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Tips for Painting Oak Cabinets

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Matt is a professional painter who owns and operates his own painting business, specializing in interior and exterior house painting.

Oak cabinets freshly painted white

Oak cabinets freshly painted white

Can You Paint Oak?

Painting oak cabinets is a cheap alternative to buying expensive replacements.

Oak is an open grain wood with a porous surface, but the grain can be filled to get a smooth finish when painted. I have painted oak cabinets for clients who actually prefer the grain to show through the paint for a rustic look. Filling the grain still allows some of the natural texture of the wood to show through the paint, but the deep cracks are no longer visible. Proper surface preparation is critical when painting oak to avoid problems with adhesion and tannin bleed.

This article covers the following information on painting oak cabinets:

  • Paint colors for oak cabinets
  • How to paint oak cabinets
  • Cabinet paint options

Paint Colors for Oak Cabinets

The most popular paint color my clients choose is white. White is timeless and goes with almost any wall and counter color. Bronze or brushed nickel knobs look amazing on white cabinets. For versatility, you can't go wrong with white, and there are so many different shades of white.

Grey is also popular for cabinets, but they may limit your color options for the rest of the kitchen. I painted cabinets for a customer who went with a light grey for all of the cabinets, except the island. The island cabinets were painted with a dark grey for an accent.

How to Paint Oak Cabinets

Here are the steps you should take in painting your oak cabinets.

1. Remove the Cabinet Doors

  • Removing cabinet doors before painting is a must.
  • I use a numbering system when removing the doors to avoid confusion installing them at the end of the job. Count the upper cabinets from left to right first, then the base cabinets in the same manner. After removing each door, remove the hardware from the door and write the cabinet number in its place. Stick a piece of masking tape over the number.
  • I also write a number on each hinge too and leave them inside the corresponding cabinet so they are installed in the exact same place for each door. I have run into instances where the hinges are adjustable or different sizes.

2. Clean the Cabinet Doors and Wall Boxes

Primer and paint don't bond well to a greasy surface. Painting over cabinet grease can lead to paint rub-off when cleaning them in the future. Greasy cabinets should be cleaned using a de-greaser or a de-glosser. Tri-sodium phosphate (TSP) can also be used to clean oak cabinets. I use a coarse scrubbing pad for cleaning, and a sanding sponge works well too.

Most of the cabinets I paint are already stained and coated with a protective finish, so I sand and use a de-glosser to prepare the wood. Klean Strip de-glosser works well, as well as Krud Kutter. Some cleaning agents claim to act as a liquid sander, but the oak should still be sanded thoroughly after the cleaning is done.

3. Sand the Cabinets

Use a random orbit sander to sand the cabinet doors and wall boxes. I use 150 grit sanding discs on my random orbit sander. I don't recommend using sandpaper that's too coarse as it can damage the wood. Using 150 grit works well for cabinet sanding without causing damage.

Sanding should be done before applying primer. Sanding the oak smooth allows the primer and paint to bond well to the surface. Remove sanding dust from the surface with a vacuum and a tack cloth.

4. Fill the Oak Grain With a Grain Filler

Oak is an open-grain wood with cracks and small holes everywhere. These cracks show through the paint unless a filler is used to smooth the surface. Some people like the grain to show, but if you want your cabinets to look as smooth as possible, using a filler is best.

Applying grain filler is easy. I use Aqua Coat filler to fill the grain in oak cabinets. This product is available in a clear gel version and a white paste version. Having used both, I find the white paste filler to perform better than the gel. I apply the filler with an expired credit card, working it into the wood pores in thin layers, sanding between coats.

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5. Prime Oak Cabinets With an Oil Primer

  • Using the right primer is really important when preparing oak cabinets for paint. Latex primer is a bad choice for priming stained cabinets because it's too soft, and it won't prevent wood tannin from bleeding into the top coat of paint, no matter how many coats of paint are applied. Latex primer can also raise the wood grain and form a rough texture that needs additional sanding. Oil primers like Cover Stain, seal wood, preventing tannin bleed, and dry hard. Another good option outside of oil primer is BIN shellac, also by Zinsser.
  • Wearing a respirator is a must when working with oil primer. The fumes are terrible and can make you sick without ventilation. If possible, apply primer outdoors.
  • The fastest way to apply primer and paint on cabinets is with a sprayer. I use a Graco airless sprayer with a fine finish spray tip for cabinets. If you prime the doors by hand, use a brush and a foam roller. I spray my cabinets, but if I'm rolling I use the flock foam roller from Sherwin Williams. The flock foam roller leaves a very fine texture on cabinet doors similar to a sprayed look, but not as fine.
  • One coat of oil primer on cabinets is usually adequate, but two coats is even better. Oil primer takes longer to dry, but can usually be painted in four to five hours, but I typically allow overnight drying before sanding again and painting.
  • Before painting, I recommend sanding the primed wood. Sanding the primed wood creates a super smooth finish and a stronger paint bond.
Oak cabinet doors sprayed white and drying

Oak cabinet doors sprayed white and drying

6. Spray the Cabinet Doors

Use an airless sprayer, or an HVLP sprayer, to paint the cabinet doors. Although spraying takes a little practice, the paint finish looks so much better than using a brush and a roller.

You can usually rent an airless sprayer from your local paint store. Graco and Titan are two airless sprayer brands that are very popular. I personally use a Graco 490. Practice on a piece of cardboard.

You can either spray the cabinet boxes or paint them by hand. Spraying the boxes looks better, but requires removal of everything inside, as well as masking of the cabinet openings with protective plastic.

Cabinet doors should be sprayed with two coats of semi-gloss paint on both sides. Most people wait for the wet side to dry, before flipping the door over to paint the other side, but the problem with this method is it takes way too long. The best and fastest alternative is to use a curved drying rack that allows you to paint both sides in one day, saving tons of time. That is what I use for all of my cabinet projects.

Another option is to attach hooks into the top of the doors and hang them on a rod for spraying, which allows both sides to be sprayed in one day. I prefer to spay doors horizontally on a flat surface.

Cabinet Paint Options

For cabinet painting, I switched from Pro Classic to Emerald Urethane enamel in the semi-gloss finish. This paint is more durable and dries harder than Pro Classic. I used that product for quite a while before I started using pre-catalyzed lacquer exclusively for a number of reasons.

For fans of Benjamin Moore, Impervo is another popular paint for cabinets, although I have no personal experience with it. Advance is another popular Benjamin Moore paint often used for cabinets, but Advance takes a long time to fully cure. When choosing a cabinet paint, it's important to choose a product that's durable and levels when applied.

Questions & Answers

Question: I always heard not to mix oil based and water based paints. The BIN is a shellac and the Pro Classic from SW is water based. Does this work?

Answer: Absolutely. You can apply most acrylic latex paints over BIN shellac.

Question: My oak cabinet has several coats of paste wax. I now want to paint it white. Do I need to remove the wax and if so, how will I do it? I have tried mineral spirits with steel wool but it is not helping.

Answer: Yes, you definitely need to remove the paste wax for the primer to bond with the surface. Mineral spirits should break down the wax, but it sounds like it isn't working for you. Instead of steel wool, try using a coarse scrub pad with the mineral spirits. You might also want to try lacquer thinner. Wear protective gloves when using either of them. Another option is a gel chemical stripper that you apply and allow to penetrate the surface for twenty minutes before scraping. After you remove the wax, clean the surface really good before you sand.

Question: My wife wants to replace the doors before painting the cabinets. Since they will be painted, I was planning on using something like birch for the doors to save money and using a filler on the Oak boxes to get rid of the grain. However, your article indicates that some of the grain will still show through. Would a second coat of filler virtually eliminate the grain or do I just need to suck it up and use oak for the new doors?

Answer: A second coat of filler is better than one, but how much grain shows also depends on your application method too. If you're rolling the primer and paint, the roller itself fills most of the grain, even without any filler, but some deeper grain cracks might remain, and the natural pattern of the oak will be more noticeable without one coat of filler. If you're spraying and not rolling, which is what I do, you can fill most of the grain by spraying the doors horizontally with BIN shellac primer. BIN is very thin and seeps into the grain nicely, filling most of the cracks. One coat of filler, two coats of BIN and two coats of paint is what I do and the doors come out very smooth with no open grain cracks showing. The most difficult cracks to get rid of on oak doors is the end grain on the door edges. You can hide the grain cracks on oak cabinets with filler, primer and paint, but it's very difficult to completely hide the grain pattern. It's important to understand the difference. To completely hide the grain pattern, you would have to apply multiple coats of filler, and even then it won't be one hundred percent gone. The cracks themselves are the most important to hide as they show through the paint, especially white, and look horrible if left open.

Question: How do I maintain an oak wood design if I paint the wood white?

Answer: If you're asking how to maintain the natural pattern of the oak you're painting white, you can preserve it by not using a grain filler. This will show more of the natural cracks and imperfections in the wood through the paint.

Question: Does sherwin Williams still sell the Sherwood filler? Do you have any other recommendations?

Answer: They do, but it usually has to be ordered. I recommend Aqua Coat grain filler over the Sherwood filler. That's what I use. The Sherwood filler is meant to be used on cabinets that will be sprayed with lacquer. It cannot be used under Shellac primer like BIN, according to my local Sherwin Williams. Aqua Coat can be used under oil primer and shellac BIN primer.

Question: Could I use an oil-based paint to paint cabinets?

Answer: Yes, you can, but the main disadvantage of oil-based paint is that it tends to yellow over time. This doesn't look good on cabinets painted white. The best alternative is to use either a quality acrylic paint on cabinets or one formulated with urethane to get the durability of oil paint without the yellowing problem.

Question: Do you need to sand between coats of coverstain primer or just after the second one? How long should I keep my kids out of the house after priming?

Answer: You should sand between coats and tack cloth the dust. This will give you a smooth finish. The paint will also stick better to the sanded primer. Cover Stain sands really easy into a fine powder once it's totally dry. The odor from oil-based primer lingers for seveal hours. It's hard to say how long, but opening windows and using a fan helps dry the primer a lot faster. That's one reason I use BIN shellac primer instead of Cover Stain. The primer dries in 45 minutes and the smell is gone in less than 2 hours with a window open. Oil primer dries slow and wreaks all day.

Question: Do you just clean and sand your oak caibnets? A lot of sources recommend using a stripper vs sand. What are your thoughts about that? Thanks

Answer: If you're referring to using liquid sandpaper, or deglosser, yes, you can use those. I clean and sand doors.

Question: When using oil-based primer on oak cabinets, is it better to roll the primer or spray it?

Answer: The application is easier with a sprayer, but for spraying primer on oak though, I recommend BIN shellac primer instead of oil. BIN is a lot thinner and fills the grain of oak much easier, even without using a grain filler. But with either primer, using even just one coat of grain filler before primer will make it a lot easier to cover the oak completely with the sprayer. You can, of course, roll the primer too, but this is going to create stippling texture, even using a foam roller. Spraying gives you a nice smooth finish, using the right paint and technique.

Question: How would you fix seams in wood? After painting white, there are visible cracks, vertical to where the pieces were pressed (glued?) together. Is there anything to correct the long cracks? I still need to do the second half of doors. Do you have any suggestions to prep so the seams do not show?

Answer: You can try caulking them with paintable caulk.

Question: I know you prefer BIN but we're rolling so we're using cover stain. Mine is from Home Depot and says that it is low VOC. Is the low VOC the same cover stain you used to use? Will the low VOC cover stain block bleedthrough on oak? It says oil based but there seem to be several cover stains that are low VOC, all which are available in my Home Depot. Also what white paint to you use most often with the emerald?

Answer: Yes, as long as you're using the oil based Cover Stain, the low VOC is the same. Oil primer will prevent bleed through on oak cabinets, but I recommend two coats. I've had bleed through happen in spots with only one, but never two. I use the Sherwin Williams color Snowbound a lot for cabinets.

Question: If I want the grain to show through for that rustic look, what step of this process do I leave out? Do I omit just step 4?

Answer: To show more of the natural grain, don't use any wood filler.

Question: I just had prefinished existing cabinets painted and unfinished cabinets painted. Both oak. The prefinished look great, the unfinished look don't look good at all, anywhere the grain is the paint is a different color and appears to have sucked into the wood. The painter assured me he sealed them with primer and sanded before coats and doesn't know what's wrong. How can we fix the issue on my brand new island?

Answer: The painter possibly didn't use an oil-based primer-sealer to seal the surface of the unfinished island cabinets. That allowed the tannin in the wood to bleed into the paint and change its color. If a water-based primer was used that would also raise the wood grain too and make it look and feel rough. The island would need to be sanded and primed with an oil-based primer, or white shellac primer. That will seal the surface of the wood and give you a smooth and consistent finish with the paint. The reason it didn't happen with the finished cabinets is because there was already a stain and clear coat finish on them and the sanding didn't go down to the bare wood. The unfinished cabinets are already bare wood and should have been primed correctly.

Question: Would you recommend 150 grit for sanding in between coats?

Answer: I use 220 grit between coats of primer and 320 if I need to sand between coats of paint. I use 150 grit for the initial sanding before priming.

Question: Do you apply a clear coat after painting? And if so, which clear coat do you recommend?

Answer: I actually don't apply a clear coat, but you can. However, my local paint store advised against clear coating the paint product I use. Check and make sure the paint you're using can be top coated with polyurethane. I'd use a water-based polyurethane. The paint should have time to cure before top coating.

Question: Does BIN shellac primer cover oak stain and prevent tannin bleed the same as the Cover stain primer?

Answer: Yes.

Question: My kitchen is brown, brown, brown - honey oak cabinets, dark hardwood floors, brown speckled-like granite and dark brown glass tile backsplash. What color should I paint the cabinets to lighten up the kitchen without changing anything else in the kitchen?

Answer: White. It's simple and timeless. White goes with any color. People also like white cabinets if you ever sell your house.

Question: What grit sanding disks are you using between apllications of Seal Coat, BIN Primer and Emerald Urethane?

Answer: With oak cabinets, I use 120 grit discs for the first sanding to remove the clear coat. For sanding coats of primer, I'll scuff sand with 3M detailing sanding sponges (220 grit). Those 3M sponges are angled and perfect for sanding into corners of cabinet doors. I stopped using an orbital sander to sand the primer because it tends to remove the primer from the edges of the doors. An orbital sander also leaves swirl marks in the primer, it's too aggressive.

Question: In another post, you recommend Drydex spackling for oak cabinets. Do you recommend wood filler then oil primer or spackling then oil primer?

Answer: I've used DryDex spackling to fill the grain in oak cabinets without any problems, but I actually recommend using Aqua Coat grain filler instead because it dries hard inside the grain for durability. I've done it both ways, but now I prime first, fill with Aqua Coat and sand, then prime the second coat to seal in the filler. I find it easier to prime first because the primer alone fills some of the shallow grain cracks and exposes only the deeper cracks that need filler. This is easier than skim coating and sanding the entire surface of the cabinets. Using filler over the white primer does make it harder to see where the filler is for sanding purposes, but what I do is stick a piece of tape next to the areas I fill. You can also look at the doors at an angle and see the filler spots.

Question: Can the BIN shellac primer be sprayed since it is flammable?

Answer: Yes, of course. Open the windows in the room you're spraying in and the fumes are gone in about twenty minutes. With the windows open, the fumes never have a chance to build up. The fumes and odor are gone quickly.

Question: You stated your painted cabinets in gray, what color did you use and was it Sherman Williams? Do you recommend one from Benjamin Moore?

Answer: I painted cabinets gray once with the Sherwin Williams color Dovetail Gray. I'm not too familiar with Benjamin Moore colors. I've used their paint, but I use Sherwin Williams products the most.

Question: I have pickled oak cabinets that I painted white with and oil based paint and then glazed them with a tea stain. It's time to update the cabinets again and I want to paint just plain white. I plan to use a filler this time to minimize any grain that still shows. If I use the Sherwood filler, do I still need to use the Bin Shellac prior to painting?

Answer: You didn't mention if the cabinets were primed before painting them with the oil based paint. I believe the Sherwood grain filler is oil-based and that would a good option for filling the grain on your oil painted cabinets. I would fill the wood grain first and then prime the cabinets with oil primer. That will seal the filler, glaze, and help the grain pattern blend in with the paint so you don't see any flashing or an uneven finish. Don't use BIN primer.

Question: Do you degloss and sand both sides of cabinet doors? Is it ok to roll BIN?

Answer: Yes, both sides. You can roll BIN, but it's messy to brush and roll. You need to make sure the floor and everything is protected. I spray BIN. It's very thin and lays out nice on cabinet doors when sprayed.

Question: What is your opinion on using white laquer on oak cabinets vs paint?

Answer: While I've never used it, I know that white pigmented lacquer is durable for use on cabinets, but requires an HVLP sprayer for application. Lacquer dries super fast, but it's also very flammable and smells horrible. This is something to consider if you're sensitive to chemical odor. Product availability is another consideration. In my area, white lacquer is special order. I can't go down to my local Sherwin Williams store and buy a gallon for mixing on the spot.

Question: How would you paint oak veneer cabinets?

Answer: I've painted many oak veneer cabinets. The smooth profile looks nice spray painted white. You would prep and paint oak veneer using the tips and process outlined in my cabinet painting articles. Clean, sand, prime, and paint. Use oil-based primer, or white shellac primer, on the cabinets.

Question: In the middle of redoing our bathroom oak cabinets sprayed the cabinet parts with the BIN shellac today-2 coats. Once they’re dry, what grit sandpaper do you recommend to sand at this step? And what grit in between coats of paint?

Answer: Use 220-grit between prime coats and 320-grit between coats of paint. If you're applying the second coat of paint the next day, you don't have to sand between coats of paint unless there's something stuck in the paint, or it's rough. The angled sandpaper sponges work great.

Question: I have oak cabinets with gloss finish and some is worn off. What’s the best primer to use?

Answer: Either oil-based primer, or shellac-based primer, is best for priming oak cabinets. Apply two coats.

© 2017 Matt G.


Matt G. (author) from United States on July 01, 2020:

The hinges are new and adjustable so it should be fine. You can adjust the hinges if needed. Thank you for the compliment. It's always nice to hear feedback from my readers that my articles have helped them with their painting projects. Cover Stain oil primer is a good choice for cabinets. I've never used Stix primer. Thanks again for the feedback.

JP from Bmore on July 01, 2020:

Hey Matt. Good read, thx. I will be changing hinges on our kitchen cabinets from traditional to hidden. While I was away last weekend, my wife decided to help me out and take the doors off. She didn't number or mark them in any way. Am I screwed? Thinking since new hinges have multiple adjustments that I should be OK without putting same door in the same hole. Thoughts?


PS, Painted my fireplace a couple of weeks ago using tips from your article. Turned out beter then I expected. Used Stix primer instead of Cover Stain. Will be using Cover Stain for the kitchen for obvious reasons :)

Matt G. (author) from United States on June 21, 2020:

I would rent a professional Graco/Titan sprayer from a paint store, or from an equipment rental shop. It's faster to spray and it looks smoother when done right. You can brush and roll the primer and spray the enamel too, and that would still save time, but then you'll have a textured look from the prime coat showing through the gloss of the smooth enamel. If it were me, I'd want all of the coats to look as smooth as possible.

StaceyLP on June 20, 2020:

Thanks for the response re cabinet color and grain. Will definitely be going with white!

Another question for you - I'm DIY'ing, so planning to use a graco magnum x5 sprayer. I saw that BIN shellac can't be used with that sprayer since it's flammable. If I roll/brush the BIN shellac coats and spray the SW emerald urethane (thinking semi-gloss), will I still have a smooth finish? Or should I plan on renting a pro-level sprayer to do the BIN shellac part of my project? Thanks for the help!

Matt G. (author) from United States on June 17, 2020:

Dark colors tend to show more of the wood grain and surface imperfections. Touchups don't blend in as good. And similar to having dark colored appliances like black, smear marks and fingerprints will become more visible. These things are less noticeable with white paint.

StaceyLP on June 16, 2020:

Planning to paint our oak cabinets and trying to get rid of the grain as much as possible. I'm still deciding on color. If I do a dark lower (ie navy or dark green) and a white upper, will the grain be more visible in dark vs light colors (or vice versa)? Also considering a medium grey for the lowers.


Matt G. (author) from United States on May 05, 2020:

Oil primer takes longer to dry than shellac primer (BIN) and latex primer, but Cover Stain should be totally dry and not tacky the next day. If you apply oil primer too heavy it will take a lot longer to dry. This could be the reason. If it's cold in the room too this could be another reason. Cold air slows the dry time. I would leave it alone and let it dry before sanding. Once it's totally dry it sands really nice.

mark on May 05, 2020:

i sanded my oak kitchen cabinets doors with 220 grit smooth a few days ago. yesterday i painted all interior sides of them with zinsser oil base cover stain primer with a brush and foam roller.24 hours later i went to sand and some feel a tad tacky,also they have like that enamel finish feel to them, is this normal. what should I do next?

Kathy on February 22, 2020:

I would like to repaint our oak cabinets that currently have black latex paint with Benjamin Moore advance. The grain preciously was not filled but I would like to do so this time but unsure if I can fill over the current paint and then unsure which primer to use over The latex. Thanks

Matt G. on October 24, 2019:

The person that told you that is wrong. You can absolutely use oil-based primer under Emerald to prime bare wood cabinets. Oil-based primer is excellent for priming cabinets. I use BIN shellac primer on cabinets because it dries a lot faster than oil and the odor goes away really fast with windows open. The smell doesn't linger for hours. The Extreme Bond primer you're referring to is a bonding primer, not a primer sealer, so if the cabinets are bare and unpainted, this primer won't seal the wood to prevent bleed through. Don't use it on your cabinets. Prime them with oil primer (cover stain primer and pro block are both good) or BIN shellac primer.

Rachel H on October 24, 2019:

I was told that using an oil based primer underneath SW Emerald paint that you use could cause separation down the road. Was I misled? SW is recommending I use their extreme latex bond primer so I don’t suffocate with the shellac primer and said I shouldn’t use an oil primer under it. But you seem to be saying that is what you do. What should I do?

Matt G. (author) from United States on October 16, 2019:

Don't use a 212 tip. The larger orifice throws too much material onto the surface. I recommend either a 210, or a 208 tip. I used a 210 for a long time, but I've started using a 208 with better results. Coating thickness with the 208 is easier to control and the smaller orifice helps atomize material better. I use the same tip for BIN primer and the enamel. I use two different airless sprayers now, so I have dedicated pumps for paint and primer.

BIN would spray well through an HVLP without any thinning, but because it holds less material, you'll have to keep stopping to add more primer if you're spraying cabinet doors. You still have to take everything apart and clean the gun thoroughly.

BIN sprays really nice through an airless, using the tip sizes I recommended. I like it because I can mix a couple gallons of primer together and work out of one container with my airless.

There's a few things you must do when spraying BIN through an airless to avoid problems. You need a dedicated sprayer to avoid a cleanup nightmare at the end. This is really important. You absolutely must strain the primer first and keep the top of the can sealed with plastic while spraying.

For cleanup, run a heavy mix of ammonia/water through the pump and gun it leave it in the sprayer. Clean the filters thoroughly. The filters get chunky during cleanup, it's inevitable, but cleanup is easy by soaking them in ammonia, or denatured alcohol, and use the filter cleaning tool that came with your sprayer. I run 3 to 4 gallons of ammonia water through my sprayer at the end.

Andy Mortensen from Maine on October 16, 2019:

Hi Matt,

Thanks for all the great info! I have a Graco Magnum X7 sprayer and have a question about the tips you use...

Do you use size 210/212 for spraying both the Bin primer and Emerald Urethane.

I was considering purchasing a Central Pneumatic HLVP for spraying the Bin as it seems Bin cleanup might be a challenge in the Graco and I can use it on other projects. Any insight on spraying Bin with a HLVP?

Thanks a lot


Matt G. (author) from United States on August 07, 2019:

The caulking should be done after you sand the filler and before priming. If you caulk before applying the filler the caulk can get damaged. I caulk before priming so the primer seals it, but it's not a big deal if you caulk after the primer. The two coats of paint over the caulk will cover it fine. Make sure you use white paintable caulk. I use the Quick Dry caulk in the green tube from Sherwin Williams.

AH5 on August 06, 2019:

Thank you!

What about caulking?? Should I caulk before priming? Or am I already too late? Was I supposed to do it before wood filler?

Matt G. (author) from United States on August 05, 2019:

Sand off all of the filler so it's only left inside the grain. When you apply the filler, apply it in thin layers like a skim coat so it's easy to sand. The surface should be smooth to the touch after sanding. You can wipe off the sanding dust with a tack cloth.

AH5 on August 05, 2019:

Thank you so much for your reply! One more question about the filler – what should the door feel/look like after sanding The filler? I’m nervous my coats are too thick and I’ll be leaving too much product on the door. My husband is having a hard time wrapping his head around this part of the process ha ha

Matt G. (author) from United States on August 05, 2019:

The steps that you outlined are correct, but make sure you rinse off the Krud Kutter and Klean Strip to prevent fish eye with the primer and paint. I haven't used the Pro Industrial product you're referring to. I use the Emerald urethane with good results.

AH5 on August 03, 2019:

I’d REALLY appreciate if you could verify (reassure and calm my nerves) the method I’ve planned out for my cabinets:

-Scrub with krud kutter

-Wipe down with klean strip sander de-glosser

-apply grain filler

-sand/ remove dust

-prime with shellac BIN (I’m too nervous to spray in the house! Ive never masked anything off that intensely before!) So We’re going to do our best rolling

- sand/remove dust


-spray paint in spray tent

-lightly sand/remove dust

-spray paint

Let cure for ~7 days

Did I miss anything?!? I’m so nervous to start!

** Also, do you have any tips on using Sherwin Williams Pro Industrial waterbased alkyd urethane?? The SW rep told me it was as good/better than the emerald you’re suggesting. (I’m hoping it’s at least good, because it was a pretty penny!)

Matt G. (author) from United States on June 14, 2019:


You don't have to fill the grain if you want to see the cracks and grain more. Brushing and rolling the cabinets will work the primer into the grain like filler would, but some cracks will remain.

Ali on June 13, 2019:

Thanks so much!

One more question, when painting oak, I don’t HAVE to fill the grain with a filler, prior to the BIN, if I don’t want to, correct? If I want to keep the shape of the grain.

Matt G. (author) from United States on June 13, 2019:

Unfortunately, the latex primer should be removed through sanding and stripping. Basically start over. You want to start with a solid foundation and that starts with using the right primer.

Ali on June 13, 2019:

You’re article is super helpful. Unfortunately I primed my oak cabs with a water-based kilz and it hasn’t covered the bleed through (not shocking, now) There are three coats (!!) of it. Can I apply the BIN Zinsser over this, without having to remove the three coats of primer?

Matt G. (author) from United States on June 01, 2019:

You can, but the cabinets need to be cleaned, sanded and primed first.

Matt G. (author) from United States on June 01, 2019:

I've honestly never used either of the products you mentioned. I primarily do cabinet painting.

Dwight Brown on June 01, 2019:

We have cabinets that have been sprayed with stain and polyurethane was applied and it looks horrible. Can we pai t over the stain?

Melissa DeL on May 30, 2019:

Thank you so much for your advice. There are so many options out there. A friend recently used Minwax gel stain instead of painting and another used MW Polyshades & was happy. Going to test paint and these stains. Dark cabinets now and we are going with black. Cabinets are not oak. We need a glossy finish. If you have thoughts on either Minwax option I would appreciate your input. Thanks again for taking the time to respond. It's nice to have advice from someone with solid experience!

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


The store employee (salesman) gave you bad advice about the primer. Extreme Bond Primer is a good product, but not for priming stained, unpainted wood cabinets. The primer is latex and it won't seal the wood to prevent tannin from bleeding into your paint. If your cabinets are oak, you're likely to get tannin bleed using latex primer, which looks horrible if you're painting them white. Use oil-based primer (Cover Stain), or shellac primer (BIN) and you won't have any issues. Solvent primer dries harder than latex too. The store was right about using TSP for cleaning, but I like the product Gloss Off by Krud Kutter. Clean the cabinets, sand, caulk, prime and paint, two coats each. If your cabinets are oak, apply grain filler first.

Melissa DeL on May 29, 2019:

Thanks for your info. About to paint very old grimy kitchen cabinets stained wood. Purchased S/W Emerald Urethane Trim Enamel based on this thread. S/W recommended their Extreme Bond Primer. Also recommended TSP PF to clean them. Was wondering your thoughts on this primer and cleaner/degreaser. They also said after cleaning, lightly sand to rough up wood. Your thoughts are appreciated!

Matt G. (author) from United States on September 08, 2018:


The process for prepping and painting laminate cabinet boxes is similar to oak cabinets, except no grain filler is needed. Laminate should be cleaned, sanded, primed, and painted. A good brush to use is the Purdy XL in either the 2-inch or 2 1/2-inch size. If you don't want to spray, the flock foam roller from Sherwin Williams is good, or a regular foam roller. The foam roller minimizes stippling.

Dean M. on September 02, 2018:

Thanks for the great directions. What do you do for cleaning,priming, and painting of laminate cabinet boxes? Do you use the same products as for the oak doors? Also, I really don't want to plastic-off my entire kitchen to spray the cabinet boxes - what brush or roller would you recommend? Thanks.

Matt G. (author) from United States on August 23, 2018:


I'd check with your Benjamin Moore dealer. I've never used Advance so I'm not sure if it's compatible with BIN, but it would probably be fine. I always call first and ask when using new products. BIN shellac primer is a good choice. Zinsser Cover Stain is good too for cabinets if you don't end up using BIN.

krobey on August 22, 2018:

Thanks for your article. I have read many and this helps a lot. Question, I am painting my 18 year old ugly honey colored OAK cabinets with Benjamin Moore Advance paint in white.

Do you know if Zinsser B-I-N Interior Multi-purpose Shellac Primer is compatible with the BM Advance?


kabentley on March 04, 2018:

Thank you Matt for your assistance once again!! I was just confused as many have said use oil base to cover the tannin bleed from oak and would recommend BIN. All this time I thought it was an oil based primer until I went to make the purchase. I just used the BIN and it went on very nicely. Regarding the Aqua Coat - the only place I had any crackling was in the crevices between the inset and the panel. Seems to prevent that I would have to make sure no Aqua Coat piled up in these crevices. The crackling affect is now covered with caulk - so guess I'm good. Appreciate your time and advise!

Matt G. (author) from United States on March 03, 2018:

BIN is a shellac based primer. Cover Stain is oil based primer. Either one is fine for cabinets, but I like BIN because it levels really nice over grain when spraying and dries faster. I haven't had any problems with Aqua Coat cracking. I apply two thin coats with a credit card and sand lightly before priming. I use Quick Dry caulk (green tube) from Sherwin Williams.

kabentley on March 03, 2018:

I'm back with more questions :) Above you state to use a OIL primer brand Zinsser BIN primer. I purchased Zinsser BIN Ultimate Stain Blocker primer. Home Depot said that was NOT oil based and if I wanted to keep the tannin from coming through I needed Zinsser "Cover Stain" which IS oil based. Confused - you and many others have recommended BIN and have referred to it as oil based? Next problem/question - I have used the Aqua Coat to float the wood grain - it is a very awesome product and has done an amazing job. One problem - in the "crack" where the inset is in the door panel - the Aqua Coat dried clear but crusty and crackled - I used very thin coats but the filler that got up into the crack did not turn out so well. I know I will be caulking next - but this crusty crackle bugs me. Any advise? What type/brand paintable caulk would you recommend for the cabinets?

Matt G. (author) from United States on February 26, 2018:

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

Mary on February 25, 2018:

Appreciate the detailed article. Having the information will be a big help in defining the steps I will expect to be followed by my contractor,

Matt G. (author) from United States on February 16, 2018:

I would clean, sand, fill, prime, paint. If you brush them, the Purdy XL Dale in the 2" or 2 1/2" inch size is good.

Jolene on February 15, 2018:

Thanks for the great info. Best article I've found yet!

We have oak cabinets that were originally a honey/Orange-ish color with a satin top coat. They were then lightly sanded and a dark stain was put on. However, a clear coat was never applied after the stain. Do you still recommend using a de-glosser and sanding or can we clean, fill and prime. Also, I'm not sure that attempting to use a sprayer might not end in a huge mess for us so wondering if there is any special brush you would recommended for the best finish?

Matt G. (author) from United States on February 12, 2018:

I use a the green fine finish tips. Size 210 or 212.

ncharette on February 12, 2018:

Thank you for your your very informative article. With your Graco airless sprayer, what Graco fine finish tip size do you recommend for Zin BIN primer and what tip size do you recommend for the Sherwin Williams paint?

It appears you maybe using a RAC X SwitchTip. I am looking at looking at purchasing the Graco Pro210ES which uses the RAC IV SwitchTip.

Matt G. (author) from United States on February 09, 2018:

No problem. I'm glad you found it helpful. Best wishes on your painting project.

kabentley on February 09, 2018:

Thank you so very much Matt! Deeply appreciate your time and sharing your talent!

Matt G. (author) from United States on February 09, 2018:

Fill the grain after sanding, not before, otherwise the sander will break down the filler and open the grain again. Then you would end up having to fill it all over again.

When sanding, you don't have to sand aggressively down to bare wood, just enough to remove gloss and dull the wood so it isn't smooth anymore.

Clean, sand, tack cloth the dust, fill grain, caulk, prime, paint. You also need to sand the grain filler very lightly once it dries to smooth out any bumps or ridges from the Aqua Coat. 220-grit sandpaper is fine for this and won't break down the filler with a light sanding.

Kabentley on February 09, 2018:

I apologize - i do have one more question (watched so many different videos) now I’m confused which is best. Watched your technique on how to apply aqua wood filler but a little confused on the preparation process prior to the wood filler. Have old stained/sealed oak cabinets. Do I 1) apply aqua Wood filler directly onto unsanded stain and sealed cabinets 2) sand, prime then wood filler or 3) sand to raw wood and add wood filler? (Please don’t be option 3). :). I have a very large kitchen with tons of cabinets - prepared to put in a bazillion hours.

Matt G. (author) from United States on February 08, 2018:

You can use a rag to work the filler into the grain on rounded corners. For the grain filler itself, I recommend Aqua Coat over Sherwood. Since writing the article, I switched and it works better for me. I haven't applied poly over ProClassic acrylic. My local SW store actually advised against it when I inquired about that once. The paint finish alone is durable when prepped correctly.

kabentley on February 08, 2018:

Thank you for the article! Question regarding filling the grain on oak cabinets - if you have fluted corners on all cabinets and decorative insets in the door panels - how do you use a filler to smooth out the grain in those type areas - too narrow or decorative to smooth grain with plastic spreader? Also, using the SW Pro Classic waterbase acrylic - do you finish with any polyurethane on kitchen cabinets?

Matt G. (author) from United States on August 28, 2017:

Sherwood grain filler from Sherwin Williams works well. Apply the filler against the grain, using a rag or a plastic body filler spreader. After the filler dries, buff the surface to remove the leftover residue.

Mimiberry on August 27, 2017:

Thank you so much for this detailed article. I'm about to paint our honey oak kitchen cabinets SW Alabaster, and I don't want the grain to show. Do you suggest a wood grain filler or other product or technique? Thanks in advance for your help.

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