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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 | , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments