natural cherry cabinets

Sandys_GardenOctober 28, 2005

Forgive me but I'm desperate so I posted this in the kitchen forum also.

We had our new cabinets custom built in place and the finishing was also supposed to be done on site. I had intended to have our new cherry cabinets stained a traditional (darker) stain..that is until.....

The cabinet guy brought me a sample door. It's been stained and to me, it looks like it's splotchy - kind of like different areas took more dark stain than others. I didn't think cherry would do that but guess I was wrong. I am just about sick over the finishing of the cabinets now. I KNEW everything was going toooooooo good. The cabinets are beautiful and they have done such a good job on the construction and I was SOOOO happy but now I'm really worried about the finish on them. I actually think his regular finish guy has flown the coup and he's trying to get someone else - regardless I want my cabinets right. SOOOOO I called a couple other places to check about having the cabinets finished because DH says if he doesn't come up with something soon we'll just have someone else finish them. (we've been waiting on finishing for 2 weeks already ....the granite is already fabricated and those installers are bugging me about installing it!....just add some more stress to my life, won't ya?), Well when I called around to check on getting some estimates, the thing I heard from every single finisher is "Why would you stain cherry cabinets?" So now I'm wondering if I should just consider leaving them natural. As light as the wood is unfinished is just too light but how much darker would they be with the lacquer varnish stuff? and how much darker would they age to? Would they blend ok with all the other darker cherry I have in the rest of the house? I've had way too many sleepless nights over this and I'm just ready to be done. If you have pix (or word of sympathy) I should could use them. Sandy

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Cherry will darken considerably but it happens with exposure to UV, primarily from sunlight, not from a clearcoat like varnish or laquer (two different finishes). Cherry is certainly stained at times, to hide sapwood or because someone likes it that way; they shouldn't be acting like you have two heads. On the other hand I don't like stained cherry myself, so I'm not the one to advise you on improving your results. Good luck getting it resolved.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 7:24PM
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JOn, Thank you! the cabinets guys left some cherry scraps out on my back porch that gets afternoon sun and I have noticed those pieces are getting darker. I don't have any direct sunlight in my kitchen though so I wonder to what extent they would darken. I don't have any sapwood in mine as they were very particular to not use that part of the wood. They said they use it for paint grade cabinets so it's not all waste.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 8:09PM
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Most furniture that is sold as dark stained cherry is actually not cherry wood at all, but another such as birch/alder/etc.

Cherry is difficult to stain evenly---which is one reason manufacturers make it so dark.

As a woodworker, I favor natural cherry color---with an amber sfinish---varnish, oil based polyurethane, shellac, or some variety of oil finish(which are basically a type of varnish).

As mentioned, cherry will darken with age and exposure to sunlight---so if you just put on a finish, it will gradually reach the darker color.

Kinda like planting trees/shrubs/flowers---age improves the look.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 11:23PM
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Actually Cherry if sanded properly will stain evenly. Its not like hard maples, pine etc. I also posted on the kitchen site. Darkening will be a few shades, most top coats have UV protection built in. As i said on the kitchen site, you will not get the same quality finish "on the job" you would get in a factory. I believe the uneveness of the finish may have more to do with proper preparation, IE sanding. Sand no more than 180 grit or you will polish the wood and have a hard time getting anythign to stick to it.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2005 at 2:36AM
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I'll second hte message from Tom999. I just finished installing stained cherry cabinets for a client and sanding was the key. We went down to a 150 grit befor staining. 220 was too fine.

There were a few pieces that I threw out because they came out blotchy, but not that many. Since everything was stained before assembly it wasn't that much of a problem. On the other hand, the had me mill up cherry for baseboard trim and that didn't turn out as good. It's real difficult to sand the curved baseboard.

I, too, prefer natural, unstained, wood, but the client wanted a consistant color.

Also, you do NOT need direct sun for cherry to darken. Just a sunlit room. We made the mistake of stacking some pieces for several weeks and some we couldn't use as there was a distinct transition line from the part that was covered to the lighter part that wasn't

    Bookmark   October 29, 2005 at 9:27AM
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Update on my cabinets:
Cabinet man has re-sanded (by hand) all the doors. The new sample looks great. He says the profile I chose for the raised panel (convex..almost ogee like) was harder to sand and not one he normally uses. They have stained and finished the frames and I have a couple of issues with the finish in a few places. Nothing major but in a few areas it doesn't feel smooth to me but in other areas, it's slick as glass. I want it all smooth so the finisher is going to have to come back and do some touch ups. I do have another question for you experts though. If I wanted more coats of the lacquer finish on say the inside of the drawers, is that something I could do with a brush myself? They look fine but I'm pretty obsessive (can't you tell?) so I thought I'd just save that complaint and add some more coats of "something" myself later. But what "something" should I use over what they already sprayed? they sprayed some kind of lacquer stuff - stinks to the high heavens.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2005 at 10:33PM
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You need to know the type of finish your going to be going over. Some finishes have to be recoated in a period of time, or the top coat will not bond to the first coat. You could actually be causing more problems than helping if you apply the wrong product. Ask whomever finished the drawers in the first place. But I assume its over kill anyway to add another coat of finish.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2005 at 1:18AM
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I am having a carpenter reface my kitchen in natural cherry. He started installing the doors this week. They are beautiful...however they are not the same color...he has made all the doors from the same shipment of wood, but finished them with a clear polyurethane at different times. The color of the doors and drawers are not the same. My carpenter assures me that the wood will match over the next few weeks.

My question is - do you have any experience with this...will the colors match in the end?

    Bookmark   April 15, 2010 at 11:11AM
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Christy Bell

I LOVE natural cherry! We have a kitchen table and bedroom set in cherry. True it starts off different colors, but darkens quickly to be an even tone. It will only go so dark, so once it's there it's done. We wanted cherry cabinets for our remodel, which we got, but actually stained them an autumn stain since the faces were not solid wood and we were concerned they wouldn't darken the same. If I had solid wood cabinets - no doubt it would all be natural cherry. Having said that, you need to be someone who loves the look of wood grain. If you like a uniform solid look, you probably won't like it. I think it took pieces of our bedroom set about a month or two to darken. I know, not much help since I love cherry in its natural form!

    Bookmark   April 16, 2010 at 2:35PM
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First of all, are the doors made from solid cherry? You can stain maple and you can't tell the difference. If the doors are not cherry, then they should all be the same color. When you purchase cherry lumber, the boards will have sap wood and heart wood in them. The sap wood is white. If you cut out the sap wood, you loose about 30% to 50% of the wood. That can double the price of the wood and most cabinet makers wouldn't do that. What can be done is the sap wood is stained to match the color of the heart wood. If your cabinet doors and drawers are solid wood and all cherry heart wood, good for you, you paid dear for it. Then, possibly, the newer finish will darken to the color of the older finish. They should even out in about a week. If not, he has a stain problem. One other problem you might encounter is, most cabinet makers are not good finishers. I am posting some pictures here that I have posted before. Starting from the left, the second board is cherry. The top half is stained to reduce the blotch. The bottom half is stained to celebrate the blotch. I stained them to be on the red side. The third board is cherry. The door is maple stained to a finish with less red in it but it could be stained any color. Stain is a misnomer because I use analine dye.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2010 at 5:56AM
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To someone2010,
Your finishes look fantastic. We have chosen cherry for our cabinets but can't find a stain that looks red enough but not too dark. Also, everything we have tried looks very splotchy and we are starting to think we should choose another wood with a red stain. Light cherry and traditional cherry show splotches and we are going to try a natural next (all varathane). I don't know what the sanding specifics are on our samples. What techniques did you use on your smooth vs. splotchy board? The color is very nice. Do you have any feedback on our next move? Btw, I do not care for the amber/ginger tones and prefer the red tones. Thanks so much.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 5:58PM
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Most woods splotch to some extent. If you choose cherry, splotch is a characteristic of the wood and part of what makes it beautiful. Also it will even out after some time. Look in the Stickley furniture web site, Williamsburg collection, and you will see how a cherry finish should look. The cherry finishes I have applied to kitchen cabinets are aimed at looking this good. First of all, the examples I provide to the customer are big, not little. You can't tell much from a small square. These boards and the door are examples I made for customers.
First I lightly wet the project with distilled water and after it dries, sand it down with 220 grit sandpaper. Vacuum off the dust and wipe down with clean rag (not a tack rag). I use Mohawk water based analine dye mixed to the color I want (natural cherry or mahogany or some combination) and spray on a light coat, and let it dry. If I want the color darker I spray another coat after the first one dries, and so on. After it dries, if the appearance is terribly splotchy, I would even it out with a aerosol spray from Mohawk called Ultra Classic Toner. Two to three cans would do a whole kitchen because you mist it on from far away. Never had to do this but I have used it to blend two finishes together. Finally, I use Hydrocote Resisthane Plus waterbased pre-catalyzed lacquer for the finish coat (per instructions on the can). The only time I would use an oil based stain would be the bottom of the second board where I wanted to celebrate the splotch. I've done several kitchens for a cabinet maker I sometimes work for and I can't remember when I wasn't tipped by the homeowner. The way I learned this finish and a lot of others, was I got a lot of boards and practiced. I also have made and installed my own cabinets, but only if they were a type you couldn't get off the line.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2010 at 10:38PM
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Is it possible to use a UV resistant sealer to keep cabinets looking like natural cherry without the patina aging brings?

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 7:16PM
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No. Natural cherry darkens with time. You might alter the rate at which this happens, but not the final outcome. If you want a light, freshly sanded cherry-like appearance use birch or alder and stain it to the color you want with a water or alcohol soluble clear dye (Trans-Tint makes a product that seems to work well.).

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 8:51AM
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