How to Paint Oak Cupboards

Are you tired of looking at your old oak cupboards? Do you want to give them a fresh new look without breaking the bank? Painting oak cupboards is an easy and cost-effective way to transform your kitchen or any other room in your house.

How to Paint Oak Cupboards

Transforming your oak cupboards with a fresh coat of paint can significantly rejuvenate your kitchen or bathroom space, giving it a contemporary or entirely new look. Oak, known for its durable and robust nature, presents a unique set of challenges and opportunities when it comes to painting.

The wood’s distinct grain and texture require specific preparation and painting techniques to ensure a smooth, lasting finish.

This guide will walk you through each step of how to paint oak cupboards . Whether you’re aiming for a sleek, modern feel or a cozy, rustic vibe, the right approach to painting can make all the difference.

What are the Benefits of Painting Oak Cupboards

Painting your oak cupboards has numerous advantages over completely replacing them or other alternatives. Here are a few reasons why you should consider painting instead of getting rid of your old oak cupboards:

  • Saves Money: Buying new cabinets is expensive, especially if you have custom-built ones. On the other hand, paint and supplies for repainting are relatively cheap and easily accessible.
  • Transforms the Space: Painting your oak cupboards can change the entire look and feel of a room. You can choose any color you want, making it easy to match your aesthetic.
  • Eco-friendly: Upcycling your old oak cupboards through painting is an environmentally friendly way to give them a new life rather than adding to landfills.
  • Preserves the Wood: With proper preparation and high-quality paint, painting your oak cupboards can help preserve the wood’s natural beauty while giving them a fresh new look.

Now that you know why painting your oak cupboards is an excellent idea, let’s explore how to do it correctly.

What Will You Need

Before you start painting, make sure you have the following items ready:

  • Protective gear such as gloves, goggles, and a mask
  • A mild detergent or a degreaser
  • Sandpaper (medium grit)
  • Primer
  • Paint of your choice
  • Brushes and rollers
  • Painter’s tape
  • Screwdriver (if removing hardware)

Once you have gathered all the necessary items, it’s time to start painting!

10 Easy Steps on How to Paint Oak Cupboards

Step 1. Remove the Cupboard Doors and Hardware

Cupboard Doors From the Main Structure

Start by removing the cupboard doors from the main structure. Use a screwdriver to carefully detach the doors and any hardware, such as handles or knobs. This makes painting easier and ensures you won’t get paint on the hardware. Additionally, you can also label the doors and hardware to make reinstallation easier.

Step 2. Clean the Cupboards

Once you have the doors and hardware removed, the next crucial step is to clean the cupboards thoroughly. Years of cooking and usage can leave your cabinets coated with grease, dust, and other residues, which can interfere with paint adherence.

Use a mild detergent mixed with warm water or a specialized degreaser for tougher grime. Wipe down all surfaces with a soft cloth or sponge, ensuring that all areas are free of debris and stains.

After cleaning, allow the cupboards to dry completely before moving on to the next step. This preparation is essential for achieving a smooth, professional-looking finish on your painted oak cupboards.

Step 3. Sand the Cupboard Surfaces

Sanding the cupboard surfaces is a critical step for ensuring that your paint will adhere properly and that the finish will be smooth. Start with medium-grit sandpaper to buff away the old finish and to smooth out any imperfections in the wood. Focus on sanding evenly across the surface, paying special attention to edges and corners where wear and tear are most visible.

After the initial sanding, you may choose to go over the surfaces again with finer grit sandpaper for an even smoother base. Once sanding is complete, use a damp cloth to wipe away all the dust and debris, leaving a clean surface ready for priming.

Step 4. Apply Primer

Primer is essential when painting oak cabinets, as it helps achieve a uniform and smooth surface while also ensuring the paint job’s longevity. Choose a high-quality primer that is suitable for oak wood and the type of paint you plan to use. Using a brush or roller, apply an even coat of primer to all surfaces of the cupboards, including the doors.

A High-quality Primer That is Suitable for Oak Wood

Be sure to cover all nooks and crevices to prevent the wood grain from showing through the paint. Allow the primer to dry completely according to the manufacturer’s instructions, which typically range from a few hours to overnight. This step can greatly influence the final look of your cabinets, so it’s important not to rush it.

Step 5. Choose Your Paint

Selecting the right type of paint is crucial for the best results on oak cupboards. High-quality acrylic latex paint is often recommended for its durability, ease of cleaning, and less noticeable brush strokes.

It’s also beneficial to choose a satin or semi-gloss finish paint, as these are more resistant to moisture and can withstand the frequent cleaning often necessary in kitchen and bathroom environments. When choosing your color, consider the room’s overall aesthetic and how it complements the existing decor.

Once you’ve picked your favorite shade, stir the paint thoroughly before application to ensure a consistent color throughout your project.

Step 6. Begin Painting

Now that your primer has fully dried and you’ve chosen your ideal paint, it’s time to start the actual painting process. Begin by applying a thin, even coat of paint with a brush or roller. For best results, start from the top of the cupboard and work your way down, maintaining a wet edge to avoid lap marks.

Be mindful to cover all areas smoothly, especially the corners and edges where drips or uneven layers can easily occur. After the first coat is applied, allow it to dry completely as per the paint manufacturer’s instructions before assessing whether a second coat is necessary. In most cases, a second coat of paint will provide a richer color and a more uniform finish.

Step 7. Apply a Second Coat

After the first coat of paint has dried and you’ve evaluated the coverage, you may find that a second coat is necessary for full opacity and evenness in color. Ensure the first coat is completely dry to avoid smudging or unevenness.

Apply the Second Coat

Apply the second coat in the same manner as the first, using smooth, even strokes and paying extra attention to areas that might require additional coverage. Remember, the goal is to achieve a consistent finish that will stand up to daily use. According to the paint manufacturer’s instructions, allow the second coat to dry thoroughly before moving on to the next step.

Step 8. Reattach the Doors and Hardware

Once the paint has completely dried and you are satisfied with the finish, it’s time to reattach the cupboard doors and any hardware you may have removed. Using the labels you made earlier (if applicable), carefully align and attach each door to its original position.

Make sure all screws are tightened securely, but avoid over-tightening, which might damage the fresh paint or the wood. Reinstall all handles, knobs, or pulls, and admire your newly transformed oak cupboards. This step revitalizes your kitchen or bathroom space, giving it a fresh, updated look without the expense of a full renovation.

Step 9. Final Inspection and Touch-ups

Now that the doors and hardware are reattached, it’s important to conduct a final inspection of your cabinets. Look for any missed spots, drips, or uneven areas that may need a little extra attention. Use a small artist’s brush to apply touch-ups as needed, being careful to blend with the surrounding area.

This step is crucial for ensuring that your painting project looks professionally done. After completing any touch-ups, step back and appreciate the transformation of your space. With patience and attention to detail, you’ve successfully given your oak cupboards a beautiful, durable finish.

Step 10. Maintenance and Care

Maintaining the newly painted oak cupboards will ensure their longevity and keep them looking fresh for years to come. Regular cleaning with a soft, damp cloth will remove fingerprints, spills, and dust without damaging the paint. Avoid using abrasive cleaners or harsh chemicals that could wear away the finish.

Maintaining the Newly Painted Oak Cupboards

Touch up any chips or wear over time promptly to prevent further damage. It’s also advisable to occasionally tighten any loose hardware to ensure doors and drawers open and close smoothly. Following these simple care and maintenance tips can help your beautifully painted cupboards withstand daily use and continue enhancing your space’s appeal.

By following these 10 steps, you can easily transform your outdated and worn-looking oak cupboards into a stunning focal point that adds value to your home. With the right preparation, tools, and techniques, painting oak cabinets can be an affordable and rewarding DIY project that gives your space a fresh new look.

5 Additional Tips and Tricks

  1. Sanding Between Coats: After each coat of primer and paint dries, lightly sand the surface of your cupboards with fine-grit sandpaper to achieve an ultra-smooth finish. This removes imperfections and helps the next coat adhere better, producing a professional-looking finish.
  2. Use Floetrol or a Similar Additive: When using acrylic latex paint, consider adding a product like Floetrol to extend drying time and reduce brush marks. This is especially helpful in achieving a smooth finish without the marks left by brushes or rollers.
  3. Invest in Quality Tools: High-quality brushes and rollers make a significant difference in the finish of your paint job. Foam rollers are excellent for achieving a smooth finish on flat surfaces, while high-quality brushes can get into crevices and detailed areas without shedding bristles.
  4. Protect Your Work Area: Before you start painting, cover countertops, floors, and adjacent areas with drop cloths or plastic sheeting. This will save a lot of clean-up time and protect your surfaces from drips and spills.
  5. Practice Patience: Allow plenty of time for each coat of primer and paint to dry fully before moving on to the next step. Rushing the process can result in a finish that’s not durable or as smooth as it could be. Taking your time will result in a more professional look that lasts for years.
Allow Plenty of Time for Each Coat of Primer

With these additional tips and tricks, you can elevate your painting skills and achieve a flawless finish on your oak cupboards.

5 Things You Should Avoid When Painting Oak Cupboards

  1. Skipping the Cleaning Step: Remember to consider the importance of thoroughly cleaning your cupboards before painting. Dirt, grease, and residue can prevent paint from adhering properly, resulting in a finish that peels or chips prematurely.
  2. Neglecting to Remove Doors and Hardware: Removing cupboard doors and hardware might seem like an unnecessary step, but it ensures a more professional finish. Painting over hinges or handles can lead to a sloppy look and difficulties in operation later on.
  3. Using Low-Quality Paint: Investing in high-quality paint is essential for oak cupboards. Cheap or low-grade paints may not adhere well or could wear off quickly, leading to more touch-ups and a less durable finish.
  4. Forgetting to Apply Primer: Skipping the priming step, especially with oak cabinets, can be a grave mistake. Primer helps to cover the grain, ensure an even color, and improve the adherence of the paint, resulting in a more uniform and lasting finish.
  5. Rushing the Drying Times: Patience is key in painting projects. Allowing insufficient drying time between coats can cause smudge streaks or even require you to start over. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommended drying times for the best results.
Allowing Insufficient Drying Time

Avoiding these common mistakes can ensure a successful and long-lasting paint job on your oak cupboards.

5 Different Design Ideas for Painted Oak Cupboards

  1. Two-Tone Finish: Consider painting the upper cupboards in a light color and the lower ones in a darker shade to create depth and contrast.
  2. Distressed Look: Use sandpaper or other techniques to distress the paint on your cupboards, giving them an antique, shabby, chic look.
  3. Bold and Bright: Make a statement by painting your oak cupboards in a bold, eye-catching color like bright blue or emerald green.
  4. Glazed Finish: Add depth and character to your cupboards by applying a glaze over the paint for a subtle, vintage look.
  5. Ombre Effect: Create an ombre effect on your cupboards by gradually blending two different shades of the same color from top to bottom. This adds interest and dimension to your space.

With these design ideas, you can personalize your painted oak cupboards to fit your style and bring a unique look to your home.

What Color Paint Looks Best With Oak Cabinets?

Choosing the right color paint to complement oak cabinets is crucial for achieving a cohesive and appealing look in your space. Neutral tones, such as whites, grays, and beiges, are timelessly elegant and offer a fresh, airy feel that can help balance the warmth of oak.

For a more contemporary look, consider soft blues or greens, which can provide a serene and inviting atmosphere.

For those looking to make a bolder statement, deeper hues like navy or charcoal can create a striking contrast, drawing attention to the beautiful grain of the oak.

Ultimately, the best color for oak cabinets is one that complements your personal style and your home’s overall aesthetic.

How Do You Make Oak Cabinets Look Modern?

To give your oak cabinets a modern look, try incorporating the following elements:

Swap Out Traditional Hardware for Sleek
  1. Minimalist Hardware: Swap out traditional hardware for sleek, minimalist brushed nickel or matte black options to achieve a more contemporary feel.
  2. Mix and Match Materials: Consider pairing your oak cabinets with other materials, such as stainless steel appliances or marble countertops, to create a blend of traditional and modern styles.
  3. Add a Pop of Color: Incorporate a bold color through paint or accents like statement lighting or a colorful backsplash to add a modern touch to your oak cabinets.
  4. Use Glass Inserts: Replacing some cabinet doors with glass inserts can update the look of your oak cabinets and create an open and airy feel in your kitchen.
  5. Update Hardware Finishes: If replacing hardware isn’t an option, consider spray painting the finishes of existing hardware for a more modern and cohesive look.

Overall, incorporating minimalist elements, mixing materials, and adding pops of color are key to achieving a modern look with oak cabinets. 


How to paint oak cupboards  can be a rewarding project that not only refreshes the look of your kitchen but also adds value to your home.

By following the best practices for preparation, application, and design choices outlined in this guide, you can achieve professional-quality results that make your space more inviting and stylish.

Remember, the key to a successful paint job is in the details, from choosing the right materials to carefully executing each step of the process.

Whether you opt for a modern, minimalist design or a classic, distressed finish, the effort you put into painting your oak cupboards will pay off with a kitchen that feels brand new. Happy painting!

Photo of author

Adrian Green

Adrian is a woodworking hobbyist and has loved Woodworking since he was 10 years old. Back then in childhood, his father used to have a furniture shop. He used to help his dad and learned a lot from him about how to fix woodworking furniture, basic carpentry knowledge and also about how to work hard and take care of business. He enjoys woodworking as a hobby. He loves the feeling of creating something with his own hands, and the satisfaction that comes from seeing his finished products used by others.

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