Tips for Painting Knotty Pine Cabinets White

October 9, 2019

Can you paint knotty pine cabinets?

Personally, I love the rustic look of knotty pine for grooved paneling and newer cabinets, but in an old house or cabin, pine cabinets may look worn and obviously old. You can restore the knotty pine to restore the natural beauty of wood, but furniture painting is becoming a popular trend for remodeling the kitchen at an affordable price, more and more people are choosing the look of white paint on the wood stain.

Painting knotty pine furniture is a little more difficult than painting knotless wood like maple. If you paint the cabinets in white, the surface preparation must be done in such a way as to mask the nodes so that they do not appear through the paint.

The resin inside the pine knots makes it difficult to apply without the proper primer to prevent seepage. You can paint the knots until the face turns blue, but a yellow film will continue to form on the surface without the proper primer undercoat.

Preparation of Pine Cabinets for Primer and Paint

Remove all cabinet doors from frames, including hardware. Put all the screws in the bag so you do not lose them. The simplest way to label the doors and avoid confusion during installation is to write a number under a hinge and cover it with tape. Make a door count and write it down.

Clean doors and cabinet frames

Cleaning your cabinets before priming and painting is very important for adhesion. Old knotty pine cabinets require deep cleaning to remove surface contaminants. Clean the surface before sanding, not after.

Use ordinary dish soap or a degreaser if the cabinets are really bad. When using a degreaser, always rinse the residue to avoid adhesion problems with the paint. If you use a “no rinse” pre-paint cleaner, I will still rinse the surface with clean water to remove any remaining residue to avoid adhesion problems later.

You can also use denatured alcohol to spot clean areas with heavier grease that does not come off with soap, but wear rubber gloves to protect your skin. Denatured alcohol dissolves stubborn fat very well and evaporates from the surface without leaving any residue.

Best Sandpaper for Fine

Sanding your knotty pine cabinets is a must, whether you paint them or color them. You do not need to sand them down to bare wood or remove all the old stain. The purpose of the sanding is to remove the transparent layer on the top for better adhesion. You can use a manual block or sand with an orbital sander.

I sand all my cabinets with the Makita Orbital Sander. Buying a good orbital sander is worth it if you have several doors to sand.

Pine is soft and more easily damaged than hardwood, especially if you sand with an orbital sander using coarse sandpaper. When I sand pine trees, I like to start with 150 grit for initial grinding and finer grit for primers and paint. The use of very abrasive sandpaper on your cabinets is useless.

Fill The Pine Knots

Unless you want your painted pine cabinets to have a rustic appearance, fill the holes with the knots to hide them and adapt them to the surrounding surface. Knot holes in pine cabinets must be filled with durable wood putty and not light putty.

The product that I use most to fill the bumps and holes in cabinet doors and frames I paint is Bondo wood putty. The wood putty is ideal for knot holes because it dries very hard without cracking or shrinking. Two layers are usually enough to fill the knots. Once you have added the cream hardener, you only have a few minutes to apply the sealant before it dries. Use an orbital sander to sand the patch until it is level with the surface.

Another product option for clogging knotty pine holes, which costs much less, is Durham’s water sealant, but the sealant is not water-resistant like Bondo wood sealant. You must also wait much longer to allow the sealant to dry completely before priming.

Caulk Cabinet Panels

Your pine cabinets may have doors with recessed panels or a solid piece, in which case there would be nothing to caulk. But caulking cabinets with recessed panels look cleaner and more professional when the doors are painted.

Do not take the cheapest route when buying caulking. High quality caulking is more flexible and lasts longer. The sealant I use for all my painting projects is Sherwin Williams Quick Dry Putty (55 year old putty). The caulking is made of acrylic latex, can be painted and dried in thirty minutes. I caulked hundreds of doors with this product and never got a reminder.

Painting And Finishing Knotty Pine Cabinets

The use of a poor (water-based) primer is a very common mistake that people make when they are finishing pine cabinets. Colored and unpainted cabinets should always be primed with a primer that seals wood, including an oil-based primer, or a shellac primer, not a water-based primer.

The knots in the pine cause a very visible discoloration of the white paint if you do not finish the surface first with the appropriate primer sealer. The fading, called bleed, is a yellowish film that appears in the paint. The yellow film is resin and tannin wood.

Primer For Knotty Pine

Two great options for priming knotty pine cabinets are BIN Primer for shellac, or Cover Stain (oil based primer). The shellac-based primer is an excellent sealant for knotty pine. It is very thin and submerges the knot holes more easily than the oil primer, but I only recommend BIN if you spray, as the primer sprinkles and splatters like crazy when brushed and rolled. If you brush and roll, you must be very careful to cover the floors and countertops.

Oil-based primers are also messy, but they splash less than BIN for brushing and rolling. Both types of primer form a strong surface adhesion and a hard finish that does not scratch easily with paint. There are several options on the market, but these are the two products with which I have a lot of experience.

Best Paint for Knotty Pine Cabinets

The paint you choose is really important for sustainability. A high quality enamel is worth the extra cost, as it will stabilize better during application and the finish will be more durable than a cheap latex trim paint.

I have always used Sherwin Williams paint for cabinets. In the past, I used a lot of ProClassic enamel, which is a good product, but now I use Emerald urethane enamel only. Competitive brands have excellent paints for this purpose as well, so it all depends on what is available in your area.

You will not want to use cheap paint on your cabinets, otherwise you will sacrifice coverage and durability. Using a cheap paint can add a day or two to your project when you need to apply an extra layer to coat the paint.

Spray Instead of Brushing And Rolling

I used to brush and roll all my cabinet projects, mainly because I was afraid of spraying too much, but now, I carefully mask the workspace and spray everything. I highly recommend spraying your kitchen cabinets instead of brushing and rolling them. Spraying gives you a superior finish in half the time.

You can use an airless sprayer or HVLP, but with an airless configuration you will not have to thin your paint. In this article, I will not discuss the advantages and disadvantages of both types of sprayers, but I use a Graco airless spray for my projects. I really like Graco finish nozzles for cabinet spraying. I use them exclusively for this purpose.


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