Painting Your Cabinets The Right Way

How hard can it be, right?

“We see it everyday in the homeowner phone calls and walk-ins that bring us their “How hard can it be?” projects, recalls John Murphy Owner Murphy Bros. Design | Build | Remodel. Sometimes it’s the actual homeowners who pick up the brush or roller and sometimes it’s the so called “painters” who fill the bottom of the low-cost provider bucket that they hire," explains John, "Either way, it often turns out rather badly."

“And the worst part of it,” decries Dan Flaherty, Murphy Bros. paint department head and guru, “Is homeowners end up paying to have their stuff painted twice. Good grief, if you thought our quote to do it right the first time was a bit of a shock, try paying an unskilled or a semi-skilled painter to literally wreck your stuff first, then paying us to undo the damage, and then paying us again do it right!”

Dan Flaherty, Murphy Bros. Paint Dept. peeling paint off a typical bad paint job like pulling back the covers off the bed.

The most recent example, we're calling The Case of the Peeling Paint, involves a homeowner who balked at our price to paint their cabinets, quite common, only to have them return several weeks later wanting to know why all the paint is peeling off like a bad sunburn.

“First of all, these low-cost painters rolled on the paint instead of spraying it or using a brush. It works if you’re after that dated 1970’s grade school science project look. The next thing they did wrong is they used an oil-based primer, which in and of itself is fine, but they didn’t let it cure. I’m sure the label on the can said “dries in an hour” or something like that, but you have to remember humidity and temperature play an enormous role in cure times,” explains Dan, "And drying isn't the same as curing."

Having peeled this cabinet door like an orange, what's left is the residual primer that actually did adhere to the door surface. (And yes, Dan does need to do a better job cleaning his finger nails!)

“The third thing they did was to cover the uncured primer with a waterborne enamel, which acted like a wetsuit, trapping the gasses from the primer and creating a kind of vacuum effect that separated the enamel and primer from the wood,” says Flaherty. “To make it even worse, they then put on too much paint, probably 5 or 6 mils worth, instead of the 3 mils it needed.”

Fixing such a mess requires all cabinet door surfaces to be either stripped or sanding back to the base wood, re-primed, cured and then re-painted in our climate controlled spray booth.

“So, how hard can it be to paint your cabinet doors? Well, as you can see, to do it right is in fact a bit harder than you might think, which is reflected in the knowledge and cost of doing it right the first time,” concludes Flaherty.

If you have a “How hard can it be story,” share it with us at We’ll share the best ones in future blogs so we can all have a good laugh (cry) and a cautionary tale to share with others.

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