Painting Oak Cabinets: 5 Must-Know Tips To Achieve The Smoothest Finish (2022)

Painting Oak Cabinets: 5 Must-Know Tips To Achieve The Smoothest Finish (1)

Painting oak cabinets is a simple and very effective way to update your kitchen. Painting oak kitchen cabinets is not as difficult as you might think, but it does require some preparation and attention to detail. In this blog post, I will give you 5 tips to help ensure the smoothest finish when painting oak cabinets!

If you buy a home built in the 80s or 90s, you’ll more than likely be inheriting a kitchen complete with oak cabinets. If you’re not a fan of the dated look or want to update your kitchen with an easy and affordable do-it-yourself project, painting oak cabinets is a great way to go about it!

As much as I appreciate how solid oak is as a plank of wood, the orangey hue isn’t exactly my jam. I’m going to show you how I tackle painting oak cabinets, and what supplies and tools I use. Plus, I’ll share why it’s incredibly important to prep them properly before painting (gasp!), and the final steps for a great-looking finished product.

How To Paint Oak Kitchen Cabinets: 5 Awesome Tips!

So what are the secrets for achieving that perfect finish? There are five simple things you can do:

1. Fill in the grain. Yes or No?

First things first – take a look at your oak cabinets. See that distinctive grain pattern? That’s exactly what a lot of people DON’T want to see in their painted cabinets.

Painting Oak Cabinets: 5 Must-Know Tips To Achieve The Smoothest Finish (2)

I’m going to be honest with you: filling the grain is a ton of extra work! So let me be clear, you don’t HAVE to do this step if you don’t want to. If you skip this step, your painted cabinets can still look really awesome! I find that 95% of my clients don’t care that they can see the grain pattern after the cabinets have been painted. But if you’re part of that 5% who does care about it, and you DON’T want to see it – then you will need to fill the wood grain before you paint!

(Video) Get A Factory Finish On Your Painted Cabinets |Step By Step | THE HANDYMAN |

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I’ve learned a lot about filling in wood grain over my 7 years of painting cabinets. I have easily painted thousands of cabinets in this time, and have put together everything I know about how to fill in wood grain in this FREE mini-course!

2. Brush on the first coat.

Look, I get it. Once you’ve done the prep work of dealing with the wood grain, it can be tempting to grab a can of primer and start spraying it. But, DON’T.

If you spray the primer on, you will see tiny black holes/cracks/divots/voids where the paint has not seeped into the grain. Sprayed paint only sits on top ofthe surface and doesn’t get into the deep grainy areas. Therefore it leaves the surface looking like this!

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To keep this from happening, brush on the first coat of primer, then spray all of the other coats afterward. Brushing on the first coat will push the primer into the grain and will leave you with a surface with no black voids – you may still see the grain pattern, but it will look better than if you had only sprayed.

Painting Oak Cabinets: 5 Must-Know Tips To Achieve The Smoothest Finish (5)
(Video) Problem Solved! Transform Golden Oak Cabinets To A Smooth Finish

3. Put the water-based primer back on the shelf!

Water-based primers are not the best. I know, I know….this isn’t what you wanted to hear, but trust me, using an oil-based primer is SO much better in the long run when you are painting oak cabinets.

There are a few very good reason for this:

  • Oil base primer will block all stain and tannin bleed through (something that water based primers cannot do).
  • It will sand as smooth as a baby’s bottom, which is what you want in painted cabinets!
  • This type of primer is infinitely better at adhering to oak cabinets versus water-based primers.
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Just because oil base is awesome doesn’t mean that people are super psyched about it though. Typically when I mention the words OIL BASED PRIMER, homeowners shove their fingers in their ears and run away from shouting LA LA LA LA LA!!!!! Can you relate? 😉

But, it’s really not that bad I promise!

If you need extra hand-holding and moral support, check out my cabinet painting course. I have full-length videos on everything you need to know about using oil-based primer when painting oak kitchen cabinets. I will walk you through all aspects, from how to thin it, applying it with my signature Roll and Tip Method (which ensures the least amount of brush marks possible), and how to clean it up when you’re done!

Trust me, oil base is the way to go when painting oak cabinets (and any other cabinet for that matter)

4. Choose your sheen carefully.

Here’s a handy rule to keep in mind: the higher the sheen, the more you’ll see the grain pattern.

(Video) The BEST Cabinet Paint!! (Benjamin Moore Advance Review)

Semi-gloss and gloss paints will reflect more light which will highlight the pattern of the grain. If you want to minimize the prominence of the grain, which we absolutely do, use a satin or an eggshell sheen.

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5. Pick a different wood for add-ons.

When you take the leap to paint your kitchen cabinets, you may want to add on some other features too. Whether it’s additional cabinets, trim, crown moulding, or another feature, it’s the perfect opportunity to get the kitchen of your dreams!

If you’re modifying your cabinets in any other way before painting, then it’s best to choose a wood other than oak.

I recommend using a smooth/closed grain wood for those additions. Once everything is painted you won’t know that different wood species were used.

Using non-grainy wood for additions is especially critical if you’re going to be filling the grain on your existing cabinetry! Trust me, I learned this one the hard way!

I’ll never forget painting cabinets for this one client who added a ton of modifications to her existingkitchen. They built the frames up to the ceiling, added crown molding, beadboard, and other additions. Since her existing cabinets were Oak, she has all of the new additions made of oak so it would “match”. Yikes!

I totally understand her reasoning. But, she really wanted none of the grain pattern to show…so in the end, it created a ton more work for me to fill it in. If they had used MDF and/or Maple for the new additions, it would’ve been loads easier!

(Video) The Absolute Best Paint for Cabinets

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Here’s What You REALLY Need to Know About Painting Oak Cabinets!

Remember, oak cabinets are solid and wonderful, but the grain will really show through unless you are extremely careful. I’ll be honest: if you have existing oak cabinetry it is important to know that painting oak kitchen cabinets will require more work than other materials.

That being said, you can still give your kitchen an entirely new look for just a fraction of the cost compared to brand new cabinets.

With a little grit and sweat equity, you can get those beautiful smooth painted oak cabinets!

Painting Oak Cabinets: 5 Must-Know Tips To Achieve The Smoothest Finish (9)

Have I convinced you to give it a try? By applying these oak cabinet painting tips, you will save money and have the pride of all your hard work. It’s a great way to get creative and add color or update those tired-looking cabinets in your kitchen!

Grab this free list to help you get started with this project…

Painting Oak Cabinets: 5 Must-Know Tips To Achieve The Smoothest Finish (10)

Free Supply List Download

(Video) DIY How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets A to Z

More Posts To Read:

  • 10 Must-Know Cabinet Painting Tips Before You Pick up A Paint Brush
  • How To Repaint Kitchen Cabinets
  • 10 Worst Cabinet Painting Mistakes
  • How To Fix A Dresser With Wood Veneer That Is Too Far Gone
  • Learn To Fill Woodgrain: Insider Tips From A Pro
Painting Oak Cabinets: 5 Must-Know Tips To Achieve The Smoothest Finish (11)


How do you get a smooth finish on oak cabinets? ›

Problem Solved! Transform Golden Oak Cabinets To A Smooth Finish

What is the best way to paint oak kitchen cabinets? ›

Painting Oak Cabinets - Transform Your Kitchen! - YouTube

What is the best paint to use on oak cabinets? ›

The best paint for oak cabinets I found is Insl-X Cabinet Coat Enamel in satin diluted and applied with a paint sprayer.

How do you paint oak cabinets like a pro? ›

How to Paint Your Kitchen Cabinets like a Pro with Sharon Grech

Are oak cabinets Coming Back in Style 2022? ›


As far as natural wood cabinet colors go, light and medium oak will still be trending in 2022 … whether it's your full kitchen or just your kitchen island. Either way looks beautiful! And you can't go wrong with beautiful stained (or painted) dark kitchen cabinets.

How do you paint oak without the grain showing? ›

You can paint oak cabinets white without grain showing by applying 2 -3 coats of grain filler and sand with 320 grit. Another way of painting oak cabinets white without grain showing is by filling the grain with spackle and sand with 220 grit sandpaper. Then, remove dust, apply primer, and do the painting.

Do you have to sand oak cabinets before painting? ›

Don't Go Overboard on Sanding

You should sand cabinets before beginning your how to paint kitchen cabinet project to give the new paint a good surface to grip. But you don't need to sand to bare wood. If your cabinets have a factory finish, sand lightly with 120-grit sandpaper or a sanding sponge.

What is the best primer to use on oak cabinets? ›

Answer: Either oil-based primer, or shellac-based primer, is best for priming oak cabinets.

How can I make my golden oak cabinets look good? ›

A simple way to escape the stigma of traditional-looking oak cabinets is to break away from the honey colouring. The easiest way to do that is to give your oak cabinets a stained finish. Adding a stain adds a beautiful quality to your cabinets while still allowing the allure of natural wood grain to pop.

Are oak cabinets worth painting? ›

Even if your cabinets are GOOD, as shown next, you can still paint them if you want a LIGHTER and BRIGHTER look. Don't feel bad, they're still WOOD, they just have a few coats of paint on them… And as you now know, there are many factors that can devalue the look of wood, which in turn, can devalue your home.

Should you do two coats of primer on cabinets? ›

Prime the cabinet doors.

Only one coat of primer should do the trick, unless your cabinets are really dark, then I would recommend following up with one more coat of primer when that first coat is dry before moving on.

Is it better to spray or brush paint cabinets? ›

Ideally, spray painting cabinets is the most sought after method today. The quality of finish you get from using a spray gun is second to none, and it's by far a faster and more efficient method.

What do pros use to paint cabinets? ›

We usually use professional-grade lacquer because it has a lovely, silky-smooth feel to it, and is what cabinet manufacturers use. We think it's the best paint for cabinets, hands-down (although there are some great pro-level water-based options as well).

What to put on cabinets after painting? ›

Complete the Job by Sealing Your Cabinets

After all, even the highest-quality paints will fade and deteriorate over time. To prolong the lifespan of your cabinet paint job, then, finish the job by sealing your cabinets with a transparent top-coat.

Why do my cabinets feel rough after painting? ›

It could also be caused by airborne dust settling on the paint, or from using paint that didn't lay out over the surface, which would create a slightly textured look and feel. Allow the paint to fully dry and sand the cabinets with fine-grit sandpaper to smooth it out before applying the next coat.

How do I bring my oak cabinets back to life? ›

Restoring Cabinets with Paint
  1. Remove as much of the old finish as possible with a paint stripper. ...
  2. Next, use wood filler to repair any dents, scratches, or other forms of surface damage.
  3. When newly smoothed surfaces are dry, finish off with sandpaper—100 grit, then 180 grit, and finally, 220-grit.
Apr 19, 2021


1. Painting Kitchen Cabinets - Avoid These 11 Huge Mistakes
(Civil Mentors)
2. How to paint oak cabinets and hide wood grain.
(The Detalles)
3. Huge Transformation!!! Easiest WOOD Finish EVER | Couple Builds 2 Post & Beam Barns at ONCE
(Lumnah Acres)
4. Should You Caulk Cabinets Before Painting? When to Caulk and When Not to!
(Paint Life TV)
5. How to Paint Cabinets Step by Step! Everything You Need to Know to Start Your Cabinet Renovation Now
(Paint Life TV)
6. Get Rid of Wood Grain on Cabinets! Factory Finish Cabinets EASY!
(Paint Life TV)

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