Kitchen Cabinet Redo Part 2: Sanding and Stripping – the CTRL+Z of Paint

So, after learning that the Valspar paint + primer product just was not working, I had to go back to the drawing board. Unfortunately that meant stripping, scraping, sanding, and otherwise removing said paint + primer by any means possible.

Side note: as a graphic designer, I can throw a whole bunch of stuff together on the computer and quickly swap out colors and images, move things around, mess things up, and be protected by the all-powerful CTRL+Z… the “UNDO” button! Nothing gets lost, nothing gets ruined, and if I mess it up, this magical feature always keeps me two keys away from utter design destruction. On the downside, it probably helps reinforce my natural propensity to paint first, apologize later. Now that I have gone down the wrong path with my painting project, I have got to put in just as much time and effort to “CTRL+Z” what I’ve done so far. It’s almost an oddly gratifying concept. This paint disaster is making me a better, more punctilious painter. Yeah, let’s go with that.

Good thing I’m maintaining a positive attitude, because this was by far the worst part of the project… spending days and dollars undoing work that had already taken several days and several dollars, just to get back to where I started. But, I’ll chalk it up as a learning experience and a reminder never to skip the all-important step of SURFACE PREPARATION. And let’s be honest, in order to properly prepare a surface, you have to first understand WHAT your surface is. I was 0-2 on research and prep. (Did I mention I had no clue I was painting over WAX?)

Now, there are many ways to deal with unwanted paint layers, but my personal stash of paint removing implements included… an orbital sander. That’s it. I didn’t even have any sanding discs (or more likely, just couldn’t find them in our garage o’boxes ), so I needed to make another run to the hardware store. Meanwhile, a combination of frustration and incredulous fascination led me to explore just how much damage paint removal I could do with my fingernails…


nothing doing… this stuff comes RIGHT off!

Once I purchased the sanding pads, I could imagine what a dusty mess it was going to create. Step one was to block off the sanding area with plastic dropcloths so I could sand the paint + primer off the cabinets.


Sealed the kitchen off from the dining room


Sealed the painted kitchen area off from the non-painted area

Then, I was able to take the big boy orbital sander and rip the paint right off the cabinet faces. It was ugly. Be glad you missed it!


Once everything was sanded, I had to go in with the shop vac to remove the dust and paint flakes from inside the cabinets. What a MESS!

After taking the orbital sander to the painted cabinets, the resulting mess and debris clean-up was overwhelming, to say the least (even with my fancy drop cloth curtains there was dust EVERYWHERE). Again I trekked to the hardware store for advice. Their suggestion? Paint stripper, and lots of it. I was apprehensive, as I’d never used it before, but figured it would be easier than sanding. The downside… it’s super-caustic, so you need special masks, gloves, and throwaway brushes and receptacles to work with it.


Nothing like a litte highly toxic chemical solvent to make you feel warm and fuzzy. 🙂 No really, this stuff will make your brain melt, so I made sure to wear proper protection!

Over the course of a few hours, I was able to strip the paint + primer off of the cabinet doors and a few areas of the cabinets that I had not sanded. It worked really quickly and allowed my to easily scrape the paint off of the flat surfaces. The trouble was with the decorative panels carved into the doors. The paint combined with the stripping gel created a mushy concoction that wanted to badly to settle into all the grooves. I used a wire brush to try to get as much of it off as possible. Still, a close inspection will reveal a less than perfect surface on some of the doors. (You can kindly pretend not to notice if you see them in person.)  😀

After all this work CTRL+Z’ing my cabinets, I’d say that stripping and sanding are equally effective/unpleasant in my mind. They’re both a lot of trouble, both a little costly (anywhere from $20 to $30 for supplies), and both get the job done about 75%.

I’m tired, dirty, and covered in paint flakes and sandpaper scrapes, but I’m so very happy that this part of the job is OVER!

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