Bathroom & Kitchen Guide

Your complete guide to remodeling, design and new products.


Focusing on Kitchen Cabinets Finishes

Your kitchen cabinets will take a lot of punishment over time.  There will be greasy spills, permanent stains and unnecessary moisture.  Kids will predictably slam doors and contribute to unsightly dents and scratches. The good news is that if the kitchen cabinets are finished properly, they will stand up to normal maltreatment for many years to come.

There are quite a few kitchen cabinet finishes for the creative home owner to choose from.  One such choice for the kitchen cupboards is the popular “pickled finish”.    

Pickled finishes are made up of white pigment that is rubbed into the wood of unfinished kitchen cabinets. It brightens the overall look of the kitchen cabinets and can make a traditional-style kitchen cabinet look equally at home in a contemporary or country setting.

Polyurethane Finishes on Kitchen Cabinets has its Benefits
polyurethane Several finishes can be applied to kitchen cabinets rendering them to be more durable.  Among these finishes, polyurethane is said to be the toughest. It can be applied directly to the wood, on top of paint or stain.  Polyurethane also places a strong seal that blocks out toxic gases from formaldehyde.  All cabinet surfaces must be coated completely in order to be effective as protection against toxic emissions in the home.  Polyurethane is not recommended for applying to white paint since it does yellow somewhat.  This process is called “ambering”.

Many manufacturers use a baked enamel process on kitchen cabinets.  Enamel is difficult to work with for the lay person since it shows brush strokes easily.

Professionals usually prefer to use a spray shellac medium.  Varnish and oil finishes can render a beautiful old world patina.  A brown tinted coat of furniture paste wax adds to the beauty of the cabinets, while giving additional protection.  

Polyester and Lacquer Finishes on Kitchen Cabin
LaqueNewer choices are polyester and lacquer coatings.  These will give the appearance of high gloss on your cabinets.   Polyester is harder and more durable than lacquer and therefore more damage-resistant, but it is more difficult to repair. The polyester coating is either translucent or tinted. Polyester is solvent-resistant, but lacquer can be washed off with a solvent as well as re-coated and retouched.

These high-gloss surfaces of kitchen cabinets are not recommended if you have active young children in your household; toy automobiles, tricycles, and other mobile items can easily chip the cabinetry. Grained wood and semi gloss finishes seem to show chips and breaks less.

For a custom kitchen cabinet look, you can order unfinished kitchen cabinets and have them finished on the job site.
It is often easy to overlook the decorative possibilities for a custom kitchen cabinet look when beginning with unfinished kitchen cabinets.  Kitchen cabinets are blank canvases waiting for your creativity to explode upon then with color, texture and pattern.  Look at your local library for ideas for discovering a wide variety of techniques on creative finishes.

Coating Finished Cabinet Surfaces
Eventually, the original finish on your kitchen cabinets will need to be recoated with paint or clear finish. You can apply either one over almost any original surface. Or you can strip off all the old finish and start over.
To apply paint, be sure the surfaces of the cabinets are clean, dull and free of loose or softened finish. Paint will cover color variations caused by damage to the finish or stain.

Wash all of the cabinets with a solution of household ammonia and water or trisodium phosphate and water. TSP is available in powder form at paint stores and hardware stores. Follow the instructions on the package for dissolving.

Use the same steps before applying a clear finish. You may have problems achieving an even finish if some of the original stain has worn off or if dark water stains are visible. If you can't easily remedy these color differences, you will have to strip the entire cabinet surface.

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Stripping a finish may remove a lot of the stain. To even out color variations caused by stripping, sand the wood with 150-grit or 180-grit sandpaper before re-staining. This improves your chances of achieving an even color. You don't need to remove all the stain unless you want the wood to be much lighter.

If black water marks are visible, remove them chemically with oxalic acid. Trying to sand out black marks is difficult, and it will leave an obvious hollow in the wood.

Oxalic acid is available at pharmacies and some paint stores. It is sometimes sold as wood bleach, but check the label - not all wood bleach is oxalic acid. Other types of wood bleach won't work on these stains.

To prepare an oxalic acid solution, mix the crystals in hot water until no more will dissolve. Brush the solution over the entire surface and let it dry. The oxalic acid will form crystals, which you should wash off with a wet rag. Don't brush off the crystals - oxalic acid is toxic and will bum your lungs if inhaled. Wear gloves to protect your hands.

If the stain was caused by water or by rust, the oxalic acid should remove it. If it doesn't you can try reapplying the solution, but if two applications don't do the job, it's unlikely the stain was caused by water or rust. You may wind up having to sand out the stain or paint over it.

When you've finished applying oxalic acid, neutralize it with a mild alkali. Pour some baking soda or a little household ammonia into warm water and wash the surface. Allow the wood to dry, then sand and apply two or three coats of finish.

Deciding whether to use paint or clear finish on your kitchen cabinets is primarily a decorating decision, but paint holds up better than clear finishes in wet environments.

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