oak cabinets before painting
paint roller

Will oak cabinets show grain when they are painted?

Written by David | March 8, 2024

That is a loaded question! I assume you are asking because you have oak cabinets that you are looking to get painted. We are asked this question every time people call us about painting oak cabinets.

Hey Everyone- David with Dfranco Painting and Wallpaper in Huntly, IL. This year’s top on line Question is..Will oak cabinets show grain when they are painted? Yes and no. The answer really should be it depends. So if you are in the Chicagoland Suburbs such as Elgin, Crystal Lake, Pingree Grove, St. Charles, or Bartlett, the oak cabinets are pretty similar. The process and finish will be very similar so-Let’s get into it.

Why do I see the grain on oak doors?

Oak as a wood species is considered a very hard and durable wood. It is used in many different areas such as:

  • doors
  • cabinets
  • toys
  • floors
  • furniture
  • pallets
  • wainscoting

Oak has a very definitive grain pattern. I would call it an open grain pattern as you can see the light and dark variations of the wood color throughout the wood. These different grain variations also create a less than uniform appearance. Compared to maple cabinet painting you see very little grain patterns and it is very smooth. This graining is great when you are staining the wood as it looks great and you know you have wood. Some woods are so dense they have a hard time taking stain, or have nothing special about them and would be better off painted.

Can I get rid of grain in my oak doors of they are painted?

Now we are getting into the meat of this one! When we are painting oak doors, we have to ask what is your expectations.

painting oak cabinets - how to paint oak cabinets white without grain showing
here is an oak door that we have applied primed and then sanded smooth

As you can see with the image, the oak grain really shows through after we have sanded this door. We have deliberately made this happen. When we are painting oak cabinet doors, we roll on the primer a bit diluted so it will penetrate into the pores and grains of the wood. After it has dried we power sand it smooth and the oak will be revealed while the veins of the wood stay white.

painting oak cabinets white
here is a oak door that has been sanded and now has its second coat of primer

With the door now having its second coat of primer applied, you can kind of still see the oak wood grain come through. This is happening for a few reasons. First, when we sanded the last time we sanded pretty hard and it released the wood tannin which stains the wood. Second, the wood itself has a lot of texture, and that texture takes a few coats of primer to get rid of!

how to paint oak cabinets without the grain showing
an oak cabinet door with 3 coats of primer to almost eliminate the grain

Right about now I can hear someone asking “this is great but will oak cabinets show grain when they are painted?”

Removing oak grain from kitchen cabinets before painting them white

How to get rid of the oak grain when painting kitchen cabinets

I kind of let the cat out of the bag above on this but here is our step-by-step process for prep and getting rid of grain in oak cabinet doors. (this assuming the doors are removed)

  • Once back to our shop we are cleaning the doors before we do anything.
  • Wearing rubber gloves, begin to spray cleaner to the doors to remove dirt, grime, etc.
  • Once clean, we will wet sand the doors with a degreaser to get any residue off the doors.
  • After the doors are dry, we will apply the first coat of bonding primer with a roller.
  • When the primer is dry, sand the door smooth.
  • Apply a second coat of primer and allow to dry.
  • Get the sander out again and sand smooth.
  • At this point we inspect. Some oak doors only need two coats, apply third if needed.
  • Now oil prime to seal out stain and wood tannin.
  • Allow to dry and start to paint!

Oak cabinets painted white with grain showing through

Believe it or not, there are some people that like the grain showing through the wood so they know it is a real wood door. We have never been asked to do that. We have reduced it, but never gone so far as to have someone want their oak cabinets to look like a white stain.

There is a really cool technique called ceruse. We have played with it but it has never really gone any further than that (for us).

So one thing we have done is clean, sand and apply a tinted clear urethane to make the doors look as though they were stained a darker color. If you do go this route, it is a much simpler process and quicker too!!

oak cabinet door sprayed with a dark tinted urethane
An oak cabinet door sprayed with a dark tinted clear urethane

Best primers to use when painting oak cabients

Every primer has a purpose. While there are actual grain fillers you can buy and apply to the doors, we have found it isn’t worth the money and they are a real pain to sand smooth.

So we use primer. It is cheap. They dry fast. All of them are easy to sand smooth and we don’t have a lot of dust to worry about.

best primers to use when painting oak cabinets
spray spot primer
insul-x primer - oak cabinet painting
bonding primer
oil based stain
oil stain blocking primer

Those are the top three primers we use. For large cedar, pine and oak projects the oil odorless is the ticket. We never have to worry about any stains once we prime. We also have used this on oak cabinet projects where heavy cooking oils and hair care products were used.

Stix is just a great bonding primer. Stix it and forget it.

The spot primers are for touch ups. Sometimes the doors or cabinets have a stain that is stubborn and want to keep saying hello.

Oak cabinet door with no grain painted white

painting oak cabinets without the grain showing
a oak cabinet painted white with no grain

This is a drawer front we just painted, so it is shiny because it is wet. But compared to the first few images, the grain is pretty much gone.

The fun part of this project is you can have fun! Pick the color you want, it doesn’t matter. You can select how much grain you want or don’t want.

Painted Oak Kitchen Cabinets Before and After

before and after painting oak cabinets
oak cabinets before they were painted
painting oak cabinets white - after cabinet painting
oak cabinets painted white

So…will oak cabinets show grain when they are painted? You decide. You can show the grain if you want to, but then again they are your cabinets, do what you want!

If you are looking to have your oak cabinets painted or have any questions about cabinet painting, let us know how we can help!

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