Helpful Tips For Painting Kitchen Oak Cabinets White

Our 20-year-old appliances were hanging on by a thread and it was time to bite the bullet and replace them. The thought of putting new stainless steel appliances into the wood box we call a kitchen makes my heart sink. A new kitchen is not in the budget and besides, our custom oak cabinets are in perfect condition. Instead, we chose to get that dated honey oak outta here and in this post I'm sharing some helpful tips for painting kitchen oak cabinets white, so they last.

Painting Kitchen Oak Cabinets White

Helpful Tips For Painting Kitchen Oak Cabinets White

Painting Kitchen Oak Cabinets White After

So you understand what I mean about the wooden box we called a kitchen for far too many years, here is what it looked like before painting the cabinets...

Painting Kitchen Oak Cabinets Before

See what I mean? Big difference, right? Now the floors no longer compete with the cabinets and the room looks so much brighter.

Before we go further, I must apologize for the poor quality of the before and in-process photos. They were taken with an inexpensive point and shoot camera and as you'll learn further down in this post, the photographer was a little unsteady on her feet.

Disclosure: I've included affiliate links in this post so you can see what products I used or recommend for this project. See my disclosure policy.

A splurge in the budget-friendly kitchen makeover

We did splurge on one thing in the kitchen and that was replacing the nasty aluminum slider window that would freeze closed and be covered in condensation during the winter months. It just had to go and had been on my wishlist for well over a decade.

Painting Kitchen Oak Cabinets Window Before

I'm so glad we spent the extra money and went with a bay window. It adds so much light into the room, gives an unobstructed view of our backyard, and I love having a ledge for plants.

Painting Kitchen Oak Cabinets Window After

Budget-friendly countertop compromise

We replaced the Arborite counters a few years prior to the makeover. My wish was to replace them with a granite slab but it wasn't in the budget. We compromised with granite tiles found at a local auction for a fraction of the cost. For a seamless look, we butt the tiles close together so the grout lines are less visible and carried the tile right up to the base of the upper cabinets. Maybe one day there will be room in the budget to replace them with the real thing.

Painting Kitchen Oak Cabinets Granite Tile

An interruption midway through the makeover

A small kitchen like ours should only take about a week at the most to finish. Mine took almost six because midway I fell on a patch of ice that landed me on crutches. Determination is my middle name and I figured out a way I could climb the step ladder with my good leg while supporting my body with a crutch and got the job done. Besides, those new appliances were being delivered soon.

Lower cabinets stained

I'm not going to lie, it was hard putting paintbrush to solid oak but we did stain the lower cabinets. Thankfully those were finished before my accident. The cabinet doors were prepped much the same way as the steps outlined further down in this post but rather than paint, they are stained a dark walnut with this stain.

I love the two-tone look between the lower and upper cabinets that are so on trend right now. We went with a high contrast between the lower cabinets and the hardwood floor.

Painting Kitchen Oak Cabinets Stained Lowers

What to do with the wood bulkhead

The next order of business was dealing with the oak-clad bulkhead. We contemplated replacing it with drywall but opted for a quicker option by making the wood appear to be drywall. To do this we covered the grain and the wood joints with this patching compound. It dries quickly, it's hard as nails and doesn't shrink.

Painting Kitchen Oak Cabinets Bulkhead Before

Sanded smooth and painted the same color as the walls, one would never know it is wood.

Painting Kitchen Oak Cabinets Bulkhead After


Prep, prep, prep - the most important step

Cabinets are usually laden with grease, caked on food, and sticky fingerprints that must be cleaned first.
  • Vacuum the interior of the cabinets and drawers and give them a scrub with warm soapy water. 
  • Clean the cabinet doors, trim, and end units with a liquid deglosser.
  • Protect the surrounding walls, ceiling, and backsplash with painters tape. 
  • Protect your countertops with plastic or an old sheet like I did mine, moving it along with me as I worked.
  • Remove the doors and shelves and label each with tape. You don't want to skip this step - ask me how I know.
  • Remove the hardware from each door and transfer the door number from the tape into the hardware cavity with a pencil. Make sure to label the hardware with tape also.
  • There is no need to strip the finish and sand to the bare wood. Instead, use a 100-grit sanding block and sand in the direction of the grain to scuff the finish.
  • Wipe the dust with a damp cloth and follow with a tack cloth.

Priming is where it's at for a long lasting finish

This is where you'll want to brew a pot of coffee because this step is tedious but should not be skipped.
  • Use a good quality primer that seals the wood and staining blocking.
  • You'll need a 1-inch brush for the recessed part of the doors, cabinet trim, and crown molding.
  • You can use a brush but I prefer a 6-inch high-density roller for the door fronts and sides, end cabinets, shelves and any other flat surfaces.
  • Roll in long even strokes with a wet edge.
  • Prime the interior of your cabinets if they are wood. Thankfully mine are white melamine so I got to skip this step.
Painting Kitchen Oak Cabinets Primed Trim

  • Lay the shelves and cabinet doors on the garage/workshop floor or work surface using these handy painter's pyramids. The more room you have, the faster this step will take. Unfortunately, I could only do 4-6 doors at a time. 
  • Once dry, flip them over and prime the opposite side.
  • Note: I only applied one coat of primer because I'll be using a paint with built-in primer. Just adds that extra coat of protection!

Painting Kitchen Oak Cabinets Primed

Painting the cabinets white

  • We used two coats of Behr Premium Plus Latex Paint in a satin finish.
  • Before applying the first coat of paint, lightly sand the primed surfaces with a fine 220 grit sanding sponge and wipe the dust with a tack cloth.
  • Repeat the previous step between each coat of paint. 
  • Allow the paint to dry for 24 hours before applying the second coat.
  • Use a good quality 1-inch angled brush for the recessed parts of the doors, cabinet trim, and crown molding.
  • Use a 6-inch high-density roller for the door fronts and sides, end cabinets, shelves and any other flat surfaces.
  • Roll in long even strokes with a wet edge.
    I started the upper cabinets from the tall pantry cabinet and worked my way to the right, painting 4-6 cabinet doors at a time.

    Painting Kitchen Oak Cabinets Pantry Before

    Painting Kitchen Oak Cabinets Pantry After

    Protect the cabinets

    • We used a clear polyacrylic to protect the paint. For low sheen use either a matte or satin finish.
    • Don't shake the can because you will get air bubbles. Stir it well before and during application.
    • Apply it with a foam brush in long even strokes with a wet edge. Even better, apply it with a paint sprayer for a factory looking finish.
    • Apply two coats and sand between each coat with a 220 grit sanding pad for a smooth finish.

    When the new appliances arrived we needed to address the problem of one side of the slide-in-range being exposed (as pictured below).

    Painting Kitchen Oak Cabinets Range Before

    We built end panels with oak plywood to conceal the sides of both the range and microwave and painted them the same color as the cabinets.

    Painting Kitchen Oak Cabinets Range After

    I'm not going to lie, it was a heck of a lot of work but so worth it in the end. What a HUGE improvement from before and the bulk of the cost was sweat equity.

    I was so happy with the results that I did the same with our Built-In China Cabinet in the dining room and Custom Window Seat/Bookcase in the master bedroom.

    You may have noticed there is a small island that wasn't there in the before photos. If you look closer at the before photos you can see a china cabinet on the left. Would you believe the new island used to be THAT china cabinet? You can see the transformation here in my post Repurposed China Cabinet Into Kitchen Island And Pantry.

    I hope you found my painting kitchen oak cabinets white tips helpful and they inspire you to give your kitchen a budget-friendly makeover. If you have any questions or additional tips to share, please leave them in the comment section below.

    Tips For Painting Kitchen Oak Cabiinets



    1. Marie that is one incredible makeover! It sure was a lot of work but now it must feel like a breath of fresh air to walk in there.

    2. The painted cabinets and new window completely changed the room. I don't know why it took me over ten years to get it done! The best budget-friendly compromise 😊


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