3 options to restore oak cabinets

Need-to-knows about painting, refinishing, refacing

Q: We have white-washed oak cabinets (not very good ones at that). I want to change the color — can they be painted successfully? And what about refacing — is that a good option? I do not want to go through the expense of new cabinets! Also, do you recommend knobs on the doors and drawers? We don’t have them now and I notice that in places we have actually made little marks with our fingernails, so I guess I may have answered by own question on that! –Virginia B.

A: Let’s take your questions one at a time. First of all, oak is difficult to paint effectively without a lot of preparation work. If you look closely at the wood, you’ll see light areas that are relatively smooth and darker areas that are very porous. The paint gets absorbed differently into these two areas, so it’s difficult to get a smooth paint job without the grain showing through.

To paint oak, the old finish should be sanded off, then a specific paste sealer applied that fills in and seals the open pores. Then the wood is sanded again, primed and painted. It’s kind of a time-consuming process to do correctly, so be sure your painter has specific experience with oak (he or she may also know some tricks I’m not aware of).