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Wood finishing forum for professional finishers

What is the best finish for my Kitchen?

Since I have had this blog up I have had numerous calls and emails from homeowners and professionals alike asking what is the best finish for my kitchen?  Some go on to say things like my contractor wants to put Valspar luster lac on but my architect tells me that we should use polyurethane and my neighbor say use water base. What do I do?

 The simple answer is have all these people give you samples of the finish not only should you ask for a sample but have them do a sample on the same wood and materials that  you are going to have in your kitchen: alder, cherry, maple or what ever. Then have them use a door or a cabinet from your kitchen. If you have to pay a little for it you should.  A real good finishing job is expensive and worth it using multiple steps in the finishing process you can gain a depth and clarity that you don’t with the lower quality finishing.

By survey, a well painted room or a high quality cabinet finishing job will make a room “feel different” the untrained person coming into the room will feel more comfortable and will prefer the room with the higher quality finish to the room with the lesser quality finish. The technology behind this is the fact that consciously or not a person does perceive imperfections and they will make you feel to one degree or another uncomfortable. The same thing is true when you go into a room that is off square and a room that is perfectly square even when the rooms are identical in every other aspect by test, most people will “like” the square room better. Not all things are square, nor do you always want square. The point being that people can perceive the difference in quality and workmanship, when the difference is not as obvious. Ever notice the phenomena of seeing two similar looking products you pick up the more expensive one? 

 I’ve digressed; a good finish is worth the extra cost. That being said, what are the differences and the pros and cons of each.

 Nitro-cellulous lacquer– The easiest to apply; it gives a great look and feel. All regular lacquers will yellow over time, some faster than others. Valspar has been notorious for that. Regular lacquer is relatively soft and will not hold up to moisture. But feel great and therefor it is not good for kitchens and bathrooms. Lacquer finishes are easy to repair as each successive coat of lacquer melts into itself.

 Pre-Catalyzed lacqueror Pre-Cat lacquer, designed about 50 years ago as a material that would hold up to moisture environments better, the kitchen and bath rooms. Pre-cats   have an acid catalyst in the mix that makes it a lot harder and yet it is still relatively easy to work with.  Pre-Cats are what you should have in your kitchen but they have a tendency to crack if applied too heavily and they are not impervious to moisture. You have to wipe up spills and not let the dish water sit in the crevices and cracks of a cabinet door.  Give that door a year with a daily dose of water sitting on it not cleaned up and the coating is going to fail.  You do have to clean up after your spills. If you don’t like that Idea, hire a maid or go with stainless steel. The Pre-Cat lacquer brand I like the best is Gemini. It is thick and yet can be sprayed directly out of the can dries quickly and looks great. 

 Water based lacquers– they have come a long way. They have had a tendency to have a “plasticie” look as the materials lay on top of the wood rather than soaking in to the wood as a lacquer does. One person I know refers to water base materials as nothing but watered down Elmer’s glue. 20 yeas ago that was about what a water based finish looked like.

 Times have changed and the water bases of today are far superior to what they were. Old time finishers who haven’t taken the time to train themselves on how to properly apply the materials still cling to their earlier fixed Ideas on the matter. The truth is that properly applied a water based finish can look just as good as a lacquer finish and is twice as durable as lacquer when it comes to moisture. The trick is in knowing how to apply it and letting the water based materials fully cure. Cure is different than dry. The materials will dry in a few minutes and then take a week or two to fully cure. The other up-side to water based materials are that you are releasing toxins in to the atmosphere don’t however think that water based materials are with out carcinogens. There are lots of nasty chemicals in water based paints they are just not being released into the atmosphere as are the lacquer products. Personally I have a few water based materials that have proven them selves; the Gemini brand “Titanium” and more recently the Italian brand Renner. The Renner is hands down the best water based material I have found to date.  Like a Lamborghini however, it’s pricy at $210 for five gallons as apposed to the $170 a five for Gemini Water based lacquers.

 Conversion Varnish, this is tough stuff and is the product that I would recommend for table tops and high wear areas. It is tougher to work with and is rougher on both the personnel spraying it and the equipment it requires a higher skill set to use and it more difficult to repair. There are high end finishers that do all there work in Conversion Varnish as they want the toughest finish they can provide. It does have great moisture resistant qualities however it is not designed for out side use. The brand I sell and have had good results with is again the Gemini brand. (I have had others  I  stocked and had troubles with. Suffice to say I no longer carry those brands). The Conversion I sell is about $50 to $60 dollars a gallon. And comes with the catalyst you have to add

 Water based conversion coating; This is a new product to the market that I’m beginning to really like. It combines the best of both worlds.  There aren’t many companies that make it. Rexcel is the brand I have, American made and comparable to the solvent base stuff. You can see other articles in this Blog about it.  Very tough and moisture resistant (see the earlier article I wrote where I have pictures of the panels coated with the Rexcel in my shower stall getting the extreme moisture test. The panels have been in there for over two months with two or more showers happening a day and there is no signs of failure in the coating. This particular product needs no further catalysing which makes it very painter friendly.

 Polyurethanes, Water based and other wise, these are the toughest finish that you can get and the most expensive. One part polyurethanes or single stage that have not catalyst aren’t really worth the effort of buying. Most polyurethanes come with a catalyst you have to add before applying similar to epoxy glue, there is a part A and a part B. you have to get the ratios right or it either won’t dry or will dry and crack. They generally sit on top of the wood as a coating and so give it that plastic film look. It’s tough to glaze in-between coats and which is the technique that gives you that depth and quality. There are some really good finishers that can pull the off but normally for the expense that is not something you need for your house or kitchen. This is the product I recommend for commercial applications that is getting high wear and constant abuse. Additionally If you want shinny you can buff and polish polyurethane to a high gloss that is mirror smooth. 

 To give you an idea, polyurethanes are the coatings you put on your floor, that’s the toughness you get from a poly. If you want a high build thick film that you can see this would be the product to use as you can lay it on thick unlike Lacquers.  There are water based polys and solvents based, I carry both.  I wouldn’t recommend doing you kitchen cabinets in polyurethane, that being said I have some very high end finishers who have perfected the skill sets and can product incredible products with polyurethanes. These finishing procedures come with a cost. “Thomas Craven Finishing Company” are at the top of their league for high end work. 

 So what should you have your kitchen done with. Get the samples and look at them. see the look that you like and then decide what you are willing to pay for it. If you are a Hollywood celebrity, have lots of parties and don’t clean, go with the polyurethane. If you are a regular family and are looking to cover you new custom cabinets with something that will preserve them for a long time to come use a Pre Cat lacquer or the water based conversion coating or perhaps the conversion varnish depending on what looks the best for you.

 Either way get your finisher to provide you with samples so you can see the difference yourself. Finishers are usually creatures of habit and like to do what they have done and feel safe with. Often an old school finisher will tell you something is bad because he has no clue how to use it and doesn’t want to learn.

 I enjoy your comments suggestions and opinions.

 Greg Saunders

Annex Paint
greg@annexpaint.com

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May 3, 2009 - Posted by | polyurethane, Water based Lacquers, Wood finishing | , , , , , , , , ,

22 Comments »

  1. Hi Greg,

    As a kitchen & bath designer looking for answers to provide to one of my clients, I happened upon your blog.
    Thank you for all the hard work you put into your information! I’m excited to share this info with one of my bathroom remodeling clients and will add your Blog to my favorites.

    By far my favorite finish is the conversion varnish finish and the cabinet guy I typically use has a dust free booth and the finish turns out perfectly everytime. My clients are always happy. =)

    Thanks again for sharing your info!

    Kelly
    Kitchen & Bath Designer
    From California

    Comment by Kelly | April 21, 2010

  2. Hi Kelly,
    You are welcome, I appreciate your feed back. Lately I have been remiss in keeping the Blog up to date. But comments like yours are inspiring. There are a number of things that I need to get up there. If You are in the La area you might want to start looking in to the water base finishes as we are heading that way faster that the majority of finishers are ready for. Like it or not here we come zero VOC.
    The Conversion varnish is great but it tough on machinery and personnel, I have found a very good polyurethane that is more expensive than the CV but much tougher. here is a link to in on the store web site.

    http://www.annexpaint.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=3&products_id=33

    Thanks again for the feed back and I would love to hear some of the things you run into with regards to finishing.

    Best, Greg

    Comment by Greg Saunders | April 21, 2010

  3. Hi! I am getting new kitchen base cabinets made by an Amish made from oak. I was considering finishing them myself. They will be stained for me, and I wanted to give them an aged look and then seal them myself. Would you recommend any of these products/procedures for me to do myself, or would I be getting in over my head. I’ve refinished most of my furniture and done our floors, although I’ve used polyerthane from the local hardward store and really don’t like the way the floors turned out as they look like they need freshening again and it’s only been 6 years. I’d like to redo our old kitchen floor someday, but we have a dog and he tore up our floor in our previous house that we used polyerthane on. I don’t even want to attempt the kitchen floor until I find out the best product to use. It’s not worth all the work to use a shoddy product that won’t last! But right now I really need to figure out what to do about the cabinets. Your help would be HUGELY appreciated!!! Thank you!!!

    Comment by Farmer's Wyfe | January 7, 2011

  4. Hi Farmers Wyfe,
    I think that you could do a fine job on finishing your cabinets, you have done some of this type of work before and you are literate and able to read and comprehend written things. I object to the finishers that imply the subject is alchemy. That being said there is considerable technology to the subject and having a grounding in those basis makes the subject less mysterious, One of the best books on the market is Bob Flexners, book I forgot the name Complete finishing or something like that, He recently updated it as well I would suggest getting that. The next thing to do is get a lot of wood samples from your cabinet make and try out different things, The “aged look” or any good finish is rarely a one step operation, wipe on the stain and walk away type of thing produces a simple but usually bland finish. The Cabinet finishes that make you go “wow” are usually several different applications and procedures knowing those is both the art and science of the matter. what kind of effects you can achieve with what product is the what you get with experience.

    Like doing an application of stain and then distressing the wood and then sanding it down to leave just the stain that was in the deeper groves and then sealing that to do another application of something else. In essence you are simulating a cabinet that has been around a hundred years an has had several different finishes.

    If you don’t know what you are going to do. Then you need to make samples until you have the look you want. don’t experiment blindly on your cabinets. Get your procedure worked out first and then go at it.

    You also might be able to hire a good finisher to help you work out the procedure. There are guys out there that don’t mind doing that.

    The other thing is that if you want them to look professional you’ll have to spray on the sealers and top coat, using a spray gun isn’t hard and in fact I have a few postings on the matter that can give you some of the basics. There are also You Tube videos on the matter.

    On to the next thing; your floors. you won’t find a professional grade floor coating at the local hard ware store. I have one floor coating that I sell but don’t stock that is a water based material that is very good If you are in the LA area I can get it for you other wise I would recommend getting something local.

    Whats good? I would do a little research get the yellow pages out and call 3 to 5 local wood floor re finishers and ask them the question, “What is you top end wood floor coating” when you have three of them saying the same thing you would be pretty safe with that. Now there is the other factor with your dog, if you have a soft wood floor and a big heavy dog with toe nails they can dent the wood if its soft. I have seen that with bamboo wood floors. Here in California we are so regulated that we can’t sell the really good stuff, the water based stuff is coming up the line but the toughest stuff are the two component urethane they run as much as a 100 a gallon that would be the product that I would sell to a high end restaurant with wood floors.
    I’ll post your adventure if you document it with some pictures.

    let me know how it goes

    Best, Greg

    Comment by Greg Saunders | January 8, 2011

  5. Hi Greg. Very interesting blog you have here.

    I live in a 1906 Prairie style home in the Chicago suburbs. Over the last 17 years my wife and I have painstakingly stripped some of the most beautiful oak trim and paneling of many layers of paint. So far, the only way I can match any new wood to the patina of the stripped wood is to stain it with Minwax dark walnut, one coat of orange shellac, and two coats of satin polyurethane. Now, this works fine in the living room, dining room, and den, but, we are in the process of designing a completely new kitchen with custom made doors and drawer fronts, and we want a finish that will not only be very durable, but be a match for the rest of the woodwork. What would you recommend?

    Thanks.

    Brad.

    Comment by Brad | March 8, 2011

  6. Dear Brad,
    It would appear that I never answered your question, sorry about that.

    How to make the new wood look like the old wood is what you pay professional finishers for. If you can find a one step stain to get the look you will be doing very well, such a process usually is a several step process, that being said once you have the look and color then I would top coat it with the same polyurethane you use on the earlier project. realizing that all urethane’s are not the same and in fact the same product of a few years ago is usually not the same due to changing regulations and the availability of raw materials. The water based products that are coming on to the market are getting better and better as well they have better water and moisture resistance that most of the solvant materials.

    The uniqueness of our industry is that every piece of wood is unique and reacts to things a little differently, then to add to the scenario that you want to match a look that has “time” in it and as well several different paints that have gone on and come off is an additional challenge, the way to go about it is to test and experiment, experience of having done this and screw it up a few times helps get you closer as you know where to start from. Unfortunately that is about as specific as I can get.

    Best of luck,
    Greg

    Comment by Greg Saunders | April 12, 2011

  7. Hi Greg, Happened across your article and wondered if I could get your opinion on a problem I have with my new cabinets. I had seen the work of both cabinet maker and finisher. Also spoke with happy customers. Cabinets are select Cherry. I selected a warm cherry stain with a clear finish. When the cabinets were installed I noticed they were dull. I thought maybe it was dust because floor and counter were not in yet. When floor completed I cleaned with the cabinet magic the cabinet maker provide. Still dull. He mentioned I should lemon oil them a couple times a year so I lemon oiled them. Still dull. Lemon oiled again and cabinet soak the oil like a sponge but still dull. Fast forward a few month and the cabinet man sends someone to install a door that needed replacing. That door is beautiful. I test it with lemon oil and it sits on surface until I wipe it off. I now have proof there is a problem. I am eventually told the finisher was switching his conversion varnish product and the product was the problem and there were 20 kitchens that went out with finish problem. I meet with finisher and cabinet maker. Finisher assures me they have a fix. He will send staff to refinish installed walls and face frames. All doors and drawer fronts will be taken to their shop on a Monday and returned on Wed. He sends employees out the fix the cherry walls and face frames and collect doors and drawer fronts. When they finish I find orange peel look on some areas of the finish. Areas mostly near bottom of frame where they sanded too much of the stain and didn’t reapply stain leaving it lighter than sides of frame. My cabinet man came by and concurred with problems and advised finisher. Today a crew attempted to fix the areas identified with the orange peel look and stain and clear coat areas identified. The Orange peel is better but one large panel still has orange peel problems and from my respective lost some of its stain in today’s process. Doors and drawers returned. Doors &drawers are not smooth. Many have small bubbles, bumps. Some feel like sandpaper. I contacted the Cabinet maker to advise him doors are not smooth. Finisher told his people to hang doors and leave. I pointed out a particularly bad area on one of the doors to a worker and ask if “this was their usual quality of work”. Response was NO but we had to hurry with these. Could the problems in the doors/drawers be from the lemon oil in them or is it just workmanship? These are expensive custom cabinets. The finishers on Monday did not come prepared to move my refrigerator which is surround by a cherry enclosure that needed the clear finish on inner edges. They moved it and damaged my new wood floor. Denied they did it. Fortunately cabinet man could see from pressure marks that they where in exact path of pulling out refrigerator. Sorry this is so long. Any suggestions appreciated on where I go from here to get a good finish on my custom cabinets?
    Thank you, Mary

    Comment by Mary | August 10, 2011

  8. where glazing our cabinets what finish would be best

    Comment by frank | September 20, 2011

  9. that is a question that is about the same thing as ” when driving to the store what car is best” I would suggest that you get a professional cabinet finisher to help you out. I don’t mean to be cynical but there are hundreds of glazes stains sealers and top coats. Glazing is something that is done as and intermediate step that is done for a certain effect. generally the more steps involved in a finishing system the more expensive it is. a simple stain and top coat is one thing, adding a glaze is another step that generally adds a little more depth and a subtle color variation, there are hundreds of different effects that yo could produce with a glaze. one of the best books on the market in the topic of wood finishing is called Understanding wood finishing by Bob Flexner I would recommendd that as a tool to getting up to speed on the different things you can do if you want. I would decide on what you want your cabinets to look like and then figure out ( or have a professional) works out the steps to achieve that.

    best of luck
    Greg

    Comment by Greg Saunders | September 28, 2011

  10. Dear Mary,
    My appologies for not responding earlier. oddly I thought that I had responded to this monhts ago but it would appear that I didn’t. I’m sorry to hear that you have had bad workmanship and that the contractor is not taking the measures to fix the problems you have mentiond. I would say that they didn’t know what they were doing and then when they screw it up decided to cut thir loses and run. I would take the matter to the BBB as well as the contractor licenceing board. you can also file a claim in small claims court. as for getting your cabinets done correctly now. You would need to find a finisher who comes with recomendations and has sample to show as well as gurenttees his work. As alway with contractors with hold final payment until all the work is done and you are happy.

    Comment by Greg Saunders | November 2, 2011

  11. I had custom cabinets installed 6 weeks ago…the stain was cinnamon and I think they used Walzcraft???? The cabinets looked great when they went in but now the lazy susan door next to the stove is peeling on the top and finish has peeled off to bare wood in places and now there is a bubble on the front panel originating from the top of the cabinet where the finish peeled off and I am afraid will peel like the top of the door. Can this door be refinished to look like new by itself?

    Comment by Gen | August 10, 2013

  12. HI Gen,

    the short answer is yes, If it is just that one piece you are in luck. Greg

    Comment by Greg Saunders | October 26, 2013

  13. Thank you for responding to my question. Since I wrote that question, a few other cabinets doors and drawers have started to chip along the top edge…does this mean some type of defective polyurethane was used. The person who made the cabinets is going to use steel wool to scratch the top coat and apply another coat of water-based polyurethane. Could this be sufficient to fix the problem or do they need to be completely refinished?

    Comment by Gen | October 27, 2013

  14. Hi,
    The question would be why is it failing, generally it is and application error of some sort, the questions is what was that error? lacquers and paint don’t generally fail selectively ( the paint doesn’t decide to stick here and not there.) if it’s bad product it’s all going to fail. the reasons that it is failing are numerous, improper preps (most likely) incorrect mixing, incompatible stain, lacquered over a stain that wasn’t fully dry. Hard to really say, but if that coating is failing then putting another one over the top of it will be a waste of time as that as your new coating will be sticking to something that isn’t sticking. If you paint a wall in your house and the wall is dusty the paint will stick to the dust and not the wall and will peel off. same thing here.
    I would suggest that you let him do the fix he has proposed, if it continues to peel in other places then you need to strip and refinish
    let me know how it goes.

    Greg

    Comment by Greg Saunders | October 28, 2013

  15. Thank you so much…I will keep you updated if additional failures…assistance is greatly appreciated.

    Comment by Gen | October 28, 2013

  16. The cabinet maker, Sandell Cabinets, came and delivered the cabinet doors. I am not sure what they did but the cabinets they fixed have super thick, bubbling polyurethane now all around the edges. They are saying that the water from the counters is dripping on them and taking off the finish but I put paper towels on the cabinets to test their theory and they were completely dry at the end of two days. Do you know of any wood finishers in St. John, Indiana that can refinish these cabinets? They look worse than when they took them, so I am not sure how to fix them myself.

    Comment by Gen | October 29, 2013

  17. Sorry to here they have made it worse, NO I don’t know if finishers in the are start shopping and get three or four quotes, and listen to what they have to say I’m sure there are a few good finishers out there that can handle the matter. I would find a finisher rather than a cabinet maker who “also does finishing”

    Greg

    Comment by Greg Saunders | October 29, 2013

  18. please do keep me updated

    Greg

    Comment by Greg Saunders | October 29, 2013

  19. Hi Greg my question is I want to use old pallets to make new cupboard doors but I don’t know what type of finish is best. I want the natural look of the wood to show but I also want something that will clean really well. My husband and I painted them and now the paint is peeling off. I guess we didn’t prime them correctly. So now I want something a little more rustic but want to be able to keep the grease and dirt off of them. Thank you ever so much, Carol

    Comment by Carol Jackson | July 1, 2014

  20. Hi Carol, the pallets wood for cupboard doors sounds cool, I would be curious as to why your paint is peeling first. Are you painting them or just putting a clear coat on the natural wood? did you sand it before you painted it? was the wood wet or have a high moisture content? Any paint over wet wood will peel. if you are doing the work your self I would recommend a water based product of one brand or another. make sure its sanded down to 240 grit sand paper and dry then put on two coats of undercoat / primer and sand that with 240 as well clean it off and the two coats of the paint. I have a water based conversion varnish that is exceptionally good for this sort of and application, a conversion varnish is a little harder then a regular lacquer. it is about 55 bucks a gallon. Its really good but you don’t really have to have only that. Valspar makes a fairly good water based lacquer and there are others American Wood finish is another. I would be happy to sell you mine but first I would go into some of your local paint stores and see what they have in the way of water based lacquers first. and you might go visit some local cabinet finishers and see what they use in waterbased materials. If the sales people give you a hard time about the water based stuff and say something like “none of that is any good,” they don’t know what they are talking about. 10 years ago there were few to no good water based products out on the market now it is a different story. they are user friendly and don’t look too bad when brushed on. spraying it on is always better but maybe not something that you can do at home.

    Of course if you are in the LA. California area you are in luck as we can deliver to your free of charge if your are with in 60 miles of our store.
    Best,
    Greg

    Comment by Greg Saunders | July 1, 2014

  21. […] What is the best finish for my Kitchen? « Woodfinishers … – May 03, 2009 · Hi Greg, As a kitchen & bath designer looking for answers to provide to one of my clients, I happened upon your blog. Thank you for all the hard work you …… […]

    Pingback by What Is My Secret Career Document | Develop My Career | September 22, 2014

  22. thanks for the feed back Greg

    Comment by Greg Saunders | September 22, 2014


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