Cabinet painting – without equal, this is the most challenging of all painting projects around the house, it’s a job worthy of respect and research, not to be undertaken lightly except in the case where scores of coats of paint have already been slathered across the doors and drawer fronts – and the good ship Quality has long since sailed.

Notwithstanding that scenario, the first refinish on a set of cabinets is the most important; it will have more influence on future coats than you may think. It will also either cause or conserve effort in future repaints. The original factory coating is the base, what you do on the 1st refinish will cast the die for the next time, and can keep you out of the kitchen cabinet showrooms.

Most kitchen cabinets are finished in an inexpensive pre-cat lacquer that has been machine applied in a large, complex and very impressive cabinet assembly & finish line. Because of this, the finish – although not high quality, materially – is generally well done: smooth and free of sags, curtains, drips, debris, etc.

There are high-end exceptions, but even in these cabinet finish shops the net result is the same; a smooth finish, but one of higher quality. What doesn’t change is the fact that your kitchen is pleading for a new look. Only now, instead of $20K worth of dated cabinetry, you are the lucky owner of $60,000 worth of very fine quality, ugly, dated cabinets.

Should you tear them out and start over? Hardly. Here’s my Top 5 List:

Top 5 Do’s and Don’ts List for Cabinet Painting:

#1: Don’t just get references!

You have to see their work. This is important because not everyone is in possession of high aesthetic standards – some people just don’t see it, whereas others can see it in the dark, with one eye closed, from across the street, etc. So don’t trust references. YOU HAVE TO SEE THEIR WORK! Sorry, no way around this one.

In 20 years I’ve seen cabinets rolled with long-nap rollers, brushed, brushed and rolled – revealing trails of both tools, sponged, wooly-rolled, mopped (my theory, based on breathtakingly sloppy results) and even done with aerosol cans – the horror. And some people just don’t see the difference, or care to!

The bottom line remains unmovable – your standard may not be the same as Mrs. Feenbean from church, or your well meaning neighbor whose aesthetically challenged nephew painted some cabinets, one time a while back, in his buddy’s garage, after band practice.

#2: Don’t be cheap.

There are many projects around the house where it’s perfectly acceptable to save $$, finishing cabinetry is not one of them. It’s not unlike hiring a good attorney vs. a cheap one. It costs more money to clean up the mess than it would have to do it right in the first place.

Be prepared to spend a healthy fraction of the cost of new cabinets – maybe in the 30-50% range – numbers vary and are largely dependent on how many banks of cabinets you have, boxes, door/drawer style, top finish, interiors, crown, etc. There are too many variables for a rifle shot- this is shotgun territory.

#3: Samples: get them.

Any contractor willing to mess up your kitchen ought to be willing to provide a sample cabinet door first. These aren’t expensive to produce – they’re cheap. And doing one for a client who is about to spend $$$$ hiring someone to affirm or afflict their kitchen is not too much to ask.

Old cabinet doors are easy to come by too, they can be scavenged from garages, bought at Home Depot, architectural salvage, made…anything will do – even a piece of veneer plywood with a couple pieces of moulding stapled to it will do for a sample.

What you’re looking for in the sample is a quality finish, one that is smooth in sight and touch, free of blemishes, sags, curtains, dust, bugs, holidays, etc.

#4: this is a don’t item, not a do item:

don’t just hire the guys who painted your exterior because they have a sprayer and would be happy to paint your kitchen cabinets.

This sounds really pedestrian, I know, but it’s on the list for a good reason – heck, these guys would paint your SUV too, if only you would let them. Just because they can, doesn’t mean they should. In most cases, their reach exceeds their grasp and they should only be in your kitchen for a glass of water. Exceptions exist of course, but do your research.

Magic #5: Pick a convenient time to be without your kitchen for 1-3 weeks.

The contract needs to specify everything. Start date, how long it will take, where they will be finished (on site or removed to shop), what the materials are, what prep steps, how many coats, how long is the warranty, etc. Contract specificity is super-important.

Once you pick a date, confirm the week before and then get ready. Take everything out of your cabinets – even if the finisher says not to worry – it’s your stuff and it’s also a great time to jettison all the old stuff: stale spices, broken gadgets, orphaned storage container parts, plastic kitchenware from when the kids were small, etc.

And, remember, it’s going to be dusty, smelly, inconvenient and disruptive to living. But when finished it will be beautiful if you’ve done your due diligence and contracted the right outfit.

Bottom line; once you light the candle on the cabinet rocket, there is no going back. Make sure you have the right team, pointed in the right direction.