 220-grit. The grit is enough to safely remove surface gloss and expose the bare wood without causing damage.

The best way to do the sanding is with a random orbital sander. Sanding without one takes forever and doesn't work as well. All of the doors, drawers, and wall boxes need to be sanded thoroughly.

After sanding, the surface should be wiped down with a tack cloth. You can also use an air compressor to blow the dust out from the inside corners of the panels on the fronts of the doors. Sanding should also be done between coats of primer and paint to remove crumbs and dust particles that get stuck in the drying paint.

4. Prime the Doors, Drawers, and Wall Boxes

I prime maple cabinets using an airless sprayer, equipped with a fine finish spray tip. Brushing and rolling are fine too, if you don't want to use a sprayer, but spraying is the way to go if you want the best finish on your maple cabinets. Spraying also saves a huge amount of time without the noticeable texture created from brushing and rolling.

Latex or Oil Primer?

Oil primer, or shellac primer, are the best options. The best primer is one formulated to seal the surface and act as a bond coat. Most latex primers won't seal wood surfaces well or create a good bond coat.

I spray all my cabinets with two coats of the shellac primer B-I-N by Zinsser. B-I-N is ideal for spray application only. The primer is water-thin, leveling really nice on the surface when spraying doors horizontally, but in my opinion, it's way too thin and messy to be applied with a brush and roller. If you don't want to spray your maple cabinets, Cover Stain oil primer is a good choice when using a brush and roller.

5. Use a Drying Rack

Whether spraying the doors or brushing and rolling, they'll need to be stored while each coat dries. You can place them on a sawhorse set up, but a drying rack is the best. I use the Door Rack Painter, which saves me tons of time while conserving space. This particular rack setup allows both sides of the door to be painted the same day instead of having to wait for one side to dry before you can flip it to paint the other side.

6. Apply Two to Three Coats of Paint

I spray two coats of primer and two coats of paint with a sprayer. With spraying, the paint always covers in two coats because you can apply a thicker, heavier coat to get better coverage. Painting by hand usually takes an extra coat, especially if the color is white. I definitely recommend spraying.

The paint I use the most is Pro Classic acrylic semi-gloss from Sherwin Williams. This paint levels really nicely when sprayed. Advance by Benjamin Moore is another paint that can be used for maple cabinets, but it dries really slowly. The re-coat time on Pro Classic is only four hours, which allows the second coat to be applied the same day.

There are other good paints to use too, including Emerald urethane, but Pro Classic has always worked really well for me. With my Graco airless sprayer, I use a 310 and 312 fine finish spray tip to spray paint maple cabinets. If it's warm where you live, it's best to spray the cabinet doors outside, or you can plastic off walls in a nearby room indoors. If you spray the wall boxes too, there is a lot of masking involved to protect against over-spray.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

Questions & Answers

Question: Which Graco sprayer would you recommend for a kitchen project? I’m looking for professional results.

Answer: You can often rent a Graco 390 or 490 airless sprayers from a paint store. Use the Graco Rac x tip guard (blue) with their fine finish tip (green). You can always buy a cheap Graco magnum sprayer from a major home improvement store too but I've never used one. I own a Graco 495 airless and that's what I use for all of my painting projects, including cabinets. Another option is an hvlp sprayer, but you would have to thin the paint. With an airless, you don't have to thin anything and you can get a really nice finish with the fine finish tips I mentioned.

Question: Are the paints you refer to above latex or oil-based?

Answer: They are latex paints.

Question: I would like to paint my maple cupboards. Which is the best grey or off-white paint to use?

Answer: Painting cabinets white is the current trend. Every cabinet job I've done, except for one, has been white.

Question: Do I also sand the wall boxes on the walls before priming? Would you recommend hanging protection before we sand or just before we prime and paint?

Answer: Yes, the wall boxes and the doors should be sanded. It's a good idea to set up a plastic barrier before sanding. The dust goes everywhere. I use Zipwall.

Question: Do you have to strip all of the clear coat off the maple cabinets or just sand it to remove the shine?

Answer: Sand if off until the surface is dull.

Question: Do you do a clear coat on your cabinets? Wondering because I have small children.

Answer: No, I usually don't.

Question: What is the best non-flammable oil primer for spraying?

Answer: All oil primer is flammable. I would just rent a professional sprayer from a paint store so you can spray your cabinets with oil primer. Otherwise, the only other option is to use latex primer and I don't recommend that. It costs $50 to $75 per day to rent a sprayer.

Question: Do you sand the cabinets with a fine grit paper in between the 2 coats of paint?

Answer: I sand after both coats of primer and in between paint, if needed, to smooth out any rough spots, or crumbs stuck in the paint. I use 220 grit to sand the coats of primer and 320 grit for the paint. The 3M sanding sponges for detailing are great for sanding in between coats on cabinet doors. You don't have to sand aggressively. Scuff sand is fine.

© 2018 Matt G.


Matt G. (author) from United States on September 08, 2019:


No, I recommend Emerald urethane over ProClassic for cabinet painting. I use it for all of my cabinet painting projects. ProClassic is good enamel too, but Emerald urethane dries harder.

Suz on September 08, 2019:

Hi, do you still recommend the pro classic over the emerald uerathane for Maple cabinets?

Matt G. (author) from United States on April 29, 2019:

Thank you Mary. I'm glad you found it helpful.

Mary on April 29, 2019:

Thank you so much for the great info. While I don’t plan on painting them myself this will help tremendously when hiring a painter to do them. Now I know the questions to ask and will require spray painting.