“I could do that myself.” you may be thinking. Honestly, you’re correct. Painting isn’t brain surgery and nobody is going to die if you mess it up.
Let’s look behind the curtain and see if it makes sense for you to tackle the job yourself.
If you have a 40 hour a week job (with the commute added in) then you’re probably away from your kitchen most days. That leaves you the weekend to DIY your kitchen cabinets. We’ve written a long blog post on exactly how to paint your cabinets just like we do, but I’ll summarize it here. For this exercise, I’ll assume that your free time is worth $30 per hour (feel free to adjust it as you see fit). What follows is a realistic, best-case-scenario for a DIY cabinet painter.
Job one is picking a color to paint your cabinets. Taking into consideration your countertop, backsplash, wall color and undertones it can be tricky, but you’re good at this stuff so it only takes you 1 trip to a paint store to collect color swatches, hold them up to your cabinets and make a decision. Let’s call that an hour. The good news is that you did this during the week after dinner, so it doesn’t cut into your weekend time. (That hour becomes $30 invested so far)
Once you decided on a paint color, you return to the paint store to get a gallon of paint and a gallon of primer. To keep this easy, we’ll call that $100. You also grab a new paintbrush or two, a tarp for the counters and floor, maybe a roller for that big side panel next to the refrigerator, some plastic sheeting for the garage floor and some degreaser to clean the cabinets. Maybe we’ll call it $150 by the time we check out an hour later. (Running total up to $210 now)
Saturday morning you remove all the cabinet doors and drawer fronts labeling each one so you can put it back in the same spot. You should also label all the hinges and other hardware because they are not interchangeable without readjusting (if you have adjustable hinges) all the doors when you re-install them. This part is generally straight-forward and takes about 3 hours if you have a helper. ($300)
You decide to lay out all the doors and drawers in your garage because you have plenty of room. You think, “How much room can 30 cabinet doors take up?” and then realize it’s going to be a tight squeeze. No worries, you’re a seasoned DIYer and can handle it.
As you’re laying down the plastic sheeting in the garage you notice that the weather is getting cold (or maybe hot) outside. Painting in the garage might not be all that comfortable for you, not to mention the extra time the paint will need to dry. As long as the temperature doesn’t get too much below 50 or above 90 out there, the paint will be fine, although a little slower than you expected. In the end, it only takes you an hour to set up the garage perfectly and you’re ready to start! ($330)
You decide to paint all the doors and drawers first, and let them cure while you paint the cabinet face frames.
You’ve researched that all great paint jobs start with great prep, and you’re determined to make sure that your doors are perfect. You start by degreasing them using Simple Green and paper towels. The paper towels take a beating, so you switch to some old t-shirts and after about 90 minutes you’re done and you get to buy some new t-shirts. ($375)
Now you get out your electric sander to do a quick sanding to make sure the paint will have a good surface to adhere to. You quickly sand the fronts of all the cabinet doors and drawers in about an hour, now you debate if you should also sand the backside. You decide that if you’re going to do this, you’re going to do it right. You flip all the pieces and spend another hour sanding. You also realized that the sander was great for the big flat panels, but the molding will need to be done by hand. You decide to break for lunch first. ($435)
After lunch, you start hand sanding the more complex parts of the doors but knock it out in about an hour because you’re laser-focused. ($465)
You give the gallon primer a shake and pop it open to start the fun part. As you’re painting the stiles and rails with your nice new brush you notice some brush strokes are showing up so you paint over that area a little bit more but they won’t go away. Since it’s only primer, you keep moving. Eventually, you finish all the doors and drawers in about 4 hours which averages out to 8 minutes per door. ($585)
While you’re waiting for the doors to dry, you do some research on brush strokes and realize you weren’t using enough paint. You’ll do better on the second coat of primer.
An hour later you flip the doors and drawers and prime the backs. This goes a little easier because there’s no fancy trim and you finish up after 3 hours. ($675)
An hour later you trudge back out to the garage for the second coat of primer on the fronts. Before starting the second coat you quickly hand sand each door to get some of the brush strokes knocked down so everything is smooth. You end up eating a few slices of pizza as the second coat of primer goes on easier and slightly quicker than the first, but with the sanding, it’s now after 8 o’clock. ($765)
You decide to finish the priming before going to bed. Around 9 o’clock you flip the doors and drawers again and you finish the primer just in time to catch the end of the 11 o’clock news. ($825)
Sunday is the big day, you get to apply the real paint. You finish off your coffee and head out to the garage nice and early where there are a few very small problems with the primed doors, 3 of them need a little touch-up work. You do that first and set them aside so they can dry before you get to them. ($855)
The color you picked looks beautiful as you paint it on. You are more careful with this coat and make sure it’s as smooth as possible. You’re doing great, but it takes you a bit longer than planned because of your attention to detail. Five hours later you stand back and smile at the beautiful job you did. ($1,005)
While you enjoy your lunch, you wish you had painted the back of the doors first, because you realize that you’ll need to flip them over to paint the backs now. You decide to give them more time to dry so that flipping and painting the backs will be less likely to scuff up the fronts. You decide to start cleaning the face frames of the cabinets inside.
You grab the degreaser and get to work, it goes pretty quickly until you get to the area around the stove and sink, where it’s pretty dirty. Who knew that your base cabinets were this greasy next to the stove?
When you finish an hour and a half later, you check the cabinets in the garage but you don’t feel confident in flipping them onto their face yet, so you return inside to sand the face frames. You hadn’t given much thought to the dust removal as you start sanding, but it isn’t too bad and you finish sanding the upper cabinets and lower cabinets after about an hour. ($1,080)
Now in mid-afternoon, you feel like you can flip the doors in the garage. You apply a coat of paint onto the backs of them and take a break for dinner. ($1,155)
After dinner, you grab the primer and set up to start applying it to the face frames. You suddenly realize that you don’t have a brush that will work very well for this but luckily your neighbor does and 20 minutes later you’re laying on your side painting the toe kick to get started. You can’t decide if the quarter round/shoe molding should get painted, so you decide to skip it since you’re hoping to finish this stuff up. By 10 o’clock the first coat of primer is done and looks pretty good. You make an executive decision to go back to the beginning and apply the second coat of primer before going to bed. It’s a little before 1 in the morning when you’re finally finished up and ready for bed, but you’re almost there. You take some photos for your Facebook post. ($1,305)
Monday after work you’re too excited to leave it, so you set up the tarps and start preparing to apply the paint to the face frames. This goes a little slower because of the weird positions you have to get into but you take more photos for Facebook when you finish around 10 o’clock that night. ($1,425)
As you leave for work on Tuesday, you’re excited to put the cabinet doors back up. After you get home from your child’s game around 8:30, you start putting the hinges on the cabinet doors to rehang them. A few hours later they are all back up. There is more adjusting than you figured, but the truth is you never really noticed it when they were natural dark wood. You banged a few doors while installing them, so you do some minor touch-up and you’re done. ($1,515)
Other items that can drive up the cost include new hardware ($100 – $500), pinstriping (2 – 6 hours), glazing (2 – 8 hours), painting the quarter round will add time, rubber bumpers ($25) that you add to each door and drawer, time spent to fill old holes (4 – 8 hours) and/or drill new holes (1 – 3 hours) for hardware, etc.
As I mentioned at the start, this story imagines that the process goes as expected (for the most part) and you don’t run into any problems. Although not brain surgery, getting paint to flow so that it looks like a factory finish doesn’t happen easily, the more experience you have the more likely the outcome will be flawless.