Painting and Waxing Kitchen Cabinets – A Tutorial Part 3

CAUTION:  This may be the most boring post I’ve ever written!  It is hard to do any creative writing when giving a long, drawn out tutorial so let’s just get to it!

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There are so MANY great tutorials for Painting and Waxing Kitchen Cabinets and I’ve benefited greatly from them myself.  Today I’ll share my personal cabinet painting experience which may differ just a bit from others you’ve seen or read.   After a lot of ups and downs, trials and errors, I’ve settled into a flow when it comes to chalk painting so I’ll attempt to share that with you.  I say “attempt” because it is awfully hard to explain in words the very visual process of painting.

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The painting step is the fun part and I think it’s pretty hard to mess it up, though I know from experience that not everyone can paint  (LOL!  You know who you are)!  So here we go, step-by-step.

1.  Wipe down cabinets to remove any chunks of dirt or cobwebs.  In MOST cases no other prepping, sanding, or de-glossing is needed.  Here are the exceptions I’ve found:  Cabinets with a red color (like red mahogany) or cabinets with knots (like knotty pine).  In these cases I recommend sealing the cabinets (or the knots only in the knotty pine) with a product like Zinsser B-I-N Shellac-Base Primer to prevent bleed-through.  Though some chalk paint retailers say this isn’t necessary I have learned from experience that sometimes there is BLEED THROUGH which can continue to occur even after a couple of years.  That said, I did NOT prime my red mahogany kitchen cabinets as they had a really good finish over the stain.  I was feeling lucky and took the risk and I’ve had no bleed-through.

2.  Cabinet doors can be taken off or left on for painting.  The benefit of taking them off is that you won’t have to worry about painting so carefully around your hardware.  The downside of taking them off is that you will have to rehang them and it can be tricky to get them straight.  Not impossible, just tricky.  I chose to leave my cabinet doors in place.

3.  If you are taking down your doors use masking tape to number your doors to correspond to the cabinets they belong to.

4.  Place hardware inside the cabinet it corresponds to.

5.  Begin brushing on the paint.  I’ve never invested in expensive Chalk Paint brushes for painting (waxing is a different story) but use a mid-priced paint brush with acrylic bristles.

6.  Paint in long smooth strokes, blending each new stroke into the edges of the last.  I wish I had a picture for this but the main idea is to start your new stroke in the still wet paint of the last stroke to keep it looking even.

7.  Paint two to three light coats rather than one very thick one.

NOTE:  If paint is too thick, thin with a little water.

Chalk paint dries very quickly and you can begin subsequent coats within an hour or less, as soon as it is dry to the touch.

Don’t worry too much about brush marks.  Chalk paint creates a unique type of finish so don’t expect to achieve a “manufactured cabinet” look.  If the finish has too many brush marks for your taste you can always lightly sand it back before sealing.  The wax used to seal the paint also tends to fill in the brush strokes somewhat.

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8.  Distress cabinets (if desired) in the places where they would wear naturally over time.  Some people prefer to distress after waxing but I prefer to do it before so my sanding block doesn’t get all “gummed” up.  Distress as little or as much as you’d like.

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9.  Add a different color to nooks and crevices, if desired, to give your cabinet a bit of an antiqued look.  Brush it on and then wipe off the excess.  I used Annie Sloan French Linen on my cabinets to match the grayish veins in my granite and marble backsplash.

3-Kitchen Cabs 003Notice the nice Seahawk nails here . . . along with a few age spots!

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If the raw wood shows through and you don’t like how it looks, you can stain it with a MinWax wood touch up pen.

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This part is trickier and some prefer to use a different type of protective finish, such as polycrylic.  Both have their upsides and downsides.  Polycrylic can yellow over time and it tends to leave drip marks if you’re not very careful.  Both methods will require multiple coats on cabinets.  Since my cabinets were painted with Old White I didn’t want to risk yellowing.

Practice is the key to learning the technique of waxing.  My advice is to try waxing a small piece of furniture or even a single cabinet before tackling your entire kitchen.

1.  Vacuum the area you will be waxing in first – This helps to avoid stray pet hairs or other dirt from “floating” into the wax.

2.  Remove the dust caused by distressing by vacuuming your cabinets or wiping them down with a damp tack rag.

3.  Remove a “dollop” of wax from the can and put it on a paper plate.

4.  Gently push your waxing brush into the wax to lightly coat the ends of the bristles.  Blot off excess on a clean portion of your paper plate.  NOTE:  I DO like to spend the extra money for a good waxing brush.  I have an Annie Sloan waxing brush and it is great!  It conserves on wax used and helps in getting wax into all of the crevices nicely.

5.  Wax a small section at a time (I did one cabinet front at a time), rubbing it into the wood in a circular motion.  Apply a good amount of pressure to the application, almost like you’re trying to work it into the grain of the wood.

NOTE:  Do not apply wax too heavily or you’ll be sorry later!  Use thin . . . VERY thin coats of wax!!!

SECOND NOTE:  As you add wax you will see the color of your cabinets deepening slightly.  This will lighten up again as it dries.

6.  After you’ve waxed a small portion of cabinet wipe off the excess wax.  I like to use old T-shirts for this step.  I used white for my Old White cabinets and a dark T-shirt on the Graphite colored island, just in case any lint from the colored T remained.  You can find cheap T’s at the thrift store.  I use them up and throw them away!

7.  Run your hand over the piece to make sure you’ve wiped enough of the wax away, making sure that no tackiness remains.

8.  Let wax dry overnight before buffing.  ASCP says 24 hours but it depends on a lot of conditions such as heat and humidity.  On a dry summer day I’ve actually buffed within just a few hours.

9. Begin buffing at a slow speed to warm up the wax slightly.  My theory is that this actually softens the wax a bit and gives you a better result. For a big job, like cabinets, I highly recommend using an electric buffer.  These can be found at auto stores, aren’t too costly, and are SO worth the investment!  An electric buffer will give quickly give your cabinets a nice sheen that you just can’t get by hand buffing alone.

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Once you’ve warmed things up increase and keep your buffer at MEDIUM speed (about a 2+ on a scale of 1-5).  If you use too high a speed you may find that your buffer spins out of control, leaving funky circular patterns on your cabinets.  More personal experience speaking!

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Repeat waxing, wiping and buffing steps two more times.  Two to three coats of wax on cabinets is the ideal as they will get more wear than a regular piece of furniture.  I did three on those I use the most and two on the cabinets above the refrigerator and other, less used spaces.

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If you desire a deeper color for your cabinets you can use dark wax to achieve this.  When I use dark wax I always apply a coat of soft wax first as it is easier to wipe away excess with the soft wax underneath.  If you find that the dark wax is still too dark you can use more soft wax over it and this will act as an “eraser” to remove as much of the dark wax as you’d like.  Another way to do this is to mix a little dark wax into the soft wax and apply it that way.


*Keep your buffing pad clean and soft by keeping it in a gallon sized Ziplock bag between uses.  Or, if you are going to take a long break between uses you can hand wash it with soap and water and allow it to air dry.  I ended up using two pads for my entire kitchen.

*If you notice little “fuzzies” in your wax, gently pull them off.  If wax cures with “fuzzies” in the finish they will remain a part of your cabinets forever, a testament to your hairy house!

*If you are noticing a lot of fuzz from your buffing pad your wax may be too thick (my experience).  Gently sand off or use little Mineral Spirits on a cloth to wipe off excess wax, then try buffing again.

*I found that buffing my lower cabinets first was best so that they were smooth and not as likely to attract the particles that tend to fall when waxing.  I’m not sure what these mysterious particles are but they do occur!

*Buffing inside your cabinets is OPTIONAL!

*Soft wax take a few weeks to cure completely but once it has cured it provides a very hard and very durable finish.  I also think it creates a more beautiful sheen than the polycrylic finishes.

POTENTIAL (but easily corrected) PROBLEMS WITH WAXING:

If you see areas of dullness after waxing I’ve found two things that this can be:

1.  Wax is too thick.  It will feel slightly tacky, not smooth.  Correction:  Use a little mineral spirits  to remove the excess, then try buffing the area again.  Don’t worry if you accidentally remove too much wax as you can always add a little more back and re-buff.

2.  Wax is too thin.  It will feel like unwaxed chalk paint when you rub your hand across it and it will also appear lighter in color than the areas around it.  This is likely an area you missed with the wax.  Correction:  Add wax to the area, wipe off excess, wait 24 hours and buff again.


*Wipe down spills and splashes with a damp cloth.

*If you happen to get a stain . . . like from blending a smoothie too exuberantly and not wiping off the berries right away . . . you can use a cleaner on the area or even sand the stain off and reapply a little paint and wax to the area.

*I like to add additional protective coating every 12-18 months.  Rather than doing the whole re-waxing, wiping, buffing process though, I use liquid beeswax (a product I love is Skidmore’s).  It is easy to wipe on, let dry and wipe or buff off.  The buffing on this product is easy to do my hand or with a buffer.

One last NOTE is about clean up.  For Chalk Paint, I wash my brushes with dish detergent and water.  The wax can be a little harder to clean up so sometimes I’ll soak it in a little olive oil before washing with soap.  This has the added benefit of conditioning the bristles.  I’ve also heard that Murphy’s Oil Soap is a good product to use and it probably has the same benefit as olive oil and soap. 

That, my friends, is my painting/waxing experience in a nutshell.  If you have any questions about anything or if there is something I haven’t covered please let me know.

This is PART THREE in a four part series.  PART ONE was my Budget Kitchen Makeover With Sparkle

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and PART TWO was Adding Substance to a Boxy Kitchen Island.

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Please check out those links if you haven’t already.  PART FOUR of the series will be shopping for my kitchen makeover, the great deals I found, the colors I used, etc.

One last NOTE:  Though I wish I were being paid to promote all of the products mentioned in this blog post I’m not!  SO . . . free advertising for all!


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I’ve been known to link up to the following great parties!!!


  1. says

    Wow, what an amazing tutorial! Thank you Patti for all of the great tips, your cabinets must be gorgeous, I love the color and aging and distressing. Sounds like quite an undertaking, the waxing sounds pretty labor intensive! Can’t wait to see more of your redo!!

  2. says

    This is a perfect tutorial for me! I need step by step (someone to hold my hand preferably) instruction.
    Your cabinets turned out beautifully, I love the extra touches that you applied. Thanks so much for telling us how you achieved it.

  3. says

    I found this post on the SixSistersStuff link party, and I’m so happy I did! My husband and I updated a bunch of rooms in our house, but have yet to tackle the kitchen. This post gave me so many ideas for our remodel- thank you so much!

  4. says

    what an awesome tutorial, patti. your cabinetry looks fabulous. i will be needing this i’m sure as we may be relocating and either restoring or building at the next property! i do love to paint and am fearless with it. :)

  5. says

    This is a great tutorial for those wanting to paint cabinets. I am thinking of doing my laundry room before too long. Cupboards are beautiful wood, but I would love them a color! Thanks for sharing with SYC.


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