Month: January 2017

DIY Kitchen Reno PHASE 4: Upper Cabinets

Well, here we are, chest deep in the murk of our DIY kitchen makeover dream (that never ends).  We’ve painted the base cabinets a beautiful iron ore using a $40 sprayer and a DIY spray station.  We’ve replaced the countertops with quartz and installed them ourselves, saving a TON of money.   We’ve added tile from floor to ceiling on two of our walls and backsplash which resulted in major impact for a low cost.  And now we’re on to the upper cabinets.

I know, I know… I ALREADY covered painting cabinets.  Why grace you with another super interesting tutorial?

Well, for one, I wanted to show you that you CAN have a professional looking cabinet with nothing more than good paint, brushes, and rollers.  And two, I can’t use my sprayer when it is 20 degrees BELOW zero.  Yes, it’s that cold.  The arctic chill has made its cruel home in Minnesota, and that cold has settled into the very depths of my sad, summer-missing soul.

So let’s get to it!

The primer goes on very flat and even, so nice.

Just like the base cabinets, remove the uppers and LABEL the hinges in whatever system you want, just make sure they go back where they came from.  This really will save you a huge hassle later on.  Next, like the base cabinets, use your fancy, or non-fancy sandpaper, 150 -220 grit, and going with the grain, sand off that exterior sheen.  One cabinet door should only take 5-10 minutes for both sides so don’t freak out.  Just get it done.  Remove dust and thoroughly clean with a degreasing cleaner and make sure the cabinet is completely dry.  I used the same primer for the uppers as I did for the base, which was tinted grey for the deep charcoal color on the base cabinets.  This was a little silly on the uppers since they will be painted white, but no matter, the primer is meant as a binder, and the paint will cover it.  Use your angled brush and paint a thin but even layer of primer and watch for drippies.  Primer has a flat sheen so it goes on very easily and dries quickly.  Once dry, sand with a fine grit sanding sponge. Sanding should take 30 seconds or less, you just want to smooth out the finish and remove any dust or debris that may have settled onto your painted surface.  Wipe clean.


Onto the paint!   There are a lot of good options out there, Annie Sloan with a durable top coat or General Finishes Milk Paint are two of my favorite recommendations, but please don’t go with a wall paint. You will never regret spending more for a project of this caliber. If you want to choose from a vast amount of colors, which I do, I’d go with my favorite paint for this type of project, Sherwin Williams Pro-Classic, which I did.   As I said before, this paint is created for high traffic areas and is made for trim and cabinets specifically.  It self-levels, so with the right brush and multiple light coats, brush strokes are invisible, and while it takes a little while to cure, you will eventually have a finish just as tough as wood with polyurethane.  A gallon can run around $75 so I usually wait for it to go on sale. Sherwin Williams has lots of good sales.  I got mine for 40% off.  I chose the color “Whitetail” to match my trim.  I also made sure I had a good small angled brush and a small paint roller.  I highly recommend Purdy, with the mohair glass finish roller.



About the sheen.  Some of you may remember that I started my base cabinets out with a satin sheen, and, in my opinion,  it just wasn’t glossy enough for kitchen cabinets.  So I ended up taking down the cabinet doors I had just put up and added three sprayed layers of topcoat, which also happened to be in satin, but were definitely glossier than the paint.  This did the trick and at least, since July, (back when it was warm…) they have been very easy to maintain and clean.   I wasn’t going to make this mistake with my upper cabinets.  I bought the semi-gloss.   A semi-gloss or gloss is a little harder to work with than a flatter paint, but doesn’t need a top coat and dries to a hard finish.  So for a big project like a kitchen, weigh your options and choose thoughtfully.

Raising up the cabinet doors assist in preventing drips by allowing you to paint or roll a thin smooth coat on the sides.

Another thing that is really important, you want to find a way to raise the cabinet door while you are painting it.  They sell cute little cones for this, but I usually use four of my food canisters or four matching mugs and lay the cabinet door on its back.  Then, using my angled brush, in the direction of the grain when possible, I quickly hit the recesses, first dabbing in the corners and spreading it out smoothly. The layer should be thin to medium thickness. Most importantly, make sure there’s no pooling in the recesses.  Always fan out your brush strokes so you don’t get a paint line.  Do the recesses quickly, under a minute so the paint won’t start to set up.  Once finished I use my roller, and roll out the main parts of the door and smooth out the edges.  Then leave it!  One thing to note with this paint, you do not want to over work it.  Lay it on quickly, fix any areas that pool or drip, and leave it to its self-leveling magic.  Your first coat is going to look like crap.  Accept this and don’t try to fix it.  As long as there are no pools or drips, you are fine.  You just wait!

Do the recessed areas first, make sure there’s no pooling.
Once you’ve quickly done the recessed area and fanned out your brush strokes, smooth it out with a roller.
Be prepared for the first coat to look streaky and slightly unlevel. It will level out as it dries.
See, first coat, not so pretty. Don’t stress!
This is after the second coat, already SO much better!

And I mean wait.  This isn’t chalk paint folks.  I waited over an hour before I touched it again.  I gave it a very quick 10 second sanding with a fine grit sanding sponge. Then I wiped off the dust, and did the same thing again.  Start with the recesses, make sure there’s no pooling or drips, move fairly quickly, and then smooth it out with your roller.  And because it is white and I was covering gray primer, I did one more coat, same as above.  Then I waited and flipped it over and did the same thing. If you notice any accumulation of paint along the edges of the unpainted side, quickly remove it with a chisel or razor before you begin painting.

Important:  If you are going to be painting the other side of the cabinet (with one side already painted) When laying your dried, painted side on whatever you are using to raise it up, put a towel between the painted surface and the risers.  You never want to put anything directly on paint that hasn’t cured.  It could leave indentations or even worse, take up some of the paint.  The towel will keep the painted surface safe.  Good towel!


Once you go through the tedious process on the other side.  Put those babies up, no top coat needed!  Then stand back and enjoy because you just crossed another thing off your never ending DIY Kitchen Makeover.  And boy does it look PRETTY!


Next up:  Making your cabinets look CUSTOM!


Thanks for reading!






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