What finish for newly stained maple kitchen cabinets?

gardenburgherAugust 3, 2008

DH and I are in the midst of refinishing our maple, slab kitchen cabinets. He did the sanding and this weekend I'm doing the staining. The next step is the finish . . .

I've been doing some reading on my finish choices but instead of helping, I'm even more confused. Each seems to have its own pros and cons. I believe my choices are:

  • Oil based poly - turns amber with time

  • Water based poly - clear but is it as durable? If I go this route, would I want satin or gloss for a kitchen?

  • Wipe-On poly - hand rubbed look. Don't know anything about this.

  • Lacquer - soft, but easily fixed. Recommended for cabinetry. I have a rough and tumble 4 year old DS, so I'm nervous about something that isn't durable.

I've only ever used polyurethane (water or oil) when working on smaller projects. But for a big project like this, I want it to look nice.

So which finish do you think would give me a durable finish and look good . . . even if applied by a DIY-er with only a bit of experience?

Any advice would be appreciated!

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I always like the Oil Poly, in either the semi gloss or gloss.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2008 at 10:06AM
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Yes, there are pros and cons, or "tradeoffs" with every choice. A wipe on oil-base polyurethane is probably the easiest and most durable (but least repairable and longest time to complete) that you can do. You can make a wiping varnish by simply taking a brushing varnish and diluting it with an equal amount of mineral spirits. Just stir thoroughly before mixing, during mixing, and during application if you are using anything but "gloss."

Sheen level is your choice, but most cabinets are semi-gloss or satin.

Here is a link that might be useful: http://www.popularwoodworking.com/features/finish5.html

    Bookmark   August 3, 2008 at 7:36PM
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I hope you used a preconditioner on the maple---which is almost always necessary to prevent blotching when using any stain on maple. Better color control with maple is achieved with dyes, rather than stains.

My choice for interior finishing in most cases is varnish. The reason is because of all the finishes available, varnish has the best protection and repairability for vertical and other surfaces with little wear(baseboards/chair rail/crown molding/etc)

The problenm with either kind of poly is they are so hard they chip easily and cannot be easily spot repaired---the entire surface must be recoated.

Another problemm is that many varnishes now are part polyurethane---added for harder surfaces---which prevent spot finishing.

Mow, wiping finishes---varnish or poly---are the easiest to control---wiping cuts way down on runs/etc. But, wiping finishes take twicve as many coats to provide the same protection as full strength finishes. But, trying to wipe on any finish with lots of nooks and crannies---added trim/figured trim/etc.----is very difficult. You almost have to brush the finish in those areas---and brushing a wiping finish means runs are inevitable.

Lacquer is a bad choice when water is in the area----water causes white rings/stains on lacquer.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2008 at 10:46PM
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just fyi and im not sure i this matters to you, but im in love with minwax fast dry poly. assuming you use this and you get a soft spot or a scuff you can spot fix it with the wipe on poly (provided its not gloss as bobsmyuncle warned you about), just sand it down with 220 grit sand paper and rub that bad boy on

    Bookmark   August 4, 2008 at 10:19AM
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Don't use lacquer. It will spot and turn white from the water.

The best choice is a wiping varnish. Main drawback: the process is slow and the cabinets will stink for a month or more as the varnish cures.

If you have an airless sprayer and spray booth a fast finish can be achieved with a two-part clear epoxy.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2008 at 11:40AM
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Thanks everyone. I never imagined that choosing a finish would be harder than choosing the stain color!

This has been very confusing. I've perused the internet, asked hardware guys, and asked GWers. Each source has had it's own definitive answer . . . and each one is different!

In the end, DH asked our neighbor, who is a GC. He uses a fast drying, water resistant lacquer that he sprays on. He said he tested a sample in his own home and there were no water marks. I read on the label that it's made for kitchen and bathroom cabinets and meets Kitchen and Bath Association and ASTM test standards for moisture resistance. He's going to give us an estimate for spraying it on our doors, and he suggested that we use a foam brush to do the boxes ourselves.

Thanks so much for sharing your insight and experience.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2008 at 9:12AM
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Which ever you choose select one that won't cause yellowing/ambering over time. Unless you prefer maple to have that yellow look instead of the crisp clean look of white maple.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2009 at 5:01PM
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"Don't use lacquer. It will spot and turn white from the water."

Lacquer is rated as resistant to water. Alcohol soften lacquer, or leaving a lot of water on the surface for an extended time.

Shellac will spot in minutes from water.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2009 at 2:13PM
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