Repainting metal cabinets
November 17, 2012 1:39 PM   Subscribe

How to paint vintage metal kitchen cabinets?

I want to paint some vintage metal cabinets. They have been painted before and are currently a matte white that does not feel very smooth or look good.

I bought some gloss latex enamel paint by Valspar. I can't spend a lot of money and am concerned about the finish and am confused about priming. Should I sand? Prime?

Thank you.
posted by DeltaForce to Home & Garden (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Creating a good gloss finish on metal surfaces doesn't require a lot of money, but it does require a lot of time. If the finish is already uneven and rough, then painting over it with anything other than a hammered-finish paint will give you an uneven and rough final finish. Speaking from experience painting auto body panels, the key to a good gloss finish is to have the surface to be painted as perfect as possible. In your case, you could probably rough-sand the high spots, "key" the entire surface by lighting sanding it, then apply an auto-body building primer which will hide most imperfections.
posted by 1adam12 at 1:53 PM on November 17, 2012

Well, if you want the absolute best finish, then, yes, you need to take the cabinets down to the bare metal. Then prime. Then paint. It's basically like painting a car. Oh, and, you need to spray the primer and paint. No brushes.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:54 PM on November 17, 2012

I guess I'm lazy, but I might see if an auto painting business would do it.
posted by michellenoel at 1:57 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

I found this discussion online.
posted by vitabellosi at 2:00 PM on November 17, 2012

If you want it done right, take them to a body shop.

You can strip the paint off then buff them and keep them stainless.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:22 PM on November 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I can't remove them from the walls, but if I wanted to remove the paint, could I really just get a metal stripper and then scrape? I don't know what kind of metal they are, would it look shiny like stainless steel?
posted by DeltaForce at 2:27 PM on November 17, 2012

I am a bit suspicious of the "soap and water clean" kinds of paint (other than for walls)- I haven't had good experiences. It just doesn't seem as durable as the older alkyd paints, and there is the chance that when painted over a previous layer of alkyd paint, it won't adhere well. That being said, I haven't tried that particular brand of latex enamel, so maybe it's really good, I don't know. What I would do with old metal cabinets is sand them so the the surface is nice and flat, and then paint them with high-gloss alkyd tremclad or rustoleum paint. You need a good brush and a nice careful hand to apply it evenly without too many brushstrokes, but once done it will last ages and wear really well. I painted my paticleboard kitchen cabinets this way a year ago and they look like they were painted yesterday - any dirt or spills wipe right off.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:01 PM on November 17, 2012

People generally powder coat or have automotive enamel put on their vintage steel cabinets. If you're trying to save money I would just paint over what's there. If you sand or otherwise remove paint first you'll want to take precautions for lead-based paint (wear a mask, curtain and tape off your kitchen, &c.).

If you use a scraper, you'll scratch the metal.

Retro Renovations has many posts about steel cabinetry.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:37 PM on November 17, 2012

Best answer: You can't take the cabinets off the wall; can you take the doors off the cabinets?
I repainted my vintage metal kitchen cabinets this summer. They had been painted with regular latex house paint before. Not great. They had a paint roller texture to them, and they always looked dirty. They didn't have major rust or any dents. They came out great when I was done.
Here's what my process was like:
- Remove doors from cabinets, take outside.
- Sand until smooth with 220 grit sandpaper in a random orbit palm sander.
- Brush off dust.
- wipe down with damp paper towel.
- Wipe down again with tack cloth
- lay horizontal on cinder blocks
- spray a thin coat of Rustoleum Appliance Epoxy
- wait 15 minutes
- spray a second thin coat
- put in shed to dry overnight.
- rehang doors next morning

The most time consuming part was getting them off and then back on the cabinets, there was years' worth of paint in those tiny little screw heads.
Dust control is the key to getting a nice even glossy finish, thus the three stage wipe down.
Laying them horizontal ensured that if I got a little overzealous with the spray paint in an area, it still wouldn't run and sag, just pool a bit and then dry flat.
I highly recommend the appliance epoxy, it's made for this kind of thing. It cleans easily and should wear well.
posted by Adridne at 6:38 PM on November 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Adridne, did you paint the sides of the cabinets?
posted by DeltaForce at 6:30 AM on November 18, 2012

Yes, if you strip the paint off they'll look like stainless steel.

Here's an eHow for refinishing.

Why can't you take them down? Lathe and plaster?

An awesome site for ideas and things is Retro Renovations.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:39 AM on November 18, 2012

I did not paint the sides, I had done that with regular house paint and a brush a few years ago when I painted the rest of the kitchen. That sounds weird, but given the layout of our kitchen it made sense.
posted by Adridne at 8:50 AM on November 18, 2012

ooh yes, removing the doors and laying them flat to spray like Adridne suggests will give you a beautiful finish
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 10:01 AM on November 18, 2012

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