Matt is a professional painter and freelance writer, sharing his knowledge, house-painting tips, and product reviews.
Painting Cabinet Frames Sucks Without a Sprayer
Maybe you've decided to paint your cabinet doors with a sprayer, but you can't decide whether to spray the frames too, or use a brush. No doubt, spray painting cabinet frames is more challenging than spraying doors. Cabinet doors can be removed easily and sprayed horizontally in a garage, or even outdoors, but with the frames, you're forced to paint them inside your kitchen.
The thought of spraying paint indoors near appliances and countertops probably sounds scary, but it's actually quite easy once you understand how to prepare the kitchen correctly, and the sprayed finish is noticeably smoother. If you brush and roll the frames and spray the doors, you will end up with two different finishes too. Use a sprayer for both.
Another huge reason to spray paint the frames is the time you'll save not having to tediously apply coat after coat by hand. If you're painting stained cabinets white, this process takes forever. Spraying allows you to apply thicker coats in half the time it takes using a brush. I can't imagine doing my projects without my sprayer.
In this article, I'll show you how to spray paint your cabinet frames like a professional.
Cover the Kitchen Floor
The first thing I do when I arrive at my clients home to start a new cabinet project is I cover their kitchen floor with a leak-proof protector. If you have hardwood floors, always cover the surface before cleaning and removing the doors.
Don't Use Red Rosin Paper
Most painters use Red Rosin paper because it's inexpensive and easy to work with, but it tears easily, especially when exposed to water, or even heavy foot traffic. I found myself having to constantly repair tears when I used it in the past. The paper is also very thin and doesn't protect the floor much other than paint and over-spray.
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. The material is thick like cardboard for better protection. I don't have to worry about damaging my clients floor if I drop a screw driver or knock over a paint can. Cover your floors with the protector 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 Doors and Drawers
The cabinet doors must be detached from the frames and spray painted in a space separate from the kitchen. The drawer fronts should also be removed and sprayed with the doors. These usually detach from the drawer itself simply by removing a few 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 cabinet prep and 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, the openings must be covered with plastic to keep out the over-spray. I always have my clients empty their cabinets before I mask and spray them. Another option is to simply spray the inside too instead of covering the openings with plastic, but keep in mind you will have to clean and sand the whole inside and spray all of the shelves too, and additional primer and paint will be needed.
My best piece of advice for masking cabinet frames is to use the 3M hand masker with the rolls of 3M masking film and painter's tape. My kitchen preparation would take a lot longer without this tool. I use the 3M masker to cover the door openings, walls, appliances, windows and countertops. It is one of my most important paint prep tools.
I wrote a detailed article that covers my entire process on how I mask cabinets for spray painting, including the best plastic sizes to use and the appropriate masking tape. Everything in your kitchen not being sprayed must be covered. The best part about masking is when it's done right, you can spray each coat of your primer and paint quickly without worrying about damaging anything.
Clean and Sand the Frames
Cleaning cabinets before painting is a step to never overlook. Unless the frames are really greasy, clean them with Dawn dish soap, or a woodwork cleaner like boxed Dirtex powder, not the stuff in the spray can. I don't like using abrasive cleaners unless necessary. Regardless of the cleaner you use, be sure to rinse the surface with clean water to get rid of residue that can cause problems when painting.
Filling the Grain
Are your cabinets oak? If so, fill your frames after cleaning, but before sanding. When you sand the filler, the existing gloss on the surface will be sanded and dulled from that alone. If you sand before filling the grain, you'll end up sanding twice. Apply multiple coats of grain filler like Aqua Coat, or drywall joint compound, which is what I use.
Check the frames, especially the base cabinets, for dings and cracks that need patching. Repair damage with Bondo Wood Filler and caulk between wood pieces with flexible caulk. Sand the frames with 220-grit sandpaper.
Set Up Your Airless Sprayer and Spray the Frames
If you don't own an airless sprayer and you don't want to buy one outright, you can rent a professional model for your project. 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, I highly recommend brands like Graco and 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 a gallon of paint. I've used this sprayer for well over twenty cabinet projects without any problems whatsoever. If you're looking to buy an airless sprayer don't go with the cheapest one. You get what you pay for.
Spray Tip Sizing for Cabinet Frames
The best spray tip size really depends on the thickness of the primer and paint you're spraying onto the frames. I recommend using acrylic enamel like Pro Classic from Sherwin Williams, or their Emerald urethane enamel. Enamel is the easiest to spray vertically because it's thicker and doesn't run as easily as milky coatings like lacquer.
If you're using enamel, spray your primer and top coats using a 310 tip. I would avoid using a 312 tip because the larger orifice is more likely to cause paint runs if you don't move the spray gun fast enough. The 310 tip is great because this size works for many different applications, including doors and trim. I'm a big fan of the green 310 FFLP tips from Graco. I can spray multiple kitchens with the same tip before I need to replace it.
Spray the Primer and Paint
Stained cabinet frames need to be primed correctly before painting them. Don't make the classic mistake of using latex primer over unpainted wood cabinets. Once you've made sure your masking is good to go, 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. This primer also sprays really nice.
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 pressure greater than that. For enamel, which is a lot thicker, 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. I recommend practicing on some scrap wood before pulling the trigger on your frames.
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.