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How to Paint Wood Cabinets With Chalk Paint

Looking to update your kitchen on a budget? Learn how to paint wood cabinets with chalk paint. It’s a budget-friendly remodel that is easy to do and totally worth the effort!

It’s been about almost three years since I decided to paint the wood cabinets with chalk paint.

And do I regret it?

Absolutely not!

The Backstory

When Chris and I bought our house twenty-two years ago, we loved the kitchen the moment we walked in.

The former homeowner, who was a cabinet installer, recently updated it so it was all new.

He gutted the whole room to install someone else’s “garbage” cabinets and built that awesome hood.

At that time, we were so impressed by how much time and craftsmanship went into the remodel, that we left this room as is.

About ten years after we purchased our home, we ripped the roof off of our small three-bedroom ranch and added a second floor.

The kitchen was the only room we did not touch during that renovation because we still liked it and couldn’t afford to do a kitchen remodel.

Over time, the kitchen really started feeling old, outdated, and dingy.

I really wanted to lighten and brighten it. So I looked into how to paint the kitchen cabinets white.

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How to Refinish Wood Cabinets with Gel Stain

Before I Painted the Wood Cabinets with Chalk Paint

The kitchen is situated on the north side of the house so it does not get a lot of bright light. Since we could not afford a total remodel, we considered painting the cabinets as well as the rest of the room.

Our cabinets are pickled oak and were in pretty good shape so painting them was a no brainer.

That said, I was a little nervous to do it.

Because well, they are kitchen cabinets.

While I had experience refinishing furniture pieces, the kitchen is a much larger and riskier project. To take something like that on was very intimidating.

Building Confidence

Once the decision was made to do paint the cabinets, I spent months on Pinterest researching every how to article I could find.

I consulted with friends who are experts at refinishing things.

I studied how to refinish cabinets, poured over different techniques while picking up tips and tricks.

And I was looking for all sorts of painting cabinet ideas.

To build my confidence with cabinetry, I practiced on smaller items to get a feel for what I wanted to do, how I wanted to do it and to understand the supplies needed.

When Chris gave me the green light to go ahead, I was totally ready to go!

Yes, there was that little voice in my head saying “Stacy are you sure you want to do this?

This might not be a good idea, cabinets are a big deal, blah blah blah.”

But I’ve learned that voice sometimes needs to be told to zip it!!!!

Because you know what?

It’s just paint!

What’s the worse that could happen?

I’d have to paint it again?

If my options were: to keep the kitchen as it is or buy a few cans of paint – I was buying that paint!

The “How to Re-Finish It” Decision

Now, that I had the confidence to do it, I needed to figure out how to paint cabinets white.

What kind of paint should I use to remodel the kitchen?

After much consideration, I narrowed it down to using milk or chalk paint, but ultimately decided to paint the wood cabinets with chalk paint to achieve the look I wanted.

While I preferred a chalk paint finish for my cabinetry, both are very good options. There’s no need to pre-sand!

Painting cabinets without sanding sounds very appealing doesn’t it?

How to Paint Wood Cabinets Using Chalk Paint

NOTE: If you are unsure what color chalk paint to use, pick a cabinet door you do not regularly use and test colors on the inside of that door.

Supplies

  • De-greaser
  • Sandpaper (light grade if you choose to pre-sand)
  • Sanding Block (if you want to distress cabinets after chalk painting)
  • Chalk Paint – I used Annie Sloan Chalk Paint in Old White. You can use any brand of chalk paint you want. Measure your kitchen and estimate how much paint you need for your size kitchen. I also use Rustoleum Chalked on a lot of refinishing projects.
  • Small, Medium and Large Chalk Paint Brushes – You will need different sizes for different areas of cabinetry. I mainly used the medium brush.
  • Polycrylic
  • Painter Pyramid Stands (4 per cabinet door)
  • 1″ and 2″ Foam Brushes

Directions

  • Remove doors from cabinets. I highly recommend marking each door so you know where to put it back when you re-hang them. If you have external hinges like we have, set them aside. Our hinges were brass, so we sprayed them with an oil rubbed bronze spray paint.
  • Remove items from cabinets if you do not want to risk getting paint on anything.
  • It is very important to wash and de-grease all cabinets and doors well. If you use the same de-greaser I did, follow the directions then wash and rinse the cabinets and doors.
  • It is not necessary to pre-sand cabinets and doors before painting cabinets with chalk paint, but you can if you want to scuff the surface up a bit before starting.
I did not empty all of my cabinets. I just pushed everything back. Note: There was some paint splatter on things.
  • Paint all the cabinet bases first, then do the doors. Use the painter pyramids to keep them off the ground. Start with the inside of the doors first and if possible, start with the doors of the cabinets you don’t look at as often. When doing projects like this, I find it takes some time to get into a rhythm so it’s good to start with doors you don’t normally look at until you get a feel for it. Do you have to do it that way? No, but doing it this way built up my confidence that the kitchen would turn out great and I wouldn’t mess it up!
  • I did two coats of chalk paint on the bases and doors. You may need three if the color paint you use needs it.
  • After the chalk paint is fully dry, it is time to distress the cabinetry. Know what you look you want before you start distressing. Do you want a light or heavily distressed look? I distressed the edges of the cabinet bases and the doors. Where the pickled oak veins showed through on some of the doors, I lightly distressed those areas to hide the veins because they looked like stains. Do what looks and feels right for you. I suggest you go light on the distressing at first because you can always distress it more. If you distress more heavily than you want, you can easily go over it again with paint. This process is very forgivable.
Because I refinished my kitchen in the winter, I distressed all of the cabinet doors in my basement. Distressing cabinets can get very messy so be aware before you start!
  • After distressing, it is time to apply the top coat to protect the color. I chose polycrylic over polyurethane because it yellows less. That said, polycrylic does still yellow the paint a little more than wax. Different poly finishes yellow more than others so test them before applying. You can use wax if you want, but the poly will protect the color better in a high use area like a kitchen. NOTE: Consider the yellowing factor when choosing your paint color.
  • Follow the directions on the can of poly and allow to fully dry between coats. Follow the same process as with chalk paint – start with cabinet bases first, then the doors.
  • Before putting the doors back on, we sprayed the hinges, allowed them to dry, then re-hung the doors. We upgraded the handles to drawer pulls and knobs from Restoration Hardware.

From start to finish, this part of the kitchen renovation took about two weeks.

If you have wood cabinets and want to renovate your kitchen, I highly recommend painting them yourself.

It was time-consuming but very easy and inexpensive to do and I am very proud of the result.

Painted wood cabinets with chalk paint

After I Painted the Wood Cabinets White

It’s been almost three years since I painted the kitchen cabinets with chalk paint.

And it has held up really well.

When things drip on them, I am able to clean them off with no stains.

The finish still looks great and there is minimal yellowing.

I am still very happy with this DIY and am so glad I did it!

If you are even considering painting your cabinets, I say, GO FOR IT!!!

It is a very achievable DIY and you can totally do it too.

I’ve been asked a lot about how to chalk paint cabinets so check out my FAQ with lots of answers here.

Vintage Floral Centerpiece

Oh my gosh but you gotta see the hood vent!

Isn’t that finish amazing?

Click here to see how I did it.

How to Refinish Wood Cabinets with Gel Stain

Doesn’t it look amazing!!!

I love how it turned out and can’t believe I waited so long to paint it.

And now that the kitchen remodel is done, I LOVE decorating it for the seasons.

Click here to see what it looks like in spring.

And I love how it looks for fall.

It looked so good last year for the holidays, that I tweaked it for this year. And I love how it looked!

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How to Paint Wood Cabinets with Chalk Paint

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14 Comments

  1. I’m just now painting my cabi ets with chalk paint. I wondered if you painted the insides also? Also if when distressing did you use the dark wax and the the poly acrylic over that? I bought the cabinets from someone changing theirs out. I think we got them to fit pretty good. We moved the kitchen over a room. We’ve been remodeling the whole house. I’m excited to have my kitchen done soon.

    1. That is so exciting! It’s a such a great feeling when you are done with this kind of project because you know how much work it is and YOU WILL LOVE IT! Good luck with it!!! I did not paint inside the cabinets. I should have taken out all of the contents but was a little lazy about it. On the cabinets, I did not use a wax at all. On furniture type projects I use a wax, but with the cabinets, I didn’t want to risk having to rewax them. It’s such a high traffic area and I read mixed reviews online.

  2. My 20 year old kirchen cabinets are golden oak so have deep graining….do you fill this in somehow before chalk painting over them for a smooth finish? Thank you!

    1. Hi Chris! I didn’t need to do that. You could try sanding them down to smooth it out, but I’d probably test it on a similar piece of wood before you do it to your cabinets until you get the look you want.

  3. You are absolutely correct and thanks for giving information about how to paint wood cabinets with chalk paint . I loved your blog and thanks for publishing this!! I am really happy to come across this exceptionally well written content. Thanks for sharing and look for more in future!!

  4. I just started this yesterday after finally getting a thumbs up from my husband to start in one of the bathrooms! Though I am finding that after two coats there is still a significant amount of wood showing through. Should I be applying thicker or more coats? Just not sure if I’m totally digging seeing the brush strokes from this chalk paint brush or if I just need to add more. Help this has to work, my husband loves all this old wood, but it is so dated I have to do something!!!

    1. If it’s not fully covered just do another coat. You can always do a very, very light sanding to smooth out the brush strokes before you add the topcoat. But before doing that, I’d test an area with a topcoat that you won’t regularly see to determine if you are getting the look you want. Good luck!!!! I’m sure it will look AWESOME!!!!

  5. Your cabinets turned out beautiful! Can I ask what color you used on the Island? It is just as lovely! Thanks for the directions! They are straightforward and easy to follow.

    1. Hi Tiffany! Thank you so much! I did not paint the island – we bought it that way from Lowe’s several years ago when we did the addition on our house.

  6. Stacy, what an amazing transformation! We repainted our cabinets but had them done with lacquer. What a very stinky process, but still happy with them several years later. I love the staining of the hood over the stove…and the backsplash totally changes the look and feel of the room. I had to laugh when I saw the wall paper border….didn’t we all have that at one time? Thanks for sharing. Really amazing.

    1. Isnt that so funny? And we LOVED that border when we first moved here too 23 years ago. So funnY!

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