Decor Disputes: Can You Really Make Over Kitchen Cabinets in a Weekend?

Cabinet Refinishing By Signet Painting

You know all those weekend makeovers in blog land of painted kitchen cabinets? They look great after, right? I'm wondering if  they might look better from a distance than they do close up. Here's why: They were done in a weekend. That's two days. If you'd suggest such a timetable to a

painting professional, I'm guessing you'd get a hearty guffaw, and it wouldn't necessarily be because they're trying to dissuade you from attempting a DIY job. No. My guess is because they know better.

Our expert Capree explains how to paint kitchen cabinets. Here's the Cliffs Notes version of the how-to: Clean, machine sand, hand sand, dust, wipe down, prime, sand, wipe down, apply one coat of semi-gloss paint, apply second coat of semi-gloss paint, apply coat of water-based polyurethane, sand, apply second coat of polyurethane. 

Does that sound like something that can get done in two days? How about if you include drying time? No. And speaking of drying time, although latex dries faster than oil-base enamel, it has a longer cure time. You know what that means. Those quick makeovers might not looks so hot in a week or two after use because the paint simply didn't have enough time to cure. 

Cabinet Refinishing By Signet Painting

So, sure, these quick makeovers look great in pictures, but I'm thinking they might set others up for a disappointing outcome. In the case of painting kitchen cabs, which get a considerable amount of abuse, it might be best to follow a pro's advice and not the weekend DIY warrior.

What has your experience been with quick cabinet paint jobs? Have they done the job of hiding unattractive cabinets or did they make an unfortunate situation worse?

(All the photos used in this post were from pro cabinet refinishers, Signet Painting.)

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Miriam on Apr 07, 2014:

I'm quietly chuckling because I'm almost done stripping and re-doing my kitchen cabinets and it's literally taken me months! I did everything in small batches, I work full time and a weekend is simply NOT enough! Did I learn the hard way! lol, I loved the process though! Unless you have a huge team with knowledge and patience, maybe it's possible, but not really, like you said everything needs time to properly dry, etc.

Erin on Oct 08, 2013:

The guy who flipped our house did a weekend job.  They're all peeling and look awful. We're going to two then a few at a time as we add molding to them to dress them up a little bit as well. 

Michael on Dec 05, 2012:

I am using latex paint over oil baced paint in my whole kitchen - how long should I wait before I begin to put items back in the kitchen, esp. in the kitchen cabinets? and how long will it take to cure? Thank you for your help.

Honey924 on Mar 14, 2012:

When I painted our laminate kitchen cabinets, the cleaning alone took two days (the previous owners loved oily foods, apparently). Sanding, vacuuming & wiping down, attaching molding, applying two coats of primer, three coats of paint, and three coats of polyurethane took about four days (and that doesn't include the doors since I had to remodel those).

It has been nearly two years since I finished them, and we do not have any chips or scratches at all. Going a week with limited use of the kitchen was a pain, but it was worth it.

Keter on Mar 13, 2012:

9.  When you are done painting, keep everyone out of the kitchen until the following Wednesday.  You can make do with an ice chest, crock pot and a toaster oven set up in another room.

10. Wednesday evening, re-line any cabinets that need it with shelf paper or laminate.

11. Thursday evening, put the hardware back on and re-hang the cabinet doors.  Finish any clean up and touch up that needs to be done.  You can start moving things back where they belong.  Continue to keep the kids and pets out as much as possible - the enamel takes about a week to fully harden.

Good luck and hope your results were as good as mine.  Remember that the quality of results you get out is equal to the quality of effort and materials you put in.  :)

Keter on Mar 13, 2012:

5.  If you are refinishing the hardware, spray paint it now.  It will probably take 2 coats and needs more drying time than the primer.  I like the Hammered Metal finishes - they are super durable.  I've also used High Temperature Black (grill paint) on non-kitchen hardware it it is also attractive and durable.

If you start prep on Friday evening, you can be completely done with all of this by dinner time Saturday.

6. Let the primer dry overnight.  Give it a light sanding and tack rag.  Double check your tape; sometimes, particularly if it is humid, painter's tape may lift off overnight.  Be safe and stick it down again even if it looks stuck on.  Replace any that isn't staying stuck.

7.  Spray paint the cabinet interiors with white spray enamel.  This dries fairly quickly, so you can get in two coats in rapid succession if you work methodically and the humidity isn't too high.  I have never found the need to sand in between coats of spray enamel applied within the same 24 hours...they fuse on their own.

8. Have brunch while the cabinet interiors dry, then start painting with your color.  I used ultra-thick oil based enamel and a small brush and worked slowly, making sure I got really even coverage and caught any drips.  Go for the best quality enamel you can find: it makes a huge difference in how well it covers, how easy it is to work with, and how long it lasts.  Open all windows and set up a fan to exhaust air from the room, take breaks and go outside: enamel fumes are pretty strong and can get you high in not a good way.

... more ...

Keter on Mar 13, 2012:

I had two experiences with kitchen cabinet painting, both in rental properties with cabinets that were structurally sound but looked horrible, and the landlord was happy to let me do some fix-up.  In both cases, I followed the same game plan over a 3-day weekend that included a Monday, with drying/reassembly steps done over the next three evenings after work.  If walls, window sills, baseboards, ceilings, etc. need painting, too, do these before tackling the cabinets.

1.  Clear the kitchen completely - all food, appliances, curtains, etc. need to leave. Move appliances as far away from the work area as you can.  Sweep, mop, tape plastic drop cloths to the floor, countertop, and any other surface you might get drips on.

2. Take off all doors and remove all shelf paper.  You might want to have a system to keep track of which doors go where.  Take all hardware off and soak in TSP if you will be reusing it.  Use an old toothbrush to clean off all the crud.  Set aside on newspapers/cardboard to dry.

3.  Use TSP solution (ammonia works, too, but not together) and steel wool to clean the cabinets and doors thoroughly.  Set up a fan to blow across you as TSP fumes can be irritating.  Rinse, let dry, then sand with 150 sand paper.  Tack rag off.

4.  Spray paint cabinets and doors with Krylon or Rustoleum primer.  Pick a color close to your eventual paint layer - white, red, or gray.  This stuff dries fast, so you can hit it with fine (300ish?) sandpaper and another coat fairly quickly.  In some spots, I did up to 4 coats to even out things, particularly where wood was water damaged and porous.


P on Mar 13, 2012:

Most people learn this the hard way. Then they never do it again. Take your time. Allow for proper drying time, which can be a looong time in humid or damp weather! And do not EVER skip the sanding.

Anonymous on Mar 13, 2012:

it's a total 2 weekend job, one to remove and prep and paint, followed by another weekend of backsplashing and rehanging cupboards and fronts.  The finishing work is the fussy fiddly stuff that takes the most time.  You dont want to rush it.

Claudia on Mar 13, 2012:

You could do it in a weekend if you could  work on the project uninterrupted.

It wouldn't work for me because I'd have to do all these things in addition to working on the project: take care of children, prepare dinner, walk the dog, answer the phone or do a load of laundry. 

Jessica on Mar 13, 2012:

I think its the same issue for a lot of DIY jobs.  Things take time, and DIYs are usually done in a weekend.  I'm painting dressers coming up, and really the same steps should be followed for a dresser, table, chair, etc, as for kitchen cabinets.  It should take time, to do a proper job on any project.

Lauren on Mar 13, 2012:

I would definately agree.  I did my cabinets over a week, but skipped alot of the steps sited above.  My cabinets will not stand up to long-term abuse.  Of course, i want to COMPLETELY replace in a few years, so this was an okay update in the mean time, but not something i would be happy with more than a couple years down the road.  My cabinets are already showing signs of wear, and i repainted in September of '11. :(

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