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Painting Cabinet Doors Lacquer-How many coats are needed?

We have always used lacquer based paint on raw maple doors, and on occasion, when painting Thermofoil doors we have used the same method. The number of coats will depend on how many flaws are on the doors. We are always able to get a nice looking satin finish by applying five coats on each side. Yes, I said five. If you decide to paint Thermofoil doors, check with your local cabinetry supply company to get the proper primers and top coat.


Before getting started your going to need paint, a good grade of lacquer thinner and possibly retarder or even accelerator.

Retarder will slow down the drying time of the lacquer paint and the accelerator will speed up the drying time. It is a good idea to have the last two finish coats retarded, especially if there is moisture in the air or you live in a hot climate.

Accelerator may need to be added if the weather is cold or during the primer coats so you won’t have to wait around forever while it dries.

The best rule to use is get the paint and practice a little to see if you’re going to need additional chemical additives.

How to Paint Cabinetry Doors Using Lacquer Paint

Here’s how we have always prepped and sprayed our kitchen cabinetry doors. There are many methods that can be used to paint but this is the one that we found to work well for us using lacquer paint.

1) Mix the paint as directed by the manufacturer.
2) Make sure the maple doors are sanded well prior to applying the first coat of primer. All dents and dings that are visible should be filled and sanded on both sides of the doors.
3) Spray the backside of all of the doors with one moderate coat of primer and let it thoroughly dry.
4) Fill all dents, dings and scratches and sand (using a vibrating sander) the first coat with 220 grit sand paper.
5) Blow all of the dust off of the door and wipe them off with a rag as you blow.
6) Apply the second coat of primer a little thicker and let it dry completely.
7) Fill holes and imperfections again and HAND sand the door again with the 220 grit sand paper. Blow off and wipe with a rag as your blowing off the dust.
8) Retard the third coat of primer slightly if it has been drying really fast.
9) Spray a nice medium thickness coat of paint. When this dries your doors should have a perfectly smooth finish with NO imperfections.
10) Very lightly, hand sand the doors.
11) Flip the cabinetry doors over and do the same to the frontside.
12) When applying the finish coats, paint the backside first. Mix the top coat lacquer paint and spray a medium, really wet looking coat. This coat should dry slowly so retarder may have to be added. There should be no evidence of air marks (where the paint was applied too thin) in the paint but rather it should look like a mirror wet finish. Let this coat thoroughly dry.
13) DO NOT SAND
14) Apply the final coat the same as the first finish coat. Let the doors dry for 24 hrs before turning them over to paint the frontside.

The proper way to spray is to make two complete passes over the surface of the doors. One in a horizontal direction then immediately spray in the opposite (or, “vertical” direction) applying another moderate coat. This will eliminate air marks or streak patterns in the paints surface.

Note: All concealed hinge holes and special hardware applications should be taken care of prior to painting the kitchen cabinet doors with the lacquer paint. The last thing that you want to be doing is sliding the finished side of the doors around while drilling hinge holes.

As you can tell the process of getting a top quality finish on the doors is extensive. How many coats you apply will depend upon how many flaws the primer coats reveal. The entire painting process should take about three days to complete on an average sized kitchen cabinetry job that has about twenty liner feet of countertops. Even though lacquer paint dries quickly the preparation of getting the surfaces of the doors perfect for the top coats is time consuming.

  1. James Mault
    October 30th, 2009 at 10:34 | #1

    Why do I get small bumps in my clear lacquer finish? They are like small sand.

  2. roger
    January 9th, 2010 at 15:21 | #2

    I am interested in painting my cabinets by blue lacquer paint. Do you know where is a good place to buy from ? Thanks.

  3. laura nachison
    March 8th, 2010 at 14:55 | #3

    why are there cracks and ragged edges at the mitered joints of the paint grade cabinets that are painted white? it is supposedly a lacquered finish. What happened in the preparation or finish process/ thanks.

  4. admin
    April 14th, 2010 at 05:59 | #4

    Hey Laura, It’s because a “five piece” cabinet door contracts and expands with humidity and temperature changes. This movement causes the paint joints to crack over time.

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