Call Out: Who has Finished Their own Cabinets

athomesewingOctober 28, 2013

If you've painted or stained your new cabinets, we would love to hear how difficult you found the process and any suggestions you have so that we might get a good result. Do you believe one process, paint or stain, is easier than the other?

We are about to place an order for new UNFINISHED cabinets. We are still up in the air over doing either -- stain or paint. We will be finishing the cabinets ourselves.

Cabinets will be hard (eastern) maple and the cabinet doors will be a raised panel style with some little grooves on edges. We do have company who will work with us to create a custom stain (or stain/dye combination) to get to the medium color we would want.

Our other choice is to become competent enough to paint the cabinets with a sprayer, and then maybe do some glazing.

We might decide to stain the perimeter, and paint the island, so maybe we'll be doing both types.

Can we do this???

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If you want to DIY stain, at least spring for an easier to stain wood like cherry. Maple is notoriously difficult even for pros to get right. It's preferred for paint, but you'll need the right equipment for that as well. Painting or staining of case goods isn't for the casual DIYer unless you are OK with less than good results.

Have you ever refinished furniture before? Do you live for flea market finds that you make over by painting or stripping and restaining? Exactly what type of experience with applied coatings do you have? Do you have a clean room in which you're planning to do the work? Do you have a lot of patience? Are you OK with the lots of added time that this will be?

From your brief post with no other added info, it sounds like you might ought to buy your cabinets pre finished.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 2:44PM
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Maple will stain just fine. Just pre-condition it.
Of course you will need lots of practice with the products you decide to use. Once you know what you're doing, go for it.

Only you know what you will accept as acceptable results.
You will need some decent spray equipment.
It's a lot of work. But, it can be done.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 3:12PM
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Thank you for your response. I'd really appreciate hearing from people who have braved this large project. I wish you had let me know if you have personally stained or painted a kitchen full of new cabinets, or if your are advising from research, observation, or speculation?

I could "spring" for any wood and chose maple. My research indicates that cherry is notoriously difficult to stain because it becomes blotchy. Maple can be difficult because it is not porous, however dyes can be used and we do have expert resources in the Seattle area for formulating dyes and stains to achieve the color and/or depth we want.

Yes, we have refinished furniture, and much of the extensive woodwork throughout our home. Possibly far different than getting an entire kitchen full of cabinets looking alike. We actually do own a decent a HVLP gun although we have modest experience with it. We could create a spray booth if we choose to do that. If we hired a professional painter, they would not do that, they would simply spray in place.

I know you RTA unfinished cabinet folks are out there -- so how did it go?

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 3:47PM
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Thanks tbo123!

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 3:51PM
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I've stripped and refinished an oak kitchen and made it look like maple. Done a few vanities, wall units etc.

Currently building a kitchen. My biggest problem is deciding on what I want it to look like. (white or stain/clear or clear).

You seem to know what you're doing. All it takes is to do it.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 3:57PM
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You can do it! It's been 20 years, but we (I primarily) stripped and then refinished with a stain and wipe on finish some original birch cabinets from my vintage house, and I also finished the newly constructed cabinets we had built to match. All it takes is time, but you already know that from your other projects. I also stripped and stained nearly all of the quarter sawn oak woodwork in our house.

Have you thought about cherry that you don't stain and let just get that lovely patina color gradually as the wood ages?

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 5:20PM
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Sophie Wheeler

Yeah, I've done it. My first house was pretty much furnished from the thrift store, antique store, and unfinished furniture store. I'm older now, and it is SO worth it to pay someone else to do it.

First of all, it takes forever. Something with a higher priority always interferes. And whatever you're working on always is in the way. Forever. If you plan to do this in a garage or outbuilding, then you have to keep it temperature controlled, but with no breezes from the HVAC stirring up dust particles. And that doesn't mean to plug in the electric heater just before you go to work either.

You need to keep the cabinets inside, and have a room, like a dining room draped off to work as your finish room. And you'll need to cover over the HVAC vents when you're dealing with the conversion varnish topcoat.

Doing a whole set of cabinets to match when you really don't have the workshop to do assembly line production can be difficult. For that reason, it would probably be better to paint if you (rightly) fear your quality control over multiple boxes.

The island cabinets should be small enough though to fit them all into one room and stain them in one batch, so you might think of doing that mix of stained and painted.

Cabinets should all be completely finished, inside and out before they are installed. Ideally, the box itself is finished as flat goods before being cut into the box pieces. Finishing the inside of cabinets is a beyatch. Even with a decent spray gun, it's really really hard to get all of those nooks and crannies.

Always sand yourself before starting the project. Sure, stuff comes "ready to finish" but just shipping and humid weather can raise the grain again. What separates a pro job from a meh job is the amount of time taken to sand everything between coats. And multiple coats.

BTW, cherry is super easy to stain medium to dark. I've never had a blotching issue with it at all. Just maple and birch. Both of those take quite a bit of experimenting on the backs of doors to find the process that works with the products that you choose. I don't deal with box store products like Minwax though. SW, or GF are much better quality products.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 5:23PM
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hollysprings, does SW mean Sherwin Williams?

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 7:57PM
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I've never had a problem staining cherry, either. If you think cherry gets blotchy, though, just wait until you try to stain the maple.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 8:03PM
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I painted all our kitchen cabinets a couple of years ago - the frames by hand and the doors with a gun. It was a nightmare I won't soon forget :). Haha! I would buy prefinished next time. My dh also just recently stripped and stained our huge solid oak pantry and that was pretty awful too. Stripping was fine, but getting a uniform stained look on our solid oak doors was dreadful. He said never again :). But, maybe it's just not our thing ~

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 8:11PM
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I've only refinished two things in my life 6 duncan phyfe style chairs and our old pine backdoor to make a headboard. I know for myself I would never attempt to do cabinets. However, there was recently a thread where someone built and painted his own cabinets so I will post that thread below and maybe you could message him for his experience, because his kitchen looks fab.

Here is a link that might be useful: DIY Kitchen

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 8:39PM
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I refinished my old kitchen.I did the doors and drawers in the garage and the rest in the kitchen. I have an Apollo Sprayers HVLP turbine system which makes all the difference in the world. You can control the spray pattern and the overspray is minimal. I used a waterborne coating. My Apollo is 15 years old. They have a line now for DIY. You can also find a portable spray booth that has tension poles and sheets of plastic so you have minimal dust.
BTW= there are cheap hvlp systems out there that will just give you a headache on a big job like this.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2013 at 9:01PM
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Ditto to what others have said-maple is much more difficult to stain evenly than cherry-check your research again-try woodweb.
As to your question- paint is easier than stain and varnish in that it is easier to touch up. But throw in glazing and the equation shifts.

Should you do it is entirely up to you. Hey they built the pyramids. I spent 25 yrs making things for a living many of which could not or should not be made. Did anyway.

Just be prepared for the time it takes and likely learning curve.

When I got around to doing my own kitchen I was a KD so I got a good deal. For me the only choices were to completely build or to buy. But then I'd built em professionally and have a full shop in the garage. My dad was fond of saying that finishing is 90%-making only 10, he was including sanding. Getting half done cabinets simply would not occur to me.

I do find the end results of finishing very satisfying; the process not so much though. It is one of my strengths though.
Do tests to see what your up against and what suits you. A couple of hundred bucks in wasted experiments is cheaper than an all out nightmare.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 8:34AM
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Solid raised panel Maple doors are going to look great and depending on the detail, thickness etc I can see it costing around $16.00 per sq. ft. To stain and laquer add about $6.00-$8.00 per sq. ft. depending on quality and finish.

If you want to save the finishing costs, I see nothing wrong with it as long as your quality of work can compare to the pros as it would be a waste to spend $16.00 per sq. ft on good quality raised panel maple only to have a less then perfect finish applied to it.

Most panels will probably come either 150 to 180 grit, unfinished, if it's 150 grit I would bring it up to 220 if it's 180 I would just leave it. I would imagine you know that Maple is a closed grain wood and needs to be conditioned before staining.

Get a scrap piece of Maple as your test, wipe it down with mineral spirits etc, let it dry, condition and stain, let it dry, then apply the top coat. Remember that one person should do all the staining and one person should do all the top coat since it should all be uniform regardless of whether you use a foam or bristle brush. In other words, don't have two different people using two different methods of application as it may be noticed when finished.

Good luck with your project and remember, we love pictures.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 9:11AM
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Sorry for the delay in getting back in here...had to run off yesterday afternoon to pick up pizzas (since we have no kitchen) for Monday Night Football, with our beloved Seahawks! I really appreciate the information youâÂÂve all offered.

tbo...That sounds like a lot of work...I canâÂÂt imagine stripping on top of everything.

I keep telling myself, although it would be a lot of work, there would be no advance stripping! Yes, I have been thinking about cherry, and in the end, we may just order that with a clear coat...however worry about receiving lot of âÂÂfiguredâ or âÂÂwavyâ cherry which I donâÂÂt like so much. After tolerating oak for years, IâÂÂm hoping for a quiet grain.

Thank you so much for your detailed thoughts on this process. Your post has literally turned hubby around to rethinking committing us to spending so much more time on a project that has already drug on so long. We are fairly certain that we could do a decent finish eventually because we are particular and tenacious, but the amount of time and frustration it could turn into is something that is hard to justify.

Yes âÂÂSherwin WilliamsâÂÂ

Thanks for your thoughts, IF we do decide to do the finish I will be practice staining lots of wood samples before committing to the species.

I am so grateful that you replied. We had given a lot of thought to the HVLP route, hoping that it might not be a nightmare -- thank you for letting me know how you felt about doing it this way.

I saw that thread, that was one incredible job, amazing!

Thank You for your insight as well. I also think that if we paint, a decent HVLP sprayer would be the only way to go. IF we do this, we will have to build a spray booth IN the house because itâÂÂs getting too cold to create on in the garage now, and I am not waiting until next spring! It is really good to hear though that you have faith in the process with the right equipment.

Thanks for your input on this. Hubby has been a bit on the fence because IâÂÂm the one who would have to do the finishing...IâÂÂm going to point out to him your âÂÂ90/10â ratio of finishing to making and suggest that if I have to finish them, perhaps he should build them! (; Natural cherry, ordered with a clear coat is sounding very tempting right now!

Cute handle -- Renos may be fun for you -- LOL -- for me I am so tired of this remodel which, has drug on now for years (yes YEARS) mostly because we could not settle on a layout. Now demo is done, we should have ordered the cabinets already, but IâÂÂve been apprehensive about taking on the finishing. After reading the posts above, I am beginning to really dread the idea of doing it. I will finish the cabinets if I have to, and I will do whatever it takes to get to a good job, but honestly after...

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 9:31AM
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I should have elaborated above. I've done plenty of stain and finish jobs. In my youth, when I had more time than money. The ONLY way it "saves" you any money is if you already have the skills, and you value your time at zero $. If you value your time, it's best spent doing whatever you do as a day (or side job) job to pay the (very little) price difference to purchase the work of someone who is doing their day job. Really, there's no beating the value of purchasing already assembled and finished cabinets.

Sure, you can work really really hard at getting the same results as a pro if you have the knack and a boatload of expensive tools and materials. But, don't ever fool yourself that you're choosing something cost effective. You do it because you like to do it, and it's a hobby that keeps you busy and you would be bored otherwise. If that's the case, then you already have a house full of your projects that you've done previously and where you developed those finishing skills. If that's not you, then go the manufactured finished cabinet route.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 9:35AM
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You probably hit on it here, it really is not about the cost or any perceived savings, it's more about hubby keeping plenty of projects in que. Not that he's bored, he just rolls that way. That being the case, I think I'll offer him that choice, to do all the finishing himself or simply buy it done -- I would prefer to get back to my sewing room. There's been plenty enough time invested in this already. I just want it done.

Thanks again for your thoughts.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 10:20AM
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We did not stain our cabinets ourselves, but were very involved in having them done. We had clear coated maple which we sanded off the finish on the cabinet boxes. We also had some new cabinets built, and bought new doors and drawer fronts. They are mitered raised panel doors. We had done some research and maple is apparently prone to taking the stain unevenly (blotching). When getting quotes for the staining, we specifically asked how the finishers were going to handle this. The guy we went with used diluted solution of the stain color to condition the wood and bring out the grain. Then he applied matte topcoat tinted with the stain. This was followed by two coats of clear, the glazing, then a final coat of clear. He processed the cabinet boxes in place and the doors at his shop.

In a few places, we did too good of a job on the final sanding before finishing. He said that if it's too fine, you basically burnish the wood so much that it won't take the stain, so he went back over some areas with a rougher grade of sandpaper.

The cabinets turned out great, but it was a lot of work for the finisher. I watched him do all the work in our house and he did several sample doors for me while we were working out the stain color, so I know how much work it must have been to do the whole kitchen.

It may boil down to how much mess and inconvenience you want to put up with.

Good luck with whatever choice you make.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 12:47PM
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I had old cabinets in a very dark walnut, I sanded them all down then stain them a cherry. Finished with some protective coating, The hard part ,is the time it takes to sand the cabinets. I,m very happy how it came out.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 1:49PM
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skipper, what type of wood are your cabinets and what did you use to stain them?

    Bookmark   October 29, 2013 at 2:37PM
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This is an older post, but I'll add my two cents! I've painted two oak vanities white and gel stained two other vanities. The key is in the preparation. I didn't sand/ degloss enough with the gel stain (my first foray) and it has peeled on the door - still have to fix that! The next vanity, I thought I had prepped better, but no, my primer could be scratched off, so I used a furniture stripper on the doors - the frame was fine with sanding & deglossing. By the time I got to the last vanity, I just went ahead and stripped, sanded & deglossed. I also used a roller, which came out better.

Since it sounds like you won't have to strip the cabs, it might not be as bad. The gel stain that I used (general finishes in espresso or java or something dark like that) was easy to work with. It created almost a black cabinet with 3 coats & I did a poly topcoat. The cabinets look awesome (other than that one spot that I need to sand & refinish- lol). I didn't like the look of the in between coats - prob b/c it is oak.

All of the work on the vanities convinced me that I'd lose my mind if I did the whole kitchen. But if I didn't have to remove the current finish, it def wouldn't be as bad!

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 12:06PM
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