Painting Outdated Oak Cabinets

Video - June 16, 2020

Many houses and condos feature simple builder-grade oak cabinets. They’re inexpensive, simple, unobtrusive, and very “vanilla” so they won’t clash with appliances or other accessories one might add to a kitchen. But for those who wish to make their kitchen look a little more stylish, the outdated oak cabinets just don’t cut it. You guys probably know by now that I’m not real big on paint in general. I like to build with quality hardwoods and I use finishes that enhance their natural beauty. But in this case, we’re talking about mass-produced oak consisting mostly of sheetgoods. Furthermore, these cabinets are in my mom’s new condo and she really likes the painted look, so I’m going to make her happy.

To Pore Fill or Not to Pore Fill?

Oak is an open-grained species so if you just slap on a coat of paint, the pores will telegraph through the finish and you won’t have a smooth appearance. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, depending on your preferences. In our case, my mom wants the doors to have a smooth appearance so we’re pore-filling. The filler I use is Timbermate. This stuff is usually used as a putty and is very thick but it’s also water-soluble, so you can simply dilute it until you have a spreadable loose pancake batter consistency. Most times, one coat is all you’ll need. After the filler dries, the excess is sanded off and the only filler left on the doors and drawers is the stuff that’s packed into the grain. Just FYI, I did not do the pore-filling process on the face frames and cabinets inside the house. It’s a VERY dusty procedure and most of the face frames are covered by doors and drawers.


There are a TON of paint products on the market that would work on cabinets. Since I rarely delve into paint, I’m sticking with the materials I’m familiar with and that’s General Finishes Milk Paint. In spite of its name, this paint is actually an acrylic blend but provides the matte look that’s associated with traditional milk paint. Even though it’s more durable than the traditional stuff, it should still be top-coated with something like General Finishes High Performance if it’s to be in a high-use environment.

I used a turbine HVLP system to spray the doors and drawers and a brush and roller to paint the face frames and cabinets. I chose not to paint the cabinet interiors. If you do paint the interiors, consider the wear and tear of dishes and glasses and that the surfaces might look pretty bad after a while.

Stuff I Used:


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