We begin by cleaning the surface of the cabinets. With lacquer finishes, we use lacquer thinner. Not only does this clean the surface, but it also opens up the surfaces, getting them ready to accept the primer coat. With cabinets that are coated using other materials, we use denatured alcohol. This has the same effect without melting softer materials and making a mess. Once the cabinets are clean, we remove the doors and drawer fronts (when possible). We try to keep the hardware in its original position to avoid loosing any parts and to keep the positioning the same. Additionally, we number each piece in order to ensure it returns to its original position.
This step is only necessary if we are going to “paint” the cabinets. Obviously if we stain them, we want to leave the wood clear and clean. Most cabinets we encounter are coated with a lacquer finish and cannot simply be painted over. If we convert any cabinet to “paint” grade, we prime it using a shellac-based primer. This type of primer is commonly used to seal smoke or water damage and has a very fine particle. It’s perfect for bonding to a lacquered surface and has the added benefit of sealing in any smells or stains.
After priming, coating is a simple repeat of that process; it’s a question of the correct product to use. Every family, every situation calls for something different. For busy families with reason to believe they might scratch or ding the cabinets, I recommend using a water-based urethane modified or oil modified product that can easily be re-touched or re-painted. For applications where a lacquer finish is appropriate, we use a colored variety that can be pigmented. Lacquer allows for shorter dry times and gives a more lustrous finish. But, it has to be applied by an experienced painter who is practiced in using these products. Finally, a conversion varnish can be applied that gives a deep rounded finish that is both beautiful and durable. We apply all of these finishes using an airless sprayer and a fine finish tip. Depending on the humidity and temperature we’ll use a mix of pressure and volume to get the right finish. We want a complete coat to cover each piece without pooling or running. We want to work with a wet edge without causing overspray shadows or shallow spots. Again, this requires an experienced painter, but the results are wonderful!
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