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How to Paint and Antique Cabinets

 
 
 

A friend of mine tried to update her honey-oak cabinets with a dark espresso gel stain.  No bueno.  I have never worked with gel stain before but from what I’ve researched it seems like a fickle medium.  Anyway, I’m not sure if it was the way my friends applied the stain or if it was the type of finish that was on the oak cabinets before but the stain went on blotchy and, once dry, immediately began chipping off with the slightest touch.  They were in a pickle so they called me up to get my opinion on the matter.  I went over and took a look at the cabinets and got a handle on what had been done.  We then came up with a plan of action to get their kitchen looking lively and updated again and I explained how to paint and antique cabinets for a shabby-chic, french country look.  Then they got to work stripping and sanding the cabinets back to bare wood.  BIG JOB but worth it.  If you are reading this post with your own cabinets in mind I should tell you that stripping and sanding back cabinets to bare wood ISN’T ALWAYS necessary if you’re planning on painting them and/or refinishing them.  In the case of my friends, we had to strip the gel stain away because you never want to paint on top of a coat that was never correctly bonded to the original cabinets surface.  So basically, and I’m not an expert so you might need a second opinion depending on the state of your cabinets, if you have chipping finish (stain, laquer, paint, etc.) stripping and sanding are usually necessary before refinishing.  If your cabinets are in good condition (no chipping finish, bubbles, drips, etc.) a light sanding with medium grit sandpaper (just to give the existing finish some tooth for the new stain/primer to hold on to) should do the trick just fine.  On my cabinets (we had standard builder grade oak cabinets when we first moved in that I wanted to “jazz up”) I simply went over them lightly with sandpaper and then antiqued and stained them with a stain 1 shade darker than the original finish.  Heres the before and after (sorry the pics aren’t great).

If you are going to stain over pre-stained and laquered cabinets without stripping them, you should only apply a  new stain that is one or maybe two shades darker than the existing stain.  Also, keep in mind that if you have any “fake wood” (mine have fake wood on the sides of that cabinet shelving) this will not “take” the stain like wood so if you go more than a shade or two darker you will have to most likely replace those areas with new “fake wood” to match the new stain.  I stained over my fake wood with the same new stain I used on my cabinets and it blended in fine since I didn’t go much darker than the original color.

For my friend’s cabinets, we discussed staining the oak a darker medium brown color.  They liked the look of natural wood antiqued cabinets.  Their home has a french-country flair to it so we wanted to do something inkeeping with that feeling.  Heres the issue we had with staining the now bare oak cabinets:  Wood grain.  Tons of it.  Oak (especially oak that has been stripped and sanded bare) has tons of gorgeous, open, porous wood grain that soaks up stain like crazy.  It is BEAUTIFUL no doubt, but in this situation would have made the cabinets far too rustic and busy looking alongside their beautiful speckled granite countertops.  Now, I have heard of ways you can lessen the graininess of oak cabinets so that they take stain more uniformly.  You can “seal” the grain before you stain with different things.  I’ve never done it and I can’t vouch for it as a DIY’er.  So with this realization we decided to paint the cabinets instead and antique them.  I know.  The purists out there are going to hate me for that.  But to each his own.  In this case, this was the best option to 1. Update their cabinets and spruce up their kitchen, 2. Make the cabinets POP with the granite counters and black/stainless appliances, 3. Create a nice flow with the style of the house and the homeowners decor.  So what we decided on, after much deliberation, was to go ahead and paint the main cabinets an antiqued cream and the island antiqued black to make it POP.  And I’m telling ya, its gonna be gorgeous.  You may even forgive me for painting over wood. ;)

So how’d we do it?  I brought home a couple of doors as a demo for you guys.

Cost: Varies depending on the size of your kitchen

Supplies:

  • Primer: Ask a pro or get a recommendation from the sales associate depending on the state of your cabinets.  There are tons of great primers out there.  I used Behr primer for these.
  • Paint: Interior latex paint in semigloss.  The semigloss finish helps the stain go on smoothly and creates an easy-t0-clean surface for future wipe-downs.
  • Sandpaper: Medium grit and fine grit.
  • Stain with a polyurethane coating built in.  This will eliminate the need for an additional laquer coat and seal the areas that have been sanded back.  *TIP*  Buy a stain that is darker than your paint color.  For example, for an antiqued cream finish I bought white paint, and a medium brown stain.  The stain gets into the corners for the antiquing and creates a soft variated wash over the entire cabinet turning the cabinet cream.  Realize when you are buying your paint and stain that for this technique that the stain will darken and dull the paint color.  So, buy a paint that is lighter and brighter than your intended result and a stain that compliments it.  If you are nervous, just buy some sample paint colors and a stain and test out the technique on some scrap wood until you find the color combination that you like.
  • Good paintbrushes. You want the cabinets to have as little paint strokes as possible so find a couple of great paintbrushes with fines, soft bristles.  If you have decorative moulding, get a 1″ angled brush to get in all the corners and a 2″ flat brush for the flat surfaces.
  • A sponge.  They have different size sponges in the paint section of your local hardware store.  I got a big one and cut it up as I needed.
  • Disposable gloves.
  • Blue heavy duty paper towels.  Find them in the paint section as well.  You will use these to wipe off the stain when you do the antiquing.
1.  Prep your cabinets.  This might mean stripping them and sanding them down to wood (as mine are), or simple hand-sanding them with a medium grit sandpaper.  Thoroughly wipe down the cabintes with a damp cloth to remove excess dirt and debris.
2.  Begin priming your cabinets.  If your cabinets have decorative moulding (like these), take a small angled brush and prime the moulding first being sure to get in the corners, follow the woodgrain as much as possible, and being careful of drips and puddles.
3.  Next prime the flat surfaces with the flat brush, following the wood grain as much as possible.  Try to keep your strokes as steady and straight as possible and be sure not to overload your brush with paint.  Also, be careful not to over-brush your cabinet; the primer is typically quick drying and will quickly develop a skin that may be hard to smooth out if over brushed.  Also, always prime and paint in a well-ventilated area and keep out of direct sunlight.
4.  Once the primer has dried, paint the first coat of paint color onto your cabinets.  Follow the same painting style as with the prime: moulding first, flat surfaces second, follow wood grain, straight strokes, don’t overload, don’t over brush, etc.  If you are seeing more prominent brush strokes than you would like to, don’t worry.  Just paint the cabinet up and let it dry.  If you need to you can “buff” out some of the heavy brush strokes with fine grit sandpaper in between coats if you need to.
5.  Let the first coat dry.  Survey the cabinets for drips or heavy brush strokes.  If you see any that bother you, lightly “buff” them out with fine grit sandpaper.
6.  Apply the second coat of paint the same way as the first.
7.  Allow that coat to dry and do any touch-ups as needed.
8.  If you’d like to do some distressing at this point you can.  Lightly sand back to the wood edges, corners, grooves, of your cabinets until they are distressed to your liking.
9.  Now comes the fun part!  Get out your stain, sponge(s), and paper towels, and disposable gloves.  Cut a medium sized wedge shape out of your sponge (this will help get the stain in the grooves).  Open up your stain and get ready to work fast.  (If this intimidates you, practice on a scrap piece of wood until you are familiar with the technique and timing).
10.  Dip the end of your sponge into the stain and quickly apply it to one side of the cabinet.  Make sure to squeeze the stain into all the grooves and corners.  Only do one section at a time as this stain will set up fast and you need to be able to focus on one area at a time to make it look right.  Be careful not to overload your sponge with stain.  You want it damp, not dripping.
11.  Now that one section is covered, pull off one paper towel and fold it into fourths.  Firmly press the paper towel onto the stained portion of your cabinet and begin wiping off the stain, following the wood grain as much as possible.  If you see too much stain puddling in the edges, use a corner of your paper towel to sop up and evenly distribute the stain throughout that area.
11.  Do the remaining sides of the cabinet the same way.  *TIP* If the stain starts to dry too early for your liking, re-wet your sponge with a little more stain and work it into that area.
12.  Do the flat surfaces the same way, following the wood grain and blending the stain in to the stained sides.
13.  Let the newly stained cabinet dry overnight.  Then do the insides the same way.
And thats it!  Gorgeous eh!  I’ll get pics when my friends kitchen is complete!  See Sue’s Refinished Kitchen here.
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