I have washed maple kitchen cabinets that were in great condition except the finish was flaking off. I sanded the cabinets down to the bare wood. I want an old world look, so I want to paint and glaze them. What kind of primer, paint, glaze, top coat should I use? Should I try to paint them by hand or spray them? Never used a sprayer, but will do so if I know what kind of sprayer to buy. What is the difference between lacquer and oil base paint?
Ok, here is my opinion, and there will be multiple opinions as to the answers to your questions.
From bare wood, we use a Sherwin-Williams product called "Easy Sand." This product can be sprayed or brushed. I have found this product sands as smooth and easy as a Lacquer Base Coat, without the noxious odor. Drying time is quite similar. In your situation I would apply 2 coats of primer, sanding in a moderate fashion between coats. This system will usually prevent the wood grain from penetrating the finish.
After the second coat is allowed to dry to label specifications, sand to a slick, smooth finish. Dust and vacuum the cabinets. For our cabinets, we use another Sherwin-Williams product, Pro Classic Alkyd cabinet paint. 2 coats of this product and you will be ready for the glazing color of you choice. We prefer to add a final clear coat to this system in order to protect the glaze.
There are too many differences between lacquer and oil base paint to mention here. One I find important for this situation, Lacquer MUST be sprayed as the dry time is seconds. Buying a sprayer is the simple part of spraying cabinets. I learn each time I spray cabinets and I have been learning how to spray cabinets for 20 years.
Second most important choice in painting is the applicator. Buy good, not cheap. Your finish will be no better then your brush.
I just finished the same project at my house. I sanded the maple cabinets down to bare wood with 150 grit sandpaper. I then rolled oil based primer on with a high density roller being very careful to maintain a smooth surface. Then I rolled on two coats of high-gloss latex paint with the same high density roller. The key is rolling carefully to maintain a glassy smooth surface. It looks great! I even had a kitchen designer friend upset because she figured I ordered new through someone else!