The Key to Hiding Oak Wood Grain When Painting Them White

how to paint oak cabinets white

Do you want to update your kitchen but don’t have the money right now? Are you wondering how to paint oak cabinets white and hide the wood grain? Here you’ll find my step-by-step tutorial on how to paint kitchen cabinets the right way and most importantly, you’ll learn the trick on how to hide oak wood grain.

So, you think you want to know how to paint oak cabinets white?

A few things I want to mention before we get to the steps. First, I am specifically talking about how to paint oak cabinets white; however, this method could easily be adapted to any paint color. The reason I opted to talk about white is because it is a popular choice for kitchen’s these days and because it is probably the hardest color to get great coverage due it being so light, especially when trying to cover wood grain such as oak.

Second, this is not the fastest or easiest diy project. This takes a lot of elbow grease, patience, and some existing painting experience for best results. Ideally, and I think in most cases, you’re painting your oak kitchen cabinets to buy you some time to save up for a new kitchen so you’re less worried about your painted oak cabinets being totally perfect.

Lastly, you can easily adapt this method to painting cabinets with different wood surface or in other areas of your home such as a bathroom vanity cabinet. To paint any other type of wood other than oak you would simply omit step six.

Regardless, let’s get to the good stuff, here are my ten steps for how to paint oak kitchen cabinets white.

Disclaimer: Please remember that I am a DIY enthusiast, not a professional. This article is for general information use and is not a substitute for professional advice. Before taking any actions, consult a professional! Additionally, this may contain affiliate links to websites where I receive a small commission if you make a purchase using my link. All opinions and recommendations are my own. I appreciate you taking my suggestions and using my links. Thank you for being so supportive!

How To Paint Oak Cabinets White

how to paint oak cabinets white

Step One: Prep Your Cabinets

  • The first step is simple- remove the existing hardware and hinges.
  • As you remove each piece, make sure to number everything, so you know where it goes when putting everything back up. 

Step Two: Prep Your Kitchen

  • The best approach to prepping your kitchen is to remove everything from it. When I say everything, I mean all the snacks, containers, glasses, etc., from inside the cabinets and drawers. The following step for painting kitchen cabinets includes sanding; from experience, this dust gets everywhere. Two years later, I’m still finding dust on stuff inside my cabinets because I didn’t do this step. So, do as I say, not as I do!
  • Additionally, it is a good idea to cover the inside of the cabinet boxes with plastic and seal it with painter’s tape to prevent sanding dust and paint drips from getting in. Here is a link to the type of plastic I’m talking about.
  • Place a drop cloth down to cover your floors from any drips or accidental paint spills.

Step Three: Clean

  • Cleaning is essential to remove any grime or grease from your cabinets and helps to ensure your primer and paint will adhere best. 
  • TSP is highly effective for degreasing and cleaning wood; however, some people steer away from this product due to its toxicity. If you opt to use this, you need to follow the safety directions to a T! Proper ventilation and personal protective gear are a must.
  • My go-to cleaner for wood is Krud Kutter. I’ve found it highly effective in removing grime and grease (you should see some of the stuff that comes off old furniture!). It’s also a safer option compared to TSP.
  • Lastly, if neither of these chemical options is suitable for you, dawn dish soap and water should work. 
  • The key is you use something that will wipe away years of gross from your cabinets. 
  • If your cabinets are brand new, you can skip the cleaner altogether!

Step Four: Sanding

  • In this step of painting oak kitchen cabinets white, you will start with 60 grit sandpaper and sand all the surfaces you plan to paint. 
  • Sanding is the most labor-intensive part. This step is a lot of work, but it’s important work. Don’t skimp, or else the paint won’t stick, which means your painted cabinets will eventually chip. 
  • When sanding, the goal is not to remove the old finish. You’re not trying to get down to bare wood; instead, you are sanding to rough up the work surface enough so your paint sticks.
  • To get in the corners or any tiny grooves, I suggest getting into these areas by hand. The trick is folding your sandpaper in half.
how to paint oak cabinets white

Step Five: Hiding Wood Grain

  • Here’s the key when painting oak kitchen cabinets white- hiding the wood grain.
  • First, let’s deal with larger chips or old hardware holes by filling them with spackle. Allow this to dry, sand it down and if needed, apply a second coat. 
  • Now let’s deal with that oak grain! Using joint compound, apply a thin layer over the entire wood surface to cover the wood grain. Allow this to dry, lightly sand it down and if needed, apply a second coat. 

Why can’t I just use spackle to cover the wood grain?

Spackle is less likely to shrink, which is why it is designed for repairs and filling holes. It, however, does not hold up as well to sanding, which is why joint compound is the better choice for covering oak wood grain. For best results when smoothing out a surface with joint compound, use multiple thin layers and sand between each coat.

Step Six: Priming

What is the best primer for painting cabinets?

  • The right primer is KEY to your success when painting oak cabinets white for two reasons. One, your oak cabinets have tannins which, if not covered with a stain-blocking primer, these tannins will pop through over time, causing your paint to yellow. Second, a good primer will increase your paint adhesion aka your painted cabinets are less likely to chip.
  •  Do not skimp and buy a cheaper primer. Aside from sanding, the quality of your primer is essential for the long-term durability of painted kitchen cabinets.
  • The best primer for painting oak kitchen cabinets is an oil-based product such as Zinsser or Kilz.

How to prime cabinets:

  • You have two options for applying your primer- by hand or with a paint sprayer. I’ll talk more about the sprayer option when we get down to the painting section. For now, let’s talk about how to paint kitchen cabinets by hand using a paintbrush and foam mini roller. 
  • I prefer an angled paint brush; however, this is merely a personal painting preference. An angled brush will not have any impact on the finish. 
  • The mini foam roller is different since not just any roller will do. You need to use a foam roller to reduce the appearance of paint strokes, giving you a smooth finish.
  • After you apply your first coat of primer, you may think things look terrible and start worrying that painting oak cabinets white was a huge mistake. Breathe… using multiple thin layers of primer is best, so after each coat, things will continue to look better and better. 
  • Let your first coat of primer dry for at least an hour (check your primer recommended drying time on the back of the can).
  • Next, using 220 grit sandpaper, give your freshly primed surfaces a light sanding. You don’t want to remove the primer; you’re just doing the slightest amount of sanding to scuff the surface between coats and to smooth out any slightly un-level spots on the surface.
  • The trick for a smooth surface when painting oak kitchen cabinets is to use the correct sandpaper grit and apply gentle pressure. 
  • After sanding, wipe everything down with a tack cloth to remove all that sand dust. 
  • You’re now ready to add a second coat of primer. Repeat step six one more time!

Step Seven: Caulking

  • Caulking is time-consuming and an added step when painting kitchen cabinets, but I found this worth the added time investment.
  • A note about this step is it’s not required, and the consensus from professional cabinet painters is that they skip this step altogether.
  • Since wood expands and contracts, this could cause the caulk to crack. Not caulking allows the wood to breathe.
  • I preferred the look of painted cabinets with caulked seems versus those that I did not caulk, so the aesthetics won when deciding to do this step or not.
  • Using paintable caulk is essential for just that, so that you can paint over it! Primer and paint will not adhere to non-paintable caulk. 

Step Eight: Paint

Congrats, the most challenging parts of this home improvement project are behind you. It’s time to apply the first coat of paint! But one more thing before you do is to ensure you’ve selected the best paint for painting kitchen cabinets.

What is the best paint for painting cabinets?

  • A frequently asked question is what is the best paint for kitchen cabinets? I can understand why you want to ensure you use the best paint. I mean, you’ve invested a ton of time and energy into this project, and the last thing you want is to not have it last by using subpar paint. 
  • After hours upon hours of researching this topic, I determined Benjamin Moore Advance and Behr Ultra with Scuff Defense as two great options. 
  • I like the consistency and coverage of Behr Ultra (eggshell finish) the best. Benjamin Moore Advance was thicker and held up exceptionally well on my RV-painted cabinets; however, I didn’t love it as much as the Behr when it came to ease of application. 
  • I also don’t love that you have to go to a different paint store to buy Benjamin Moore when I can buy Behr at the hardware store.
  • Behr Ultra is highly durable and easy to work with, which is why it’s my go-to paint choice for all my diy projects. I’m two years post-painting kitchen cabinets with Behr Ultra, and I’ve not had a single chip, and any drips or spills wipe off the surface like a breeze.

How To Paint Oak Cabinets White

  • Repeat the steps you did in step six (except with paint in place of primer): paint, sand, clean, paint, sand. 
  • The easiest way to ensure a smooth finish is to apply thin coats of paint.
  • Let the paint dry for a few hours between coats before sanding. Remember, the second coat of paint is a must when painting kitchen cabinets!
  • Painting the cabinet interiors is not essential; however, I highly suggest taking the extra time to paint the inside of your doors.

Step Nine: Drawers and Doors

  • I suggest completing your cabinet bases and then start the entire process on your doors and drawers. 
  • The prep, prime, and paint process is the same as I already reviewed; however, here are a few added tips to tackling these flat areas to give them an even more pro-looking finish.
  • My first tip is to start with the backs of your doors- do the prep, prime, and painting process in its entirety on the backs before moving to the fronts. This way, you’re avoiding smudging or nicking any of your work. You’re less likely to be upset about a minor flaw on the back than you would on the fronts of your cabinets.
  • My second tip is, if you don’t already own one, I highly suggest investing in a paint sprayer since it is the best way to avoid brush marks on the surface of the cabinet. 

Paint Sprayer Tips and Tricks

  • This reasonably priced paint sprayer has more than paid for itself in the number of projects I’ve done with it. It’s around $100 and makes all the difference in your final finish. A paintbrush cannot match the finish of a paint sprayer. 
  • The paint sprayer significantly reduces the amount of time it takes to paint; however, the biggest complaint about the sprayer is how it takes longer to clean it than it does to paint with it.
  • It would be best if you painted outside and second best in an enclosed (well ventilated) area. Somewhere where you’re not worried about paint overspray getting on the surfaces. From experience, I can assure you that the overspray is real! 
  • If this is your first time using a paint sprayer, I suggest practicing on something other than your cabinets.

Step Ten: Hinges and Hardware

  • The last step is to attach your hardware and hinges. Just be patient and make sure your paint cures before you do so.
  • If you’re planning to paint your hardware to save money, spray paint works amazing! However, I don’t recommend doing this on your hinges. Trust me; it doesn’t last. I tried reusing the hinges while painting kitchen cabinets in my camper, and literally the first time I opened the cabinet, the paint peeled off. Not rocket science, but you can’t blame a girl for trying!
  • If you’re using new drawer pulls and new hinges, you’ll also need to drill new holes.

Frequently Asked Questions About How to Paint Oak Cabinets White

how to paint oak cabinets white

What If I don’t hide the wood grain when painting oak cabinets?

Nothing terrible will happen if you don’t cover the wood grain of your oak cabinets. You’ll simply have cabinets with a painted wood grain texture. People so frequently ask how to paint oak cabinets because they want to conceal the wood grain to give their outdated cabinets a more modern and high-end finish.

What is the best primer to paint oak cabinets white?

The best primer for painting oak cabinets white is an oil-based product such as Zinsser or Kilz.

What is the best paint for kitchen cabinets?

Search this on the internet and you’ll end up dizzy and cross-eyed. After hours upon hours of researching this topic, I ended up using Benjamin Moore Advance (in my camper) and Behr Ultra with Scuff Defense (in my house). These are both great options and I’d recommend both as the best paint for kitchen cabinets.

What are the benefits of painting oak cabinets?

The greatest thing about this home improvement project is how incredibly affordable it is to complete. Did I mention I painted my kitchen cabinets for less than $100? Enough said.

Another benefit to painting kitchen cabinets is keeping your countertops, that is, if you like your counters. If you were to replace your cabinets, you would also likely need to replace your countertops due to potential damage from the removal process. Have you priced out countertops? Here’s a hint, it’s insanely expensive to replace them! If you’re on a budget, saving your countertops is a big way to stick to your budget.

What is the worst part about painting oak cabinets white?

Painting oak kitchen cabinets is more intense than other painting projects. It takes a considerable amount of time to complete and complete well. As I mentioned, this is not the fastest or easiest diy project. While each step is not exactly hard, it takes determinization and patience to complete each step correctly.

What is the best way to cover the wood grain when painting oak cabinets?

To cover the wood grain, apply joint compound in a thin layer over the entire wood surface. Allow each layer to dry, and then lightly sand it down and if needed, apply a second and possibly third coat. 

What about using spackle to cover oak wood grain?

Spackle does not hold up well to sanding, which is why the joint compound is the better choice for covering oak wood grain. 

How to Paint Oak Cabinets White: Wrap Up

You asked how to paint oak kitchen cabinets white, and I delivered the best tips and tricks. This step-by-step tutorial gave you the right way to paint cabinets, and most importantly, you learned the best way to hide oak wood grain. I hope you’re feeling more confident about this diy project now that I’ve given you this complete guide on how to paint oak cabinets white. 

I’d absolutely love to celebrate your sucess with painting oak cabinets, leave a comment with your before and after pics!



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