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Surface to be painted must be very clean

: I want a fresh new remodeled look in our kitchen, but I cannot afford the $2,000 for new decorator cabinets. My 15-year-old wood cabinets are sound, just outdated and worn. Can I repaint old cabinets? — Paula H.

A: Fifteen years of sticky, dirty kids’ hands can take their toll on even the best kitchen cabinets. In the past decade, preferred kitchen colors and décor have changed significantly. After 15 years, it’s about time for a new look. If your old wood cabinets were good quality and the hinges and doors still operate well, you can salvage them with a fresh coat of paint and save about $1,400. With several kids needing to go to college, you probably can find plenty of other uses for the money.

Figure on spending about 20 hours total to repaint the cabinets and drawers in an average kitchen. Allowing for disassembly, wood preparation, painting and reassembly, the job will span about a week.

First you must prepare the doors and drawers. Remove the handles and other metal hardware and wash the wood surfaces to be painted. Clean all the surfaces with trisodium phosphate. Don’t be afraid to really scrub, but make sure to dry them thoroughly — don’t let them just air dry.

Now comes the boring, but most important, part: surface preparation. Sand all surfaces to be painted with 100-grit sandpaper. To get around some of the surface detail, a sanding sponge works well. Be gentle so you do not sand off sharp edges. This really detracts from the finished appearance.

For a real professional look, use putty in any small nicks and gaps. If you have raised panel cabinet doors, use caulk at the seams for a brand-new, contemporary look.

Now for the fun part: painting. The hardest, most durable type of paint is epoxy-modified alkyd paint commonly available in spray cans. Your choices of color are somewhat limited and it takes some skill in applying spray paint evenly, especially from spray cans.

For the inexperienced painter, a three-step painting process: primer, split coat (half primer and half final paint) and final gloss oil-based coat is recommended. Gloss oil-based paint can be mixed in any contemporary color, is easy to apply and dries fairly fast.

Remember the three most important words in painting: clean, clean and clean again.

Once all the doors are prepared for painting, vacuum them and wipe them with a tack cloth. When dry, gently sand them with fine sandpaper until the surfaces feel smooth.

Vacuum and use the tack cloth again. Apply a second split coat. Check for any rough spots and sand them smooth. Apply the finish gloss coating.

You can avoid brush strokes by always painting from the unpainted area to the just painted area. Lift up the brush while your hand is still moving. You will see a small lift-off mark, but it will quickly disappear.

Also, always strain the paint first, even if the can was just opened. You can purchase a strainer for about $1 from your paint store or just use an old nylon stocking.

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