Why is my cabinet paint cracking

Cabinet paint cracking

Your cabinet paint might be cracking due to a change in humidity in the house when the winter heating season starts. That is a problem that occurs when painting over existing finishes. The cracking is also a result of expansion and contraction. 

When you apply numerous, heavy layers of primers, paints, and topcoats, your cabinet paint is bound to crack at the joints or angles when the humidity changes. The cracking occurs when the door panel shrinks and breaks the heavy paint layer. This article will take you through the cracking and fixing process. 

Hairline cracks in painted kitchen cabinets

Hairline cracks in painted kitchen cabinets are a result of expansion and contraction. They are in the joints, where the pieces of wood come together. 

These cracks are more likely to appear on a painted cabinet than on a cabinet with a wood finish. A cabinet with a wood finish has more activity in the door or drawer front, which is why the cracks are less noticeable. These hairline cracks are also known as witness lines. However, they are not defects and do not affect the integrity of your cabinet doors, drawers, or cabinet boxes. 

Sometimes you might not see these witness lines, as they may be thin. In that case, the paint should not be chipping or peeling off. It is a separation of the wood and the paint, where the pieces of wood are together.

You may find witness lines where the stiles and rails of your doors or drawer fronts come together or where the centre panel of a door, or drawer front, meets the stiles and rails. Sometimes, they are on the edges of the cabinets, or in the corners where your cabinets are joined together.

Lacquer cabinets cracking

A lacquer finish is more brittle and prone to cracks than varnish or polyurethane, but the cracks are repairable. Lacquer does not cure after it hardens, meaning you can soften it with fresh lacquer (Penturners.org). A single re-coat may be enough to repair cracking. For better results, use spray equipment, because the solvents used with lacquer evaporate quickly. You may damage the finish by brushing or wiping it. The repair procedure works better if you lay the door flat and spray.

How to fix cracked paint on cabinets

  1. Clean, rinse and dry the cabinet and then scrape off any loose paint that you see with a putty knife. Sand the whole cabinet with 120-grit sandpaper and then wipe away all the dust and debris.
  2. Fill the crack with a thin bead of paintable acrylic caulk or wood filler. If the crack is too thin, widen it with a putty knife or apply the caulk to the crack with the knife. Smooth it out with your finger. 
  3. Wait until it dries, and if you did not use enough, add some more. 
  4. Scrape away the excess before it dries. 
  5. Prime the patch, let it dry, and paint on two coats of matching paint over the entire cabinet.

Paint cracking at joints

There are two ways of fixing cracking at joints. The first is to cut a groove on the joint with a V-point router bit and leave it. The second is to apply a thin coat of auto-body filler over the joint. Between coats of sealer and topcoat, a bead of painter caulk around the panel will help. 

To deal with movement cracks, use a flexible acrylic caulk as it fills the joint (Brewers.co.uk). These cracks are caused by moisture reduction and shrinking of the wood fibers. 

White painted cabinets cracking.

White painted cabinets cracking is highly visible since that light color shows everything. It can be noticeable in darker colors too. To fix them, apply a small bead of paintable acrylic caulk on the cracks in the seams and exterior of the wood. 

Smooth the caulk on the surface and wait for it to dry. Once the caulk has settled, apply a primer coat on the repaired patch, let it dry, and use a paintbrush to apply a color that matches the cabinet door. Expect your newly painted cabinets to last 8-10 years.

How to fill cracks in cabinets

  1. Cover the counter of the cabinet in flooring paper and tape off the sides with painter’s tape so that no paint splashes or drips onto it.
  2. Check for any nail holes and fill with wood filler.
  3. Lightly sand the surface of the MDF panels with 220-grit sandpaper.
  4. Vacuum the area and wipe down the panels of any residual dust. Wipe the cabinet using a 2.5 cutting brush to cut into the edges and a mini-roller brush to paint and apply a coat of oil-based primer. For better results, use an oil-based primer for this project because MDF is porous and absorbent. Seal it to allow the paint good adhesion and better coverage. Avoid a water-based primer, as it will sink into the material. 
  5. Allow the primer dry for 30-45 minutes till it is dry to the touch.
  6. Apply the first coat of paint using a 2.5 cutting brush. Cut into the edges. Using a mini-roller brush, paint the overall surfaces of the panels. Roll at a slight angle using light but consistent pressure. After you finish painting, wait 1 hour for the paint to dry until it feels dry to the touch. 
  7. Apply the second coat of paint. Allow 1 hour for the second coat to dry until it feels dry to the touch. 

How to fix cracks in kitchen cabinets

  1. Clean the cabinet with soapy water. Rinse it with clean water and leave it to dry.
  2. Scrape off any loose paint around the cracked seam with a putty knife.
  3. Sand it with 220-grit sandpaper and wipe away sanding dust with a tack cloth. Use a vacuum to remove sanding dust from inside the seam.
  4. Squeeze a thin bead of caulk into any open seams. Fill the seam with the caulk. If the crack is too narrow, widen it with a putty knife until you can fill it.
  5. Smooth the caulk into the seams with your finger. Caulk is for seams up to 1/4 inch. It will shrink as it dries. Do not overfill the seam to accommodate this shrinkage. Fill the seam and repeat the application if necessary after the caulk dries.
  6. Fill seams that are wider than 1/4 inch with wood putty. Press the putty into the seam with a putty knife.
  7. Smooth the putty, and scrape away the excess with your putty knife.
  8. Leave the patched seam to dry. It takes about an hour to dry, but check and follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for drying times.
  9. Sand the putty smooth with 220-grit sandpaper. Wipe the sanding dust with a tack cloth.
  10. Apply primer to the patched seam of painted doors with a paintbrush. 
  11. Leave the primer to dry for at least two hours, and then paint the door with a paint that matches the original color of the cabinets.
  12. Allow the paint to dry overnight, and apply a second coat of paint if necessary. 

My kitchen cabinets are peeling

Your kitchen cabinets might peel due to water damage, a poor paint job, or high humidity. Areas near the sink and above the stovetop are prone to peeling.

Elissa Smith
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