Finishing a Few of the Cabinet Doors

Figure 1 :  Thinning the paint

So, I didn’t really know much about finishing cabinet doors with paint when I started this project. Sand it once, slap on a coat, and call it done – right? Yeah – I think I’ve upgraded my skills somewhat with the first run of four doors that I’m finishing for the lower cabinets.

I figured out what is the most important tool to have in your arsenal in order to get a good finish on painted wood.

Is it the sand paper?  Is it the router bit or the saw blade that was used to cut or decorate the wood?  Or is it the type of primer, or the type of paint used?  None of the above is the answer to the question.  The most important item in the toolkit is tack cloth.  Easily.

It’s amazing how much crap stays on your project boards after you sand, wipe with a regular old rag, and vacuum with the shop vac.  Little pieces cling to the wood and don’t come off until you wipe the surface with a tack cloth.  You need a pile of those things in the shop.

Also, I figured out that I couldn’t use the paint “as it comes” in the can.  It’s much too thick, and grinding off the inevitable drips is 3x harder if the paint is thick.  So – in figure 1 I’m diluting the paint by adding around a quarter of a cup of distilled water to the small amount of paint in the bottom of the paint tray (there’s really not much paint in there – maybe enough for four door fronts).   The resulting finish smooths out much better, and has less drips.   The drips that do occur are easier to sand smooth again.

I think that two coats of shellac for the primer, followed by four coats of latex semigloss top paint, results in a pretty nice finish.  The third and fourth coats are much easier to put on, so the fact that there are four coats of paint to roll onto the wood is not as bad as you think.  By the time you get to the fourth coat, there’s hardly any blemishes left and the surface is fairly smooth and doesn’t need much sanding.  The effort is worth it.

Figure 2: A drip of paint is being sanded out with 150 grit, then 220.

So,  I’m still the novice making remarks that I’ll later have to backtrack, but I think my cabinets are turning out better than I thought they would, given my initial skill set.  Figure two shows me rubbing out some drips on a shelf in one of the cabinets.

Figure 3:  Most important finishing tool : tack cloth.

In figure 3 I am using one of those little pieces of sticky cloth to pull every little bit and piece of sawdust and paint crumb off of the door panel.  It makes a *huge* difference in how much less sanding is needed on the next round.

Figure 4: Here I am rolling on a thin layer of top-coat paint.

Figure 4 shows the application of another top coat.   I originally used #80 grit on the roughest places on the raw wood doors, followed by #120 grit on the next worst places, and finally #150 grit all-over the door.  This was followed by a thin coat of no-wax shellac.  (Orange shellac has wax which is not recommended for primer). After the shellace dried, I followed it by sanding with #150 grit in the worst places, and #220 grit all over the doors.  I then applied a second coat of shellac.

After the second coat of shellac dried, I used #220 grit to sand all over the door.  After carefully cleaning the doors with the tack cloth, I applied a thin topcoat (of semi-gloss paint).  When the top-coat paint dried, I used #150 grit paper on the drips, and #220 grit all over the doors.  This I did for all the coats, but I think if you’re really diligent about the tack cloth, one could get away with three coats of top paint.  You gotta go lightly with the #150 sandpaper on the paint drips, else you’ll tear too much of the latex up in the process.

One neat thing I discovered about the roller cover.  With limited shop space, I can lay out only so many doors at one time for painting.  So – I used a discarded paper towel tube as a sheath for the roller cover (I don’t even take the cover off of the roller frame) – and this keeps the roller cover from getting dry or developing clumps (at least it worked for me up to 24 hours) – until the next day when another round of painting happens.  The opposite end of the paper towel tube is plugged with another roller cover – (one that unfortunately DID dry out).