The Most Important Step When Painting Your Kitchen Cabinets

published Sep 5, 2017
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(Image credit: Diana Liang)

With any paint project, it’s all about the prep. I learned this the hard way when I tried to paint without priming, or thought I might be able to get straight edges without using painters’ tape — not possible (at least for me!).

But kitchen cabinets are especially tricky because, if you really do it properly, you need to take everything apart. We’re talking everything. You have to take off every single door and drawer face. And every hinge. And every drawer pull and knob.

Besides it being a time-consuming process, it’s one that can go wrong quickly if you don’t do this one thing: Number the doors and drawers before you take them off.

Why It’s Important to Number Your Pieces During a Cabinet Painting Project

“It’s not tricky to put the pieces back together — you just have to make sure you label every single one,” explain professional painters Chris and Lexi Dowding of SwatchOut in Michigan. That’s because, oftentimes, you’re painting older cabinets, and even if the doors and drawers look the same to you, there may be quirks in the cabinets that could cause one door to sit differently than another. Or a screw might sit in a slightly different spot. If you don’t put each piece back where it came from, things could look crooked or require some brute force in order to go back on.

(Image credit: Diana Liang)

The Best Way to Label Your Cabinet Pieces

The way Chris and Lexi like to do this is to make a rough diagram of the kitchen. It doesn’t have to look like a professional rendering — you just have to be able to understand it. Then on your diagram, assign each door and drawer a number. Start at the top, left cabinet. That’s one. The one to the right is two, and so on. Number all of your upper cabinets and then start numbering the lower drawers and cabinets. In our example, the first drawer is 12, the cabinet doors below that are 13 and 14, and so on.

(Image credit: Diana Liang)

Once your map is drawn, it’s time to remove the pieces. But your numbering efforts are not over! As Chris and Lexi remove the doors and frames, they take the hinges off (something they’d have to do to paint the wood, anyway) and use a marker to write the piece’s assigned number in the little recessed cavity where the hinge was. That little number then gets covered with a piece of painter’s tape so that it can be easily read when the painting is over.

(Image credit: Diana Liang)

The hinges for each door also get labeled and put into a labeled zip-top bag so it’s easy to match up when it’s time to replace the door. (They just use a Sharpie to write on the underside of the hinge). The top hinge for door 12 becomes 12A and the bottom hinge gets 12B. If your cabinets have knobs or pulls, those go into the corresponding bags.

It may sound like a lot of work before you even get to start painting, but Future You will really appreciate these efforts. At least if you think Future You will care about wonkily hanging cabinet doors and crooked drawer faces.

Keep reading all month for more tips on painting your kitchen cabinets.