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Finish for painted kitchen cabinets?

Posted by liliswe (My Page) on
Tue, Nov 11, 08 at 18:19

Please advice...
Having a substantial remodel done to our small house, including millwork for kitchen, baths, living room, etc... I want to paint my kitchen cabinets, should the finish be lacquer or varnish? I hear good and bad things about both.
Thanks in advance to all you wonderful people on Gardenweb!! You have enlightened my life, most of my questions have been answered here... From refrigerators to wood floors to tile to millwork - Amazing!

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Finish for painted kitchen cabinets?

By 'varnish' I assume you're referring to pigmented conversion varnish, since 'paint' generally means an opaque finish whereas 'varnish', by itself, implies a clear finish. When you say you want to paint your cabinets, do you mean you want to do it yourself, or that you want to have it done for you? Are these existing cabinets that will have to be painted in your house, or new ones that can be painted elsewhere before installation? There are more options than just lacquer and conversion varnish, and they all compete in the market because they all have strengths and weaknesses that make them appropriate for some situations and inappropriate for others. Tell us more.

RE: Finish for painted kitchen cabinets?

Thanks for all the questions... This is a total crash course in millwork for me!
The cabinets are being built by a millworker (we're having cabinetry/built ins for the entire house done, some stained, some painted), he will finish them (or rather, his finisher will). I get different answers reg. painting/finishing before or after installation... any thoughts? I understand that finishing in our house will minimize the damage to the finish, but it will surely make the installation process long, and delay our project, no?
We don't have small children, but we cook a lot so the kitchen gets a good amount of wear and tear. I also know about enamel, which might be a good idea. I'm cramming all the pros and cons in... my head is spinning, help!
I would think you use a certain type of paint/finish for the kitchen and a different one for the living room?

Re: RE: Finish for painted kitchen cabinets?

Just to clarify... Yes, I was referring to conversion varnish. And all cabinetry can be finished elsewhere. Which is what I would prefer. We are not living in the house during construction (the house is gutted), so the fumes wouldn't be a problem, but it seems that the finish/paint/stain needs to be applied in a very controlled environment because of dust messing up the paint, etc?

RE: Finish for painted kitchen cabinets?

It will probably depend, to some degree, on what your cabinetmaker or his finisher is familiar with. These finishes all behave differently during application and curing and so require particular skills; it's not like ordering a different flavor of jam for your toast.

Lacquer and conversion varnish both dry quickly. So do many of the newer waterborne finishes. Fast drying means there's less time for dust to contaminate the wet finish, so these are more forgiving of being applied in less-controlled environments. I'm less familiar with the properties of enamels, so I'll hold off on advising you there.

Generally speaking, finishes that are most durable are also most difficult to repair. Lacquer can be a little fragile, a little vulnerable to water, but is easy to repair. Conversion varnish is exceptionally tough, but also exceptionally difficult to repair if you do manage to damage it.

Don't get too wound up over this choice. Any of these finishes will work. Talk it over with whoever will do the finishing, and ask them to paint a sample for you so you can see what it looks like before you commit.

RE: Finish for painted kitchen cabinets?

Jon 1270, thank you for all your info!
I guess what I'm trying to avoid is having the cabinets come out looking like they're from IKEA (not that that's a bad thing, being Swedish I know all about IKEA and they do make good kitchens, it's just not the look I'm going for). I want to have a painted kitchen that holds up well to the wear and tear, but also looks like its not factory/mass produced. It needs to have a vibe...
We have a good millworker and we're meeting with his finisher next week. You are absolutely right - I'll ask for samples.
Thanks again, for your time and for sharing your knowledge!

RE: Finish for painted kitchen cabinets?

Jon gives excellent advice.

If you want painted cabinets that look custom, I'll hang the boxes then do an integral face frame for the entire run of cabinets.

Oil primed (always oil for me), then oil or latex paint top coats. A glaze or wax treatment can add depth to the crevasses in the millwork.

The cabinet boxes can be primed/painted prior to installation if required.

The face frames and doors usually require a day for installation and another day to prime. I prefer to then give the primer 36 hours before sanding.

Then a day to sand the primer and do the first topcoat, and the next day I'll scuff sand and do the second coat of paint.

Generally a day to do the face frame and fit and hang the doors. Then another four days to prime/paint.


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