ABBE’S HOUSE | kitchen cabinets: prepping

When I first launched the milk paint line, I knew that this wonderful medium has limitations.  Because it’s all natural, it lacks some of the things in modern paints that make them more predictable.  That aspect of milk paint has always been fun for me in the creative process, but it can be frustrating if you’re knee deep in a project and it’s not turning out how you expected.  When our primary educator, Abbe, bought a new-to-her home, so wanted to paint her run-of-the-mill builder grade oak cabinets to see how MMSMP would work on them.  She learned A LOT and we wanted to share the good, bad and ugly with you!  Here is her brutally honest experience…

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First of all, let me say a big o’ thank you for all your sweet comments on the kitchen redo! I am falling in love with it everyday- it has been so light and cheery to be in, and considering I hate to cook, I need all the help I can get in there!
kitchenbeforeandafter So today, let’s tackle the prep aspect of milk painting previously finished cabinetry. My cabinets were medium oak, with a high gloss finish.  I wanted the majority of the paint to stick, but I wasn’t opposed if it chipped a little. I wanted them to feel lived in, and fit with the farm house feel I was going for.

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Here are a few things to consider before you paint:
1. The finish on your cabinetry
Poly coated, varnished, or lacquered cabinetry will need more prep besides just adding bonding agent. Many of these top coats are designed to resist most anything that sticks to it, including paint and primers.
2. The age of your cabinetry
Cabinetry will have different finishes depending on the age of your home. Typically the older the home, the more worn your finish may be, but not necessarily. Do some research. I have painted oak cabinets from the 80’s and unitized cabinets from the 50’s. Each one had a totally different luster and prep.
3. If you are not the original homeowner, what the previous home owner may have put on the cabinetry: cleaners, oils, waxes, etc.
This aspect I believe really threw my finish for a loop. I did most of the prep I am going to share with you in a minute, but still had abnormal chipping. There could be a build up of oils from how they cooked, to a cleaner, that could have added extra film on the cabinet besides just it’s original top coat.
4. How the cabinetry was manufactured.
Chances are you don’t know how your wood cabinets were treated. Unless you have bought them straight from the manufacturer, this could be another element that you might be tackling blindly
5. Your desired finish- Do you want a full coverage, supreme adhesion? Or are you going for a distressed, chipping looking paint?
I hate to say it, but if you are 100% going milk paint, and you want full coverage, get out the sander. You are going to have to sand. All the points above show you how many elements can work against milk paint.
Painting cabinetry is different than painting furniture. You may need sanding and bonding agent.

Ways to prep:
1. This is a good tip for any type of paint, when removing your cabinetry- number doors and cupboards. It will prevent a long puzzle piecing after they are done!
kit011Lesson learned: don’t think you will be able to remember which door went where. 🙂

2. Clean
As we talked about above, there are several potential things that could be between you and a good coat of paint.  Deglossers, cleansers, and liquid sanding is a good way to get your finish down, prepped for paint.

Now where this may be enough for some duller, older cabinetry, for my high gloss oak, it was not. I believe what happened is that the deglosser just took off some filmy build up from the previous owners, not the finish.

Lesson learned: Cleansers and deglossers may NOT be enough.

3. Priming.
A step you may want to consider for your frame work is priming.

A good bonding primer will need 24 hours to sit and cure before you paint over it.kit015I being the non-direction reader that I am, painted a coat of milk paint over my primed framework within 3 hours. The milk paint pulled the primer up in places, showing the original wood underneath.

kit22Milk paint likes to be absorbed, it’s a thirsty paint that will grab and pull on to it’s surface. When the surface it’s painted on isn’t porous, or absorbent, it will pull it up with it sometimes, causing that chip we all love.

I had this happen in small spots, and left it. In other areas, it happened in large areas, so I needed to do some spot treatment.
kit18I scoured the surface very roughly- knocking off the flaking paint, and sanding the wood giving it good tooth.
kit20I did another bonding agent coat on top of that and let it cure over night.
kit21Lesson learned: When using a primer instead of sanding, let it cure 24 hours.

4. Sanding
Sanding is a must step in my opinion if you are painting previously finished cabinetry. Just don’t risk it. If you don’t know what your cabinetry has on it and has been treated with, better be safe than sorry, and sand.  Here’s where I wish I would have done this to begin with.
kit5I used a deglosser, I scuff coated, and I used bonding agent. All my doors chipped 75-80% off.  After another coat, it still chipped. I ended up sanding off all the chipped paint and down to the wood.

Now, you may be thinking, “I can’t believe you didn’t throw in the towel at that point!”

mpkitchenBelieve me, I was frustrated, but I wanted to give you all a very honest approach to using milk paint on cabinetry. All my tried and true steps for milk painting furniture were not enough to give me the same results with cabinets.
Fear not, I pressed on and learned allot! (this picture was from my instagram, where I was nearing the end!)
Lesson learned: Default to sanding, take as much of the shine off as you can. You have no idea what might be built up on those cabinets!

5. Mixing
kit012When doing a large project like this, a blender used only for milk paint is best. I mixed an entire bag (1 quart) of Shutter Gray for my kitchen. I was able to coat the entire kitchen 2 times.
Add the water first to the blender, then paint on top. Paint first will be too thick and could jam your mixer.  Your retailer is able to order bonding agent in larger sizes if you need it. I mixed 2 cups of paint, 2 cups of water, and 2 cups of bonding agent.
kit7I painted the outer cupboards with a brush, and rolled the doors. Blended milk paint is super smooth, and rolls on beautifully.
IMG_20140101_190445_958Lesson learned: Use a blender for large batches. Keep paint in air tight containers to use for a 2nd coat.

Milk paint isn’t always text book when painting over finished wood. I love milk paint with all my heart, and it is still my go to paint for furniture. If you are painting raw wood, you don’t need to consider any of this- in fact, you can’t get a BETTER paint for raw wood than milk paint. It is beyond durable when painted on raw.

Chances are, you are redoing a kitchen though, and we want you to consider all the aspects that you need to consider with milk paint.  My cabinets gave me a run for my money- but I was glad! I am able to tell you all the do’s and don’ts now from an honest perspective….

We sanded, and then painted with bonding agent, and I got what I was envisioning!

Where as the process was unpredictable, it was amazing to paint inside in the dead of winter, with NO TOXIC SMELL, FUMES, OR VOC’S. My kids even joined in the fun!

Next post in the series: Top coating.

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Abbe is such a trooper, right?  Goodness.  Even I was telling her to throw in the towel!  Now, we know a lot of customers who have successfully used MMSMP on pre-finished cabinetry, but obviously there was something about these cabinets that milk paint didn’t want to stick to.  We wanted to share that, so you could go into your project aware of the challenges.

If you want to use milk paint on cabinetry, I would suggest testing it out on one cabinet door to see how the paint adheres.  It may be perfect…one coat and done.  Or it may show you that you’re in for more work than you’d like to tackle.

We want you to have success when you use MMSMP and we want to share all of the information we can to ensure that!  Happy painting!

4 thoughts on “ABBE’S HOUSE | kitchen cabinets: prepping

  1. Louise

    Thanks for your honesty in this big job. The results, while hard earned, are beautiful!

  2. Beck

    The cabinets look great. What a difference. So many of us have those plain oak cabinets. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I love that you share all your frustration so that we can learn from it. You definitely have earned a patience award!

  3. julie

    I am in such admiration of your perseverance Abbe! The cabinets turned out beautifully, and I keep referring back to your tips.

    Thanks for sharing!

  4. Jenise

    They do look luvly:) and now that it is a few months later, do you still like them? I have four daughters that like to help me cook in the kitchen and i am wondering how durable milk paint on cabinets is to the inevitable coffee, tomato, drink stains?


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