Kitchen, Tutorials

How to Prime Your Kitchen Cabinets in Less than An Hour

I came home last night ready to jump right in and prime to my heart’s content.  But let’s not forget that my schedule is chaos right now, and before I knew it, the clock is displaying 11 pm* and not a single swipe of paint had touched the upper cabinets.

I could have done the sane thing and gone to bed earlier than usual.  Gotten a little extra sleep.  Maybe even dream about being in some kind of Zach Braff/Adam Levine love triangle.  Or, I could do this:

BAM.  Even with really bad camera phone pictures, I am happy.  The trick to priming your kitchen cabinets in less than an hour?  Well, the majority of it is ego.

No painter’s tape.

No drop cloths.

No concern for getting paint on my hands.

Just humming the Wonder Woman theme song and telling myself I’m a paint ninja.  There isn’t a stray drop on the floor and my appliances are all paint-free.

See?  Pure hubris.  But with the right tools, the job was done in no time.

The primer I’ve been using for my cabinets is called Smart Prime.  It’s not available in the big chain home improvement stores in my area, but I found it at a local specialty paint shop (and it’s also available through Amazon).    The primer promises to have the best of both water- and oil-based paint worlds.  Covers stains.  Sticks to slick surfaces.  Dries lightning fast.  Low odor.  yadda yadda yadda

I also use one and only ONE specific paint brush for the job.  This Wooster shortcut angled sash brush has a short rubber handle, fits nicely in my small hands (insert “that’s what she said” joke), and is excellent for creating precise paint lines.  Unlike the primer, it IS available at the big box stores (Home Depot is where I grab mine).  With a little practice, I’m pretty sure anyone can learn to paint like a pro thanks to this brush.  I also have a tutorial here if you want to check out more of my technique.

As for how I ensure a smooth surface, the trick is basically to brush the paint on as fast as I can, and while it’s still wet, roll over it a couple of times with a dry foam paint roller to smooth out the brush strokes.  Using the word dry again for emphasis.  Primer doesn’t need to be thick to do the trick.

In just a short while, the cabinets were not only primed, but dry to the touch.

And then, I cheated – I couldn’t wait the full cure time to see if I liked the paint (I’d picked it out from a swatch, but I’ve read some great reviews of Benjamin Moore’s Decorator’s White from expert designers, so I figured they would be a reliable source).  The lighting at night isn’t great in my kitchen, but I could tell I had a winner (I swear, it doesn’t glow or look bluish like this in person).

I took a step back to get all 3 colors in the same shot:  the upper cabinets (white), the lower cabinets (dark gray), and the old oak that will forever be forgotten about from this point forward.

Yep, haven’t gotten to the doors yet – but since the primer will expose any nicks and crevices in the cabinets that I’ll need to repair, I’m pretty satisfied with the progress I’m making so far this week.  The rest of the week is planned to go as follows:

  • Wednesday – patch necessary areas in the cabinets with wood filler/caulk, apply liquid sander to the cabinet doors, get both sides of each door primed & set to dry
  • Thursday – finish whatever I didn’t get done from Wednesday (likely), apply first coat of white kitchen paint to the cabinets and the first side of the doors
  • Friday – to hell with it, it’s Friday
  • Saturday – college football trumps kitchen cabinets
  • Sunday – second coat on the cabinets, paint the other side of the doors

That already means I won’t get everything I really want done before my aunt and uncle come to town, but it DOES mean I’m getting the essential pieces of the cabinets finished in time.  Half-ninja achieved.


*If you want to see what I was working on, head over to Southern Hospitality – Rhoda and I completed her new blog design, and she was a BREEZE to work with.  Many thanks to her and to her lovely post about the design today.  Scoot over to her blog to check out the work & shameless plug for my design services here.

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  1. Nick Puffer says

    I love that attitude. “Pure hubris.” haha. That white looks great. Should be a sharp looking kitchen when you’re done. Is that a magnet you have holding your knives? I’ve never seen that before.

  2. Becca says

    Way to go!
    Where do you get those little yellow risers that you’re using to paint the doors?

    • Sarah says

      They are called “paint pyramids” on the packaging and I snagged several packages at Lowes. They only come 10 to a pack (which I think is weird, since the logical choice would be in multiples of 4 for each corner!).

      • Guerrina says

        Beautiful white! “Pure hubris” is sometimes all that gets us through! I think the kitchen is going to be stunning!

        I’m sure the manufacturer of the “paint pyramids” feels they are completely logical…10/pack = 2.5 pieces held up, BUT make the customer buy 2 packs of 10 and they can do 5 pieces! :)

  3. says

    I can’t wait to see how everything turns out! I’m almost finished with our kitchen and surprisingly we have similar colors…and butcher block…and subway tile! Great minds!

    Love the new look at Southern Hospitality! I’m now convinced you should do a “day in the life of sarah” post. I have no clue how you do it all!

    • Sarah says

      I may do that… someday when I have time to write it all down ;)

      I’m coming up with a Time Tips series post soon about email and blog stuff though.

  4. Sarah In Illinois says

    Do you have a trick or advice on cleaning your paint brushes? Whenever I splurge on an expensive brush, it seems like I can only use it once or twice before the bristles are all gummed up and I always rinse really really well after using!

    • Sarah says

      Have you tried vinegar? I will sometimes soak the end to help break down latex paint if it’s gone overboard (but not so deep to tarnish the metal part). But I also don’t typically rinse out a brush until I’m done using the color (I put it in a plastic baggie and tape it so no air can get in). Hope that helps!

      • Sarah In Illinois says

        Vinegar! I will try that! I should have thought of that, vinegar fixes everything!

  5. says

    You know I had a big cackle when you said you were humming the Wonder Woman theme song. Did you see the comment I posted yesterday? And “that’s where I grab mine” may be a contender for –insert “That’s what she said.” I live with a boy in a man’s body….ugh. And after all that priming you HAVE to put up the color! Off to check out Rhoda’s site! You are aahhh…mazing!

  6. Kendi says

    Kitchen is looking great! :) And so is the blog design! I wish I had (any) money that I could hire you too; I love your style :) Aaaand….I HATE to be that person who points out stuff, but the SH blog isn’t rendering correctly on my Nexus 7 tablet :( Not sure if it’s an issue in conversion to a mobile site, or if it is particular to this specific screen size…? I’ll email you a screen shot. It’s just the graphics, the site isn’t broken or anything, so it’s not a huge deal, but I thought you might want to be aware :) Sorry for being THAT person/commenter though =/

  7. says

    Woohoo! One hour priming is the way to do it! Love the tip about brushing it on and then rolling over it… I’ll have to remember that when I tackle *my* awful orange oak kitchen cabinets!

  8. Ashley Womack says

    That mere fact that you got it all painted in less then an hour is awesome. Looking forward to seeing it all done.

  9. Dawn says

    Ah! You rock, girl! I’m totally referencing this post for future painting inspiration. I recently bought a house with a lot of…. Potential…. And every square foot (all 3000 of them 0_0) needs to be painted. But with a baby and a full time job, time is hard to come by. Thanks for the information and inspiration!

    • Sarah says

      I am still painting the top cabinets white, but I don’t see much bleed-through of the grain after a second coat of paint over the primer, and I think it will be completely gone by the third. It doesn’t get rid of the texture, of course. Hope that helps!

  10. Christian Brothers Cabinets says

    Your posts are so fun to read. The Smart Prime is an excellent suggestion for DIYers!

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