Choosing the Right Finish for Your Custom Cabinetry

The finish provided for your cabinet is just as important as the custom cabinetry design itself. Choose a finish that is durable and timeless. Many times, when visiting a customer’s home, I have been able to identify the age of the cabinetry just by looking at the colors. For traditional cabinetry, try to use natural colors like cherry or mahogany that have been around for centuries and are likely to remain so. This way, you will always be able to touch up small scratches on clear coats. Aim for longevity – a clear coat finish, whether made of conversion varnish, polyurethane, or lacquer, should always seal the grains and have a smooth, glass-like effect.

Many kitchens use clear lacquer finishes as they can be sprayed on in a relatively quick amount of time, sanded, and re-sprayed until the coat is thick enough. Regular upkeep is important, if these cabinets do not have enough lacquer or coats, the water dripping from the front of the sink or other locations can discolor the wood, even in the first year of construction.

Another finish that will lend you a true, handcrafted look is oil. However when making use of this finish, it is important to have your cabinet maker educate you on how to re-oil your project when the initial luster wears off.

Oil-based Polyurethane such as Minwax provides a tremendous amount of protection, if applied correctly, and can be easily touched up by the homeowner. It takes up to 24 hours to dry, but the drawback of polyurethane is that after each coat, sanding is required for each coat to bond to the next. Another thing to keep in mind is that if used on a lighter wood, it may turn yellow over time. For this reason, we typically only use polyurethane on darker woods like Cherry and Mahogany.

Conversion varnish is one of the most durable finishes available, but can only be done by a professional with plenty of experience using it. A major disadvantage of this finish is that it is nearly impossible for a homeowner to fix any minor damage. If this ever requires repair, the entire cabinet would have to be sanded and repainted, or coated entirely.

Author: Dean Jones

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