Tips + Tricks for Painting Oak Cabinets

My most popular post, by far, has been “How to Paint Your Cabinets Like a Professional.”   As a result, I have gotten a lot of questions, specifically, about how to paint oak cabinets.  I have tackled a great deal of oak cabinet client projects, so I thought I would share some tips and tricks for painting oak cabinets that I have learned along the way, if you’re looking to give yours a refresh.  If you’re interested in ONLINE VIDEO TRAINING, with a pro coaching you through the process, click here for more information.  If you’d like a one-on-one consultation before tackling this project, click here for details.

How to paint oak cabinets

Questions about Painting Oak

I know there are a lot of you out there who are unhappy with your oak cabinets, whether they’re semi-new and builder grade, or from an era long gone.  You don’t want to spend the money on new cabinets because 1) that’s expensive and 2) there’s nothing wrong with your cabinets, they’re just not your style.

Am I close?  Let’s get things started by getting pumped at how you don’t have to gut and remodel your entire kitchen in order to get a new look.  Below are some of my favorite client kitchens that I’ve done.  And these are all oak kitchens!  Have hope!  I’m looking to answer some of the common questions that come about when painting oak cabinets:

  • How do I prep oak cabinets?
  • Do I have to sand oak cabinets before painting them?
  • What kind of paint do you use to paint oak cabinets?  What sheen should I use?
  • How do you minimize the grain when painting oak cabinets?
  • What color should I paint my oak cabinets?
  • Should I spray or brush and roll my cabinets?

Don’t worry!  I have you covered!

How to paint kitchen cabinets

How to Paint Oak Cabinets White

What paint do you use on oak cabinets?

How many coats of primer should I put on oak cabinets?

Minimize the Grain

The biggest issue with painting oak cabinets is how to minimize the grain that comes with that type of wood.  If you have maple or cherry cabinets, they paint up beautifully.  Oak can have a similar result, it just takes a little more effort to get there.  The wood grain can manifest itself in two ways:  through the texture of the wood and also the grain bleeding through the paint.  Check out this post on ways to minimize the grain when painting oak cabinets.

How to hide the grain when painting oak cabinets

One product I have used that has helped with both of these issues is Zinsser’s Bull’s Eye Seal Coat sanding sealer.  This aids in minimizing the wood grain of oak cabinets to a certain degree, but primarily helps to keep the grain from bleeding through your primer and paint.  Very key in giving your oak cabinets an update.

painting oak kitchen cabinets
 The first set of oak cabinets I painted, I didn’t use this product, and it took several coats of primer to cover the grain, which is labor and time intensive.
Painting oak cabinets white before and after

With the next set of oak cabinets, I used the sanding sealer.  It definitely helped with the grain – especially with the issue of the grain bleeding through, and eliminating the need for several coats of primer.  I applied the sanding sealer after I had cleaned/sanded/deglossed the oak cabinets, and before I applied my primer and paint.

What paint to use for painting oak cabinets
How to paint oak cabinets without sanding

Grain Filling Products

If you are looking to try and eliminate the wood grain look altogether, I would suggest investing in the help of a professional.  There are wood grain filler and putty products out there that can be used for this purpose.  I don’t have any personal experience with them (yet), as it appears to be a tricky and time intensive process, that may not be for the DIY faint of heart.

That said, if you are a daring DIYer, and want to try to fill the wood grain on your cabinets, there are options when it comes to grain fillers.  Some grain fillers are easier to work with than others, Aqua Coat is a great option, in that it’s really easy to work with and you can work it into the wood grain fairly easily.  You might need to do 2-3 coats of it to fill the grain to your satisfaction though, since it has kind of a gel consistency and isn’t as thick as some other grain fillers.

Fill Oak Grain! Aqua Coat Wood Grain Filler

Here is a photo showing the process used to fill the grain on a piece of oak – quite impressive!  Wow!

How to fill oak grain when painting cabinets
The Hardwood Workshop

I gave Behlen’s Grain Filler a test drive myself, which you can read about here where I dove deeper into saying good-bye to the oak grain.  Pretty compelling, yes?

Berlin's Wood Grain Filler

How to paint kitchen cabinets

Another option to using the sanding sealer, is to go with a shellac primer like Zinsser BIN.  Fair warning, it stinks to high heaven, but it dries quickly, seals in the oak grain, sands easily and gets the job done.  Using the Zinsser BIN primer can save you the added step of using the sanding sealer, if you’d prefer to go that route.  And if you apply 2-3 coats (depending upon the graininess of your cabinets), it does a great job in filling the grain to a large degree.

BIN Shellac
Painting Oak Cabinets – To Spray, or Not to Spray?

When I painted my own cabinets, I went all in with the Wagner HVLP (high volume, low pressure) conversion spray gun – doors, drawers and frames.  There are two main reasons for this:

  • You truly get a professional, factory finish with a spray gun, (with a lot of control using an HVLP gun), no brush marks!
  • My cabinet frames have raised panels, and I wanted the same factory finished look that I had with my cabinet doors and drawers.
How to paint kitchen cabinets

If you don’t know where to start when it comes to sprayers, take a look at my guide to paint sprayers as part of my “Painter in Your Pocket” series.

How to paint oak cabinets using a paint sprayer

That said, if your cabinet frames are relatively flat and don’t have a lot of nooks and crannies to worry about, you can save yourself some time and trouble and paint the frames by hand vs. spraying them.  I still recommend spraying the doors and drawers, because the finished look is second to none, but there is some flexibility on the frames.  Plus, it saves you the hassle of having to tape off your kitchen to avoid overspray.

If you choose to do your frames by hand, here is another tip for getting the best finish.  Use a mohair paint roller like this one by Purdy or this one by Wooster.  That is what I used for some of my projects, and the finish turned out beautifully – it looks like a sprayed finish.


Customize It

Another way to give your oak cabinets a new look is to add custom woodworking elements.  Build them up and trim them out with crown molding.  Add panels to the ends of your cabinets or to your island.  Add furniture details to give them a high end look.

Kristin’s kitchen is living proof that builder grade oak kitchens can be transformed into something high-end and custom.  Notice how the cabinets were built up and trimmed out with crown molding and the furniture look they have with the addition of  cabinet feet to the lower cabinets.

cabinet feet

How to paint oak cabinets and not see the grain
My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia

I’m still amazed that her kitchen started with this:

My Uncommon Slice of Suburbia

Pam, at Simple Details, added custom panels to her stock kitchen cabinets used in her kitchen island, to give it a high end look.

Simple Details


Custom woodworking details definitely help to kick it up a notch and pull the space together when you’re painting your cabinets.

Add New Hardware

It seems kind of obvious when you’re in the midst of redoing a kitchen, but it bears repeating.  New cabinet hardware can really step up the look and feel of your kitchen – even if you’re not painting them.  Old knobs and pulls just make a dated kitchen look even more dated, so consider some of the options out there.  And if you’re changing out your hardware, don’t forget this cabinet hardware mounting kit to make the job easier, if you’re starting with a clean slate.

cabinet hardware mounting kit

Hardware Trend

Bin pulls remain popular in kitchens – in just about any finish.  I am also a big fan of changing things up with a mix of knobs with pulls.  Step away from all knobs, or all pulls.  I think it gives a really polished and finished look.

Painted oak cabinets before and after

How to paint oak cabinets white

How to paint oak cabinets without the grain showing

Choosing a Color

One of the biggest decisions that comes with painting kitchen cabinets is choosing a color.  There are so many options out there, it’s hard to figure out which one is right for you and works with your home’s decor.  I know that I agonized over paint colors for more time than I care to admit.

My advice?  Samples, samples, samples!  And I’m not talking about the little paint chips here.  Spend the money on some sample pints/quarts and paint sample boards so you can get a feel for what the color will look like on a larger scale.  I have done this for clients with foam core boards, so they can compare the colors and live with them awhile before making a decision.  The color is something you want to get right.

Color trends in cabinetry right now seems to gravitate towards white, gray and black.  But, there are so many options within those colors, it can be overwhelming.  We know there are Fifty Shades of Gray, but who knew there were so many different shades of white?

Here are some great go-to colors to consider when painting cabinets white.

White Dove – Benjamin Moore:

What color do I paint my kitchen cabinets?


What paint do I use to paint my kitchen cabinets?

Decorators White – Benjamin Moore:

Decorator's White kitchen cabinets

Cloud White – Benjamin Moore:

Cloud White kitchen cabinets

Swiss Coffee – Benjamin Moore:

Swiss Coffee Kitchen Cabinets

Super White – Benjamin Moore:

Super White kitchen cabinets

Marscapone – Benjamin Moore:

Marscapone Kitchen Cabinets

Acadia White – Benjamin Moore:

Acadia White kitchen cabinets

Mountain Peak White – Benjamin Moore:

Mountain Peak White kitchen cabinets
If you’re loving the gray color trend in kitchens, there are lots of options there too.
Montpelier Ashstar Gray – Valspar

Dark Granite – Behr:

Dark Granite kitchen cabinets

Dorian Gray – Sherwin Williams:

Dorian Gray kitchen cabinets

Fieldstone – Benjamin Moore:

Fieldstone kitchen cabinets

Gettysburg Gray – Benjamin Moore:

Gettysburg Gray cabinets

Galveston Gray – Benjamin Moore

Galveston Gray cabinets

My friend Cyndy, over at The Creativity Exchange, is brilliant when it comes to paint colors, and has pulled together a couple of gorgeous gray color palettes to consider in the selection process:Favorite-Kitchen-Cabinet-Paint-Colors-Friday-Favorites-The-Creativity-Exchange1

Popular-and-versatile-cabinet-paint-colors-for-kitchen-bath-and-built-ins.-The-Creativity-Exchange-4Of course, the look of two-toned cabinets is quite popular right now, so you could mix white and gray or white and black to add some interest to your kitchen.

Island – Kendall Charcoal – Benjamin Moore:

Kendall Charcoal kitchen cabinets

This beautiful kitchen from Elements of Style, is a perfect example of two-toned cabinetry done right!  The upper cabinets are painted Classic White, and the lowers are Cape May Cobblestone (Benjamin Moore).  Absolutely gorgeous!

Cape May Cobblestone cabinets
Elements of Style

I don’t have the exact colors in this amazing two-toned kitchen, but it’s too beautiful not to share.

I have done some two tone looks for clients too, and while I love a fresh white kitchen, the two toned ones are a lot of fun to pull together as well.

A big transformation with Gauntlet Gray (lower cabinets) and Repose Gray (upper cabinets).

Gauntlet Gray cabinets

And another two toned look with Urbane Bronze and Alabaster in this kitchen.  What’s not to like with Urbane Bronze?  One of my favorites.  The homeowners also trimmed out their island for this redo, giving it a more custom look.

Urbane Bronze kitchen cabinets

If you have a hard time deciding on a cabinet color, visit a kitchen showroom and take a peek at their cabinets.  I was able to get a sample of a cabinet that I liked and had it color matched.  That’s how I decided upon my kitchen cabinet color, and I’ve used it for several clients as well.  This oak kitchen that I did for a client is that same custom color.  I think I need to get it patented. 😉



Painting oak kitchen cabinets

Jane’s kitchen makeover at Modern Jane, includes the addition of two-toned cabinets.  The upper cabinets are Natural White (ICI) and the lower cabinets are Whale Gray by Benjamin Moore.  I love how fresh and modern they look and the chrome pulls and glass knobs work beautifully with the cabinet colors.

If you happen to come across a cabinet color/sample that you love, don’t hesitate to take it to your local paint expert and have it color matched.  That’s exactly what I did when I painted our kitchen cabinets and island, and I got the exact look that I was looking for as a result.

If you’re refreshing your cabinets with paint, it’s a great opportunity to change something that you don’t always think about when updating kitchen cabinets – the hinges!  Many older homes with builder grade oak cabinets have exposed hinges.  Swap them out with hidden hinges, and take the transformation to the next level!  (Or hire someone to do it for you).  Read more about what a difference hinges can make in this post.

Check out this amazing kitchen reveal at Everyday Enchanting.  The doors are original – they painted them to give them a fresh look.  But look at the hinges – they swapped them out for hidden ones, which completely modernizes the kitchen (along with all of the other amazing updates).  Gorgeous!

If you’d like to read more about a comparison of a couple of paints that I have used for painting kitchen cabinets, you can read more about PPG’s Breakthrough vs. Benjamin Moore’s Advance here.

Painting Cabinets: Advance vs. Breakthrough

And don’t forget to check out my full tutorial on How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets Like a Professional.

Did I miss anything?  Do you have any suggestions you’d like to add in tackling oak cabinets?  I hope you find these tips + tricks for painting oak cabinets helpful, should you choose to tackle your own!

How to Paint Oak Cabinets - From a Pro


  • Reply
    marty (A Stroll Thru Life)
    January 21, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    Great post and so much inspiration. I love the two toned cabinets. Yours are stunning painted white. I would love for you to link up to my Inspire Me Tuesday party – - Hope to see you there. Hugs, Marty

  • Reply
    Kris @ Driven by Décor
    January 21, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    Awesome post! I've never heard of sanding sealer before. I'll be painting my daughters' bathroom cabinets down the road so I'm loving all this info!

  • Reply
    Cyndy Aldred
    January 21, 2014 at 2:21 pm

    Oh wow, what a fantastic post! So much great info here and its so awesome that you took the time to share your experience and go to products girl! Thank you so much for the shout out on the color palettes. So much goodness here (as always)!

  • Reply
    pam {simple details}
    January 21, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    Wow Jenny, thanks so much for putting all this together! What a great resource and tips. I've used some of the exact whites you recommend for cabinets. Thanks for the sweet mention, too!

  • Reply
    Lisa @ Shine Your Light
    January 21, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    Great post Jenny!! Love your color recommendations! I so wish we lived closer so we could take on some big projects together! I have used wood filler but only on a small piece. It would certainly be daunting to use it on an entire kitchen of cabinetry, but if the grain really bothers someone, worth the extra time involved. Thanks for sharing all these thoughts from your expertise. I will be pinning this post!

  • Reply
    January 21, 2014 at 8:14 pm

    Very informative post. I had never heard of the BM or SW grain fillers. I've been using one from Rockler. It works pretty well, but not really thin enough to brush or roll on. I'll look at these others. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Jennifer @ Dimples and Tangles
    January 23, 2014 at 3:28 pm

    Jenny, this post is a fantastic resource on so many levels! Thanks for sharing your tips, I'm going to try a few on my next go-around of painting cabinets!

  • Reply
    Kelley Lively
    February 5, 2014 at 7:56 pm

    Excellent post! My mother- in- law has been contemplating painting her oak cabinets white so I'll definitely share this with her!

  • Reply
    February 16, 2014 at 1:55 pm

    Love this post!! I've been agonizing over painting my oak cabs. Thanks for sharing these tips and for all the photos! I think I need to start by spending some time on the right color;)

  • Reply
    February 16, 2014 at 1:58 pm

    Love this post!! I've been agonizing over painting my oak cabs. Thanks for sharing these tips and for all the photos! I think I need to start by spending some time on the right color;)

  • Reply
    February 16, 2014 at 1:59 pm

    Love this post!! I've been agonizing over painting my oak cabs. Thanks for sharing these tips and for all the photos! I think I need to start by spending some time on the right color;)

  • Reply
    February 28, 2014 at 10:16 am

    Painted Kitchen CabinetsAssembled Kitchen Cabinets – Savannah Toffee base cabinets – Shopping for assembled kitchen cabinets online has never been easier!.Painted Kitchen Cabinets

  • Reply
    Krista Butler
    March 18, 2014 at 6:38 pm

    Do you have any color suggestions for an Espresso paint for my island?

  • Reply
    Krista Butler
    March 18, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Do you have any color suggestions for an Espresso paint for my island?

  • Reply
    Krista Butler
    March 18, 2014 at 6:39 pm

    Do you have any color suggestions for an Espresso paint for my island?

  • Reply
    March 31, 2014 at 5:51 am

    Nobody mentioned the random photo in the beginning of the breaded chicken breasts? Good post! Doing my wood filler sealer right now, then sanding and priming tomorrow. Wish me luck!

    • Reply
      March 31, 2014 at 11:27 am

      Oh my goodness – that happens sometimes when I upload photos and they have the same file name as an existing one! Thank you for bringing it to my attention!

  • Reply
    puja shaha
    April 7, 2014 at 4:47 pm

    Painting Contractors Redmond

    Our company is based on the belief that our customers' needs are of the utmost importance. Our entire team is committed to meeting those needs. As a result, a high percentage of our business is from repeat customers and referrals.
    We would welcome the opportunity to earn your trust and deliver you the best service in the industry.

    708-216TH ST SW
    BOTHELL, WA 98021
    Mon – Fri: 9AM – 5PM
    Sat: 10AM – 5PM
    Sun: Closed

  • Reply
    Danielle Lock
    April 29, 2014 at 4:43 am

    Any suggestions for staining oak cabinets when they are already sealed with a gloss finish?

  • Reply
    Danielle Lock
    April 29, 2014 at 4:43 am

    Any suggestions for staining oak cabinets when they are already sealed with a gloss finish?

  • Reply
    Jayden Eden
    May 30, 2014 at 10:36 pm

    All of these cabinets look very nice. I wouldn't mind having any of them in my home. I could really use some new ones, too. My current ones are pretty outdated.
    Jayden Eden |

  • Reply
    Kimberly Sheppard
    May 31, 2014 at 2:20 am

    I love Kristin's Kitchen at the very beginning! We are about to embark on a very similar transformation and this has given me ideas that I would not have thought of!! The crown and details added to the cabinets (little feet) plus the extended hood above the stove make all the difference. Do you know what colour the cabinets were painted? I have all the popular colour chips stuck to my cabinets right now and not one is that perfect creamy white. They are too yellow, too grey, too brown, too white…but not perfect like this!! Also, we LOVE the pendants. Any idea where she got them or what they are called?

  • Reply
    Super B
    June 2, 2014 at 3:50 am

    With your HPLV sprayer, do you use that for your primer as well as your paint? What about with your sanding sealer?
    We are close on a house in a week and a half and are planning to paint the kitchen cabinets. I know they are wood, but not sure if they are oak or not. Trying to decide if it's worth it to buy a paint sprayer. What type of sprayer do you have?

  • Reply
    June 2, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    I used the HPLV sprayer for the primer and the paint, but brushed on the sanding sealer. I bought my sprayer from GleemPaint – Hope this helps! Good luck!

  • Reply
    Sky Bleau
    June 14, 2014 at 4:07 am

    So much wonderful info. I have oak cabinets that are stained and sealed with a high gloss sealer. I want to paint them but really don't want to tackle sanding them. Could I prime them and then paint? I luckily have many cabinets and it is going to be a big job so I don't want to make more work than I have to. I also would like to put a glaze on them to give them an antique look, sort of a farm house look. Thanks.

  • Reply
    Grant Harper
    August 30, 2014 at 3:47 pm

    These are excellent tips for painting your oak cabinets! I've been looking to redo my kitchen lately, and I haven't been able to decide whether I should get new cabinets or paint them. My sister got new cabinets in her kitchen, and it looks really clean and sophisticated. I think I'll have to look at my options and see which will be best.

  • Reply
    Richmond Gordon
    September 22, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    Thanks for sharing this! It can be a challenge to paint oak cabinets, especially if you want to go for a look that’s immaculately white for your kitchen. That’s why they have to be primed well, so that there will be no trace of wood bleeding through.

    Richmond Gordon @ CertaPro Painters

  • Reply
    Angela Killpack
    September 30, 2014 at 12:26 am

    Are white kitchen cabinets all the rage these days? I do love the look and how bright they make the kitchen look! I've never really had problem with a little bit of wood grain showing through, but they do date your cabinets.

  • Reply
    September 30, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    How many coats of sanding sealer do you usually use?

  • Reply
    Patrick O'Leary
    October 9, 2014 at 2:24 am

    Did you use oil base primer and paint or latex? Thank you for all the information!

  • Reply
    Dimention Sofa
    October 14, 2014 at 12:21 pm

    Excellent blogs. I really appreciates with your article. thanks for sharing useful tips. wood cabinets

  • Reply
    Julie Myers
    October 20, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    These are some great pictures of some wood cabinets! I have a very old kitchen that could use some updating, but I haven't been sure what to do. I was thinking about getting new cabinets, but I may just paint them. Which do you think would be a better option if they are getting really worn out rough?

  • Reply
    Hely Fell
    November 24, 2014 at 9:59 am

    You have really selected the suitable topic; this is one of my favorite blogs. dating tips for women

  • Reply
    Sergio Freddson
    December 15, 2014 at 9:25 pm

    This is all great to know! I had no idea that using primer could virtually eliminate the grainy look of the wood. I have been trying to figure out how to do that for a while. I'll look into the putty options that you talked about if the primer doesn't do the trick, but that seems like a very simple fix. Thanks for sharing!

  • Reply
    Emily Brooklyn
    January 29, 2015 at 1:49 am

    I like some of the pictures that show the white kitchen cabinets, it looks more modern and minimalist. Awesome!

  • Reply
    February 1, 2015 at 5:39 am

    If you investigate fashionable homes nowadays you may realize that these homes have numerous spaces and every area has got to look special, for more information click here painter tequesta.

  • Reply
    David Hudson
    February 3, 2015 at 10:41 am

    Decent paints with lighting and arrangements in style all making them wow factor kitchens. Further, they also looking spacious kitchens.

  • Reply
    Esther Oakley
    February 10, 2015 at 9:22 pm

    Excellent post, if I choose to paint my cabinets soon I will make sure to refer to this. I find that I personally love the classic wood look on cabinets. Rather than painting them a certain color I want them to each have their own personality. With the way my cabinets are made I would have to hand paint them.

  • Reply
    Kristen Dockery
    March 6, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    Thanks for the many different tips and tricks on painting cabinets. I have been wanting to redo my kitchen cabinets for a while now, but wasn't sure if I would be able to make my cabinets look good with out purchasing new ones all together. I can't wait to finally start this project because I am so excited to see how it all turns out. Do you have any other tips that would be helpful to know before I start painting my cabinets?

  • Reply
    March 25, 2015 at 12:12 pm

    Hello….we are trying to paint some unfinished oak cabinets. Since we wanted to hide the grain we used Behlen's wood grain filler and have gotten the surface pretty smooth but when we applied the cabinet paint on top of the filled surface (Cabinet Coat) it basically comes right off with a light sanding after drying. So, then we tried putting Zinser's 123 primer over the wood grain filler coating hoping that the paint would stick to that, but a light sanding of the primer is also coming off. Any thoughts or suggestions you may have would be appreciated. All products are water soluble, all surfaces had been given more than proper drying times in between and tacked clothed to remove any dust so we think it is an issue with the wood filler causing adhesion issues. When we tried the paint on raw wood adhesion was not a problem. Thanks…

    • Reply
      March 26, 2015 at 7:13 pm

      Sorry you're having issues! What kind of Zinsser primer are you using? You could try their shellac primer (BIN), or even Coverstain (an oil based primer). Or even try using the sanding sealer and then priming over that. Worst case, talk to a knowledgeable paint guy in your area – they are a fountain of knowledge!

    • Reply
      March 27, 2015 at 12:30 am

      Thanks for your reply! We did go to the local Benjamin Moore store and the guy suggested the Zinsser BIN (we had used the 123 formula). He said if that doesn't do it "they ain't gettin' painted" which was a scary thought. My husband has already coated several doors with the grain filler and they are very smooth and will look great painted if we can get it to stick. We've sanded one of the drawer fronts, applied BIN and are now waiting until morning to see how it has adhered….hopefully we can move forward from there. Thanks again!

  • Reply
    Rhonda Rutherford
    March 26, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    Hi there, absolutely LOVE these tutorials! Thank you! I have a question. Do you sand after you apply the sander sealer? The can says to but I didn't see that here so wanted to confirm? Thanks!!

    • Reply
      March 26, 2015 at 7:09 pm

      I would give it a light sanding. After that, you're good to prime. 🙂

    1 2 3

    Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.