How to Paint Over Oak Cabinets

A fresh coat of paint on older oak cabinets can bring a room back to life, but painting them does involve a few challenges.

Painting Your Oak Cabinets

Oak Leaves
Oak is an open-grain wood, which is the type of grain that tends to show through a coat of paint. Even a few extra coats won't solve the problem. Not to worry, though. It is possible to get good results as long as you take extra steps to cover up the grain. .

Remove the cabinet doors. Prepare your workspace with drop cloths or plastic sheeting. Put brackets and hinges in a marked paper bag or jar so you can easily find them when you're ready to attach your cabinet doors.

Clean the cabinet doors and frame surfaces with trisodium phosphate (TSP), which is available at hardware stores (see Resources). TSP will remove all traces of grease and dirt, which is a necessary step, especially if you're painting over your kitchen cabinets. Allow the wood to fully dry before taking the next step.

Lightly sand the cabinet doors and framework. Wipe them clean with a soft, damp cloth. Let them fully dry and give them one more dusting with a dry cloth.

Apply a coat of clear- or neutral-tone grain filler according to manufacturer's instructions. This will even out the variations in depth of the oak grain. Allow it to fully dry, and sand it lightly before applying primer. See Resources for information about grain fillers.

Put one coat of primer on your cabinets and allow it to dry fully. Lightly sand the dried primer, and then apply a second coat of primer. Allow this second coat to dry before lightly sanding it as well.

Paint your cabinets. Allow at least 2 days before re-attaching them to the framework, to be sure the paint is completely hardened.

Things You Will Need

  • Trisodium phosphate (TSP)
  • Grain filler
  • 220- to 240-grade sandpaper
  • Primer
  • Paint
  • Soft cloths


  • Always work in a well-ventilated area when using preparation and paint products.

About the Author

Ingrid Hansen has been published in "Twin Cities Business" magazine, the "Murphy Reporter," "Twin Cities Parent" magazine and the "Southwest Journal" newspaper. She has also written more than 30 non-fiction books for the K-12 library and education market, and has been a subject matter expert and a course designer for online college curriculum. She teaches English Composition at a local college, and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Hamline University.