Asked on Jan 04, 2015

Painting over old, shellacked cabinets

by Michelle
I have old, hand-made pine cabinets in my kitchen. They look like the shellac was sloppily applied, including runs. I need to know if I can paint over them, and if so, with what? They even shellacked over the doper hinges. Can they be cleaned up?
  34 answers
  • Country Design Home Country Design Home on Jan 04, 2015
    I am having flashbacks!! This kitchen looks exactly like mine used to- shiny varnish and copper hinges included! Before I totally remodeled my kitchen, I gave it a makeover. Just removed all the doors, lightly sanded to remove the "runs" and then primed with Kilz. Then I painted with a cream color. I think it took two coats to cover up all that dark brown pine and the knots. I think the paint was a Benjamin Moore Aqua Pearl finish. I sprayed the hardware with metallic spray paint in oil rubbed bronze color. Made a huge difference!! Good luck- this is an easy project, just time consuming.
  • MaryStLouis MaryStLouis on Jan 04, 2015
    Like Sue said it's not technically difficult but it's an arm workout to get those cabinets in shape. I highly recommend cleaning them with TSP, then sanding them to remove the imperfections and to give the surface some 'tooth'. I would clean them again since shellac is super sticky and notoriously difficult to paint over. An oil-based primer like Kilz or BIN should then be applied before painting with your favorite latex paint. For best results you can then apply a topcoat, either spray or brush to prevent staining and wear. It's a long process.
  • MaryStLouis MaryStLouis on Jan 04, 2015
    To make at least part of it easier you can spray the doors with BIN spray paint, found at the big box stores.
  • Nola Connors Nola Connors on Jan 04, 2015
    Looks like my daughter's cabinets, we just did her kitchen over, her hinges were the same except spray painted black. We purchased new offset hinges exactly like them except in silver color at Home Depot. Sanded, primed and painted and purchased new pulls to match the new hinges and painted B Moore #467 High Park-saw in Country Living mag.
  • Nerissa Nerissa on Jan 04, 2015
    What is BIN and TSP? I have the same cabinets and have worried over this for years!
  • Nerissa Nerissa on Jan 04, 2015
    • MaryStLouis MaryStLouis on Jan 04, 2015
      It's an intimidating project so just follow the directions on the prep products and you'll be fine. 😊
  • Stunnerartist Stunnerartist on Jan 04, 2015
    Stix by Benjamin Moore is a fantastic water based primer that will adhere to anything. I use it on cupboards and furniture all the time. Clean with TSP first, then clean water to take off all traces of TSP, and a light sanding with a sanding sponge
  • Judy.burton Judy.burton on Jan 04, 2015
    You should look into Ann Sloan chalk paint or recipes for chalk paint. So many people are using this on their kitchen cabinets and other furniture pieces and other than a simple cleaning, there is no prep work needed.
  • Linda Anderson Linda Anderson on Jan 04, 2015
    what is the purpose of using chalk paint for your kitchen cabinets and using regular Benjamin Moore paint? I am going to be painting my kitchen in 2 weeks.
    • MaryStLouis MaryStLouis on Jan 04, 2015
      Chalk paint makes great primer. It's easy to sand and easier to deal with than oil- based products. Several coats of chalk paint under a good, water-based topcoat creates a slightly weathered look to cabinetry so if you like that look you can go with just chalk paint instead of a primer and latex paint.
  • Claire M Claire M on Jan 04, 2015
    I would think that the surfaces would need to be prepped no matter what paint or finish you choose, imho.
    • MaryStLouis MaryStLouis on Jan 04, 2015
      Yes, especially kitchen cabinets. Preparation is key in any refinishing project but here it's imperative. I've seen disastrous results, peeling and bubbling paint, stains bleeding through...and it's a tough enough project to do over so like Mike Holmes says, do it right the first time. :)
  • Claire M Claire M on Jan 04, 2015
    Probably not going to be a quick fix but well worth the effort if you decide to take it on. Good luck and let us know!
  • Funkycamper Funkycamper on Jan 04, 2015
    I love those vintage cabinets! How about refinishing them instead of painting them? That quality of wood is almost impossible to find anymore. You have classic Mid-Century Modern cabinets. I sure wish I had them in my house. Just something to consider.
  • Buster Evans Buster Evans on Jan 05, 2015
    I agree with funkycamper that wood is awesome. to me it "goes with anything" .. maybe a facelift of the surroundings paint the walls a new back splash something on those lines... ITs difficult to find real wood doors with that character nowadays... it would be sad to paint over it.. just me.... maybe brighten the ceiling up first to see what you think about the room then. THat kind of character speaks VOLUMES for a room... Also it will be a LONG TEDIOUS undertaking to redo them... please reconsider, and try other ways to change the kitchens appeal.
  • Pat Pat on Jan 05, 2015
    Check out this blogger's kitchen - she used General Finishes Milk Paint (not actually milk paint, btw) - looks great! I'm ordering a pint to try it myself
  • Funnygirl Funnygirl on Jan 05, 2015
    Your cabinets really are pretty.You might want to try just updating the hardware first.If you take some of of the old hardware down,the girl from rehab addict on hgtv swears soaking hardware in a crockpot with water for several hours removes everything,she has a dedicated crockpot for this specific project.It might be you need to change the countertops and or backspashs instead.Sorry if I have confused you!
    • Linda Linda on Jan 05, 2015
      Rehab Addict is right. I've done the same thing. Only my "crock pot" is a potpourri pot w/no lid. (It was a buck from Goodwill.) Cover w/foil...and keep it dedicated to "non-food use". It's pretty slick!
  • Beverly swarts Beverly swarts on Jan 05, 2015
    Valspar primer bonding paint. then paint them with a color you like in Valspar. take the hard ware off. no sanding needed.
  • Londa Barth Fulton Londa Barth Fulton on Jan 05, 2015
    Unless you plan to eventually replace the cabinets it will be worth the time and trouble to take them down to bare wood before doing anything; painting or refinishing. Doing the job well will give you beauty that will last for years to come. My guess is that this shellac is put on by the previous owners and was not thoroughly cleaned first. that means that anything you put over it will soon begin to bubble and peal. Also, water based paints will react to oil based shellac
  • You will have to first clean the cabinets with a degreaser and prime them with a shellac based primer. This will keep the knots in the pine from bleeding through the paint. This has to be done or you will regret it. Then paint the cabinets your choice of color. Number the back of the doors and the inside of the drawers to assure they go back in the same place. Let the hardware soak in degreaser over night. Clean with a toothbrush and rinse well. Let dry completely. Spray the hardware with one of the spray paints, such as hammered metal, hammered bronze or brushed nickel. New hardware for the price of a can of spray paint. What a savings and you will have a brand new look. Send me pictures when finished. ( The inside of the cabinets do not have to painted. I would paint the back of the doors and paint only the drawer fronts.)
  • These cabinets would look good painted a cream color and glazed with a chocolate glaze. Most of the glaze will be wiped off but will catch in the crevices. This is a very high end look. Use cheese cloth to wipe the glaze off. Top coat with 3 coats of clean top coat, satin finish. Also use a satin paint on the cabinets so the glaze will float over it. If you use a flat paint, the glaze will bite into paint and look splotchy. I would also put a top coat over the paint. This will give you a barrier coat and the glaze will glide over it. I know this sounds like a lot of work, but it is the right way to do this finish. Completed this will give you a very high end look. Take before, during and after pictures and send them to me. I would like to post them on my new blog when I ever get it up and running.
  • Marion Nesbitt Marion Nesbitt on Jan 06, 2015
    As Creative Interiors mentions, Shellac keeps wood oil from bleeding through. I'd degrease, clean up the runs, apply a fresh coat of Shellac, and then a good primer like Zinzer 1-2-3 which will adhere well and provide a good base for your top coat. Assume you will remove all hardware. Chem stripper will remove the shellac if you want but keeps things from rusting. Can always spray with a metal paint, too, if you want a colour change. I'd remove the valence unless there is a light behind it. Otherwise, I'd trim off the curves and get a horizontal line put in that matches the lines on the cabinet doors. With a whitish countertop and floor, I think doing white cabinets will make your kitchen look like a winter wonderland - cold. Would be tempted to do a colour even a medium gray and then use colourful accessories like turquoise, coral, lime, etc. Hope you post your finished job.
  • Linda Anderson Linda Anderson on Jan 06, 2015
    what color green did you use? I like it alot
  • Marcus Marcus on Jan 06, 2015
    The wood is not too bad, so painting might be more of a chore than necessary. I would try some new hardware on one door first. You have a gray in the countertop, so buy a nice brushed nickel handle and hinges. I did that on our 100 year old cabinets. It made a huge difference! If you still wish to paint, make sure to use a shellac based primer. It is like runny glue and sticks to anything, so be careful with it.
  • Renee Aday Schmucker Renee Aday Schmucker on Jan 06, 2015
    I dealt with a similar situation in my kitchen. Cabinets that my FIL had built many many years ago. I removed all the doors, took off X brace trim on the fronts and sanded them down then refinished them. Then I sanded the cabinets and painted them black. I put the doors back on, except for above the stove and refrig which I left open.
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  • Diane Diane on Jan 06, 2015
    No easy fix. You will need to sand them down or put on some stripper and get off those places where the runs are....if you want them to look good. I have done cabinets many times. I use Kelly Moore Durapoxie paint. It does not come off. It is an epoxie type paint that last. I have a rent home that has had them painted for over 10 years and had crazy guys even live there and that paint is still on! I have seen where people use regular paint and in a year it is off around the handles and chips off easy too. SO the right paint is the biggy! Pre is the hard part. I always clean them with TSP you can get at any walmart or hardware store for cleaning off any grime or grease. Wear gloves cuz it can start to burn your hands after a while. I would invest in an electric sander and sand down those spots that are runs and then give a once over on the rest of them and then clean with TSP and a good paint. That hardware has to go in my opinion ...The kitchen is small so you could even get new doors for around $40 each from a local shop that makes cabinet doors. It would modenrize for sure and they come with those inside latches which are tucked away and hidden. It might be vintage but I understand not wanting them! Good luck.
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    • Diane Diane on Jan 07, 2015
      @Diane Here are pics of this kitchen 10 years later after painting with the Kelly Moore durapoxie paint.
  • Terra Gazelle Terra Gazelle on Jan 06, 2015
    I had bought a cabinet that was covered with paper..I have no idea how to paint it. I found out that I had to shellac it first, then to primer and then paint. Its been several years and that tall cabinet is looking brand new. The primer would not stick to the that is where the shellac came in. I would take off the doors and remove the hinges and soak them in solvent..and sand off the drops and drips..make the cabinets smooth..and then use chalk paint..or primer and paint.
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  • CK CK on Jan 06, 2015
    If the drips/runs from the shellac are really obvious on the wood as the hinges, you'll also see them after being painted over. The best bet is to lightly sand them off, clean well, then prime and paint. The end result of any painted project is only as good as it's 'foundation'. Paint can cover a multitude of 'sins' but if you've got anything noticeable now, it'll still be noticeable after painting. We painted our kitchen cabinets twice. It's time consuming but well worth the effort. If you want a lighter look without redoing the cabinets, paint is your best friend :-) We too switched out handles and suddenly our cabinets were totally updated. The handles were not the color I wanted (but at only 10 cents each from a private seller) it was worth getting some spray primer and spray paint to make them the color we wanted. We loved our kitchen redo on a thrifty budget and all DIY :-)
  • Mary McNeil Mary McNeil on Jan 06, 2015
    You can paint your cabinets with Annie Sloan chalk paint. It sticks to anything. After painting, I would use a poly rather than her wax because I believe it would hold up better in the heat of the kitchen. Replacing the hinges and door pulls is also an inexpensive way to get an updated look.
    • James Guidry James Guidry on Feb 09, 2016
      Yes true but you left out a minor detail. You need to seal them first to prevent the knots or water marks from bleeding through all your hard work.
  • Rjm622173 Rjm622173 on Jan 06, 2015
    I would do a very good cleaning, and sand really well with a 120, than a much finer paper. Remove the dust, and prime 1st. It doesn't look like u need any chemical treatment.
  • Rjm622173 Rjm622173 on Jan 06, 2015
    I did my kitchen oak cabinets, they were dated, with sand paper, primer, and paint. No kits, chemicals etc... Fine Sanding after primer, 2 nd coat of primer.. Fine sanding 1st coat of paint (SEMI gloss base) , fine sanding 2nd coat of paint, fine sanding, water based polyurethane. In other words, sanding was KEY our cabinets turned out great!!!
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  • Leslie Thomas Milam Leslie Thomas Milam on Jan 06, 2015
    I think they are Beautiful cabinets. I would just take off the hardware and try the crock pot method to clean them. They look like copper and would be awesome!!! Then maybe seal them. The wood is so cool! Just clean them well and sand out any runs and scratches and find a polyurethane that is safe for over shellac. I would love to take them of your hands!!!!! LOL
  • Nola Connors Nola Connors on Aug 18, 2015
    I agree with Connie. We did our kids cabinets last year and the offset hinges are hard to find at a reasonable price but we finally found them at Home Depot. Take the doors right off though to redo them. I also cleaned and painted the inside of the boxes. Good luck!
  • James Guidry James Guidry on Feb 09, 2016
    The main thing you need to do is dull the glossy finish. You can use liquid deglosser, mineral spirits, or denatured alcohol along with some 00 and 0000 steel wool, wipe down surface with clean soft cloth, or tack cloth ( cheese cloth leaves a residue), then a good blocking primer. Shellac based primer is great and you can use oil or waterbase paint over it. Be sure to sand between every application and vacuum and tackle cloth to remove all dust from surface especially corners of doors. Use professional tools no cheap throw away stuff. Apply at least 2 coats of finish with brush or HVLP Sprayer with a fine finish tip.
  • Lisa Brinkman Lisa Brinkman on Feb 10, 2016
    It's good they have shellac on them it prevents any spots from bleeding through. Clean with warm vinegar and water and sand just enough to give a tooth for the paint to grab on to and a prime coat tinted to the color you will be painting. Good Luck it isn't as hard as people think, just time consuming
  • Well, unless you sand down to all those bumps they glossed over, the new paint job will look horrible! The close up picture that shows whatever that is, will show up under the paint. For a professional looking job, you must sand that all off, feel with your hands until it's nice and smooth, apply a new coat of non-waxed shellac, and then your primer and paint. The people that say, "oh just use a deglosser and paint away!" have never done a project like this! Your finished product is only as good as your prep work. Do what they say and your new paint job will be chipping within the year. Ditto for those that say to refinish them. That is a huge undertaking. Everything needs to be stripped down to bare wood. Everything! Have you ever refinished any type of wood? Now multiply it by 100 and that's what it will be like to do all of these kitchen cabinets. Way back in 1993 I had my oak cabinets stripped and stained by two professionals. It took them 3 solid days. If it were me and the boxes were still in good shape, I would just get new doors and drawer fronts. These don't look like their in all that great shape. For all the work you would have to do, I would just spring for the new doors. Or check craigslist for people that are getting rid of oak cabinets or other kitchen cabinets for a super deal. Lots of options.