Matt is a professional painter who owns and operates his own painting business, specializing in interior and exterior house painting.
Painting Cabinet Frames Without a Sprayer
Maybe you've decided to paint your cabinet doors with a sprayer, but you're debating on whether or not to spray the frames too, or use a brush. Vertically spray painting kitchen cabinets is more challenging than spraying doors. The doors can be removed and conveniently sprayed on a flat surface outdoors, or in a garage, but because cabinet wall boxes usually can't be removed easily, you're forced to paint them inside your kitchen.
Many painters and DIYers are scared to use a sprayer to paint cabinet wall boxes out of fear of damaging appliances and countertops, but it's actually quite easy once you understand how to prepare the kitchen correctly by masking appliances and floors.
Spray painting kitchen cabinets saves an incredible amount of time not having to tediously apply coat after coat by hand. Spraying allows you to apply thicker coats in half the time it would take using a brush. You also end up having a nice smooth finish on both the doors and the frames instead of one area looking different because a brush and roller was used.
In this article, I'll show you how I spray paint cabinet frames using an airless sprayer.
Masking Floors for Kitchen Cabinet Painting
The first thing I do when I arrive on the job site is cover the kitchen floor with a leak-proof protector. These are sold in large rolls that you can cut to size to fit your kitchen floor. They protect your kitchen floor from scratches and damage from cleaning chemicals and over-spray.
Don't Use Red Rosin Paper
Most painters use Red Rosin paper to cover floors, but I don't like it because it tears easily, especially when exposed to water and heavy foot-traffic. I found myself having to constantly cover holes with tape when I used it in the past. The paper is also very thin and doesn't protect the floor as good as the thicker material I use.
The floor protector I use for all of my cabinet projects is X-board from Trimaco. The material is leak-proof and does not tear easily. The material is thick like cardboard for better protection. Cover your kitchen floors with X-board and tape the edges up to the bottom of your base cabinets. Use a razor knife to carefully cut the material to the size that fits your floor.
Remove the Cabinet Doors and Drawers
In order to spray paint kitchen cabinet frames, you have to remove the doors and drawer fronts and spray those in a separate space. The drawer fronts easily detach from the drawer simply by removing Phillips screws inside. After removing the drawer fronts, lift each drawer out of the slides and label them along with each door.
This articles covers spray painting cabinet frames only, but check out my other article about spray painting cabinet doors for more in-depth tips on that. I have multiple articles that cover kitchen cabinet prep and spray painting.
When detaching the doors from the frames, remove the bottom and middle screws first, with one hand under the door for support. If the doors are solid oak, have someone assist you with taking them down. Large oak doors are heavy and can come crashing down if you lose your grip.
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Mask the Frames and Appliances
Unless you're painting the inside of your cabinets too, the openings should always be covered with plastic to keep out paint over-spray. I always have my customers empty their cabinets before I mask and spray paint them. Another option is to spray the interior too, but keep in mind that requires more time and material to prep and spray the whole inside of the cabinets.
The single most important time-saving tool to use for kitchen cabinet painting is the 3M hand masker along with the rolls of masking film and painter's tape. I use this tool for all of my painting projects to cover cabinet openings, kitchen walls and ceilings, appliances, windows, floors and countertops. I highly recommend using a hand masker for your painting projects, especially spray painting.
I wrote a detailed article that covers my entire process on how I mask cabinets for spray painting, including the best plastic sizing to use and the appropriate masking tape. Everything in your kitchen not being sprayed must be covered in advance. The best part about masking is when it's done right, you only have to do it once, and you can spray each coat of your primer and paint quickly without worrying about damaging anything.
Cleaning and Sanding Cabinet Frames for Painting
Cleaning cabinets before painting is a step to never skip because paint doesn't stick to grease. One common cleaner that's worked well for me is Dawn dish soap, but Dirtex powder cleaner and Krud Kutter Original are the two I use the most. Krud Kutter works great for really greasy cabinets. Rinse the cabinet frames with clean water to get rid of residue that can cause problems when painting.
Filling the Grain
If your cabinets are made of oak, use grain filler on the frames before sanding. Grain filler will reduce the natural surface texture so it doesn't show through the paint as much. Apply multiple coats of the white grain filler from Aqua Coat, or use drywall joint compound. I've used both, but drywall joint compound works really well on doors and frames, but the main disadvantage is it produces a lot of dust when sanded. Aqua Coat does not.
Check your cabinet frames for damaged areas that need patching. Repair damaged areas with Bondo Wood Filler and caulk gaps in the frames with flexible caulk. Sand the frames with 220-grit sandpaper.
Set Up Your Airless Sprayer and Spray the Frames
If you don't already own an airless sprayer and you don't want to buy one outright, you can usually rent them from paint and home improvement stores at a reasonable rental rate. I wrote an article addressing the pros and cons of renting a paint sprayer and how to choose the right one.
Whether you're buying or renting a sprayer for your cabinet painting project, I recommend going with quality brands like Graco or Titan. I own three Graco sprayers and one Titan. I use the Graco GX-19 FinishPro for all of my cabinet projects. It's an airless sprayer with an on-board hopper that holds a little over one gallon of paint. I've used this sprayer for multiple cabinet projects without any problems whatsoever. If you're looking to buy an airless sprayer, don't go with the cheapest sprayer in the store. You do get what you pay for.
Spray Tip Sizing for Cabinet Frames
The best spray tip for kitchen cabinet painting depends on the thickness of the primer and paint you're spraying. I recommend using acrylic enamel like Pro Classic from Sherwin Williams, or Emerald urethane enamel. Enamel is the easiest to spray vertically on frames because it's thicker and doesn't run as easily as milk-thin coatings like lacquer. It is also more durable than basic latex paint.
If you're spraying enamel, spray your primer and top coats using a 310 tip. This is my go-to tip size because it's versatile and can be used for many different paints and applications. I'm a big fan of the green 310 FFLP tips from Graco and use them for most of my spray painting projects. I can spray multiple kitchen cabinets with the same tip before I need to replace it.
Spraying Cabinet Frames with Primer and Paint
Unpainted cabinets need to be primed correctly before painting them. Don't make the classic mistake of using latex primer over unpainted wood cabinets. After carefully masking everything, spray two coats of a solvent-based primer, sanding between coats. My recommendation is BIN shellac primer, or oil-based primer. I prefer BIN for the quick dry time. The primer also sprays really nice without orange peel texture.
The best pressure setting for BIN primer is 1,500 to 1,800 PSI. The primer is very thin and doesn't need to be sprayed at an extreme pressure. For enamel, which is a lot thicker than BIN primer, adjust your pressure to 2,000 to 2,200 PSI. Spray two coats each of primer and paint. Always spray cabinet frames in one direction, top to bottom, at a steady pace. Do not overlap the spray fan more than a couple times or the paint will run. I recommend practicing on a piece of cardboard before pulling the trigger on your kitchen cabinets.
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.
© 2021 Matt G.