Antiqued Look for Cabinets

Developing a finish schedule for distressed cabinets. December 26, 2004

I have a question about a painted/antiqued look for cabinets. I have had a bit of experience with stains, glazes and precat lacquer, but haven't done much with colorings such as black or white with sand-through. What is the best way to achieve this look and not have adhesion problems with the pre-cat topcoat? I have heard of milk paint working, but don't know much about it. I believe that it is in powder form and you have to mix it. Does anyone have more info on this?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor N:
I know it's a little off subject, but it still amazes me how people are willing to pay a premium for us to make something look like it has been to hell and back. First you have customers who take a magnifying glass to the cabinets to make sure there isn't a single unpopped air bubble on the back of a door and then the next thing you know they want you to make it look like you chained it to your bumper and dragged it to their house.

Back to the subject. You can get WB glazes and tinted finishes from Fuhr that I have tested and found to have no adhesion problems with either WB or CV finishes.

You could also try ML Campbell tinted products if you want to stick to solvent finishes. My advice would be to talk to a company that can supply you with all of the products to do the project, so if problems do arise, you only have one rep to talk to and they will have no other supplier to put the blame on. If, for example, you went with ML Campbell Magnamax tinted with black for the first coat, and then applied a secondary coat of white, and then sanded off the white to expose the black and maybe even some bare wood in certain areas, is that the effect you are looking for?

From contributor M:
I have several customers doing the white and black cut-through finishes.

In your situation with the pre-cat, I would recommend going with a waterbase color, scuff sand and cut-through, blow off and/or wipe off the piece, apply a solvent glaze ( a waterbased glaze will give you secondary grain raise on the cut-through) and finish with 1-2 topcoats.

Your adhesion will be good! I have also matched many of the milk paint colors in w/b. It's a pretty easy finish and looks great.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the responses. A bit more about the milk paint. Do you just mix it with water and then spray it or wipe it/brush it? Where can you purchase milk paint? What kind of dry time is needed? Also, does it work as well as tinted lacquer as far as adhesion to the top coats?

From contributor J:
Give the job to my former apprentices and you'd have no problems with the abused look in question (adhesion and color would be the problem). As far as painted distressed looks, you first want to keep your finishes in the same family, no n/c lacquers and then topcoat with precat products. Distress wood, prime with colored primer same color as topcoat, sand, topcoat with color apply techniques for aging or give it to a painter and then glaze, making sure it takes in burn through areas - clear topcoat.

From the original questioner:
What happens if you use a colored n/c lacquer and then clear coat with pre-cat? Does this cause adhesion problems?

From contributor M:
If you use an uncatalyzed solvent finish, especially n/c, under a catalyzed topcoat, you are asking for trouble down the road. The plasticizer in the undercoat will try to migrate through the cured catalyzed topcoat and cause cracking. That is why I suggest a waterbased color.

From contributor R:
Milk paints go way back and the colors were mixed into sour milk. Like a dye stain, once it had soaked into the wood, it stayed there. You can purchase modern milk paints from Constantines or Van Dyke Restoration and Woodworkers Supply might carry them.

Do you intend to have a black background and a white color applied on top? If so, you could lay down a black primer, a white primer over the black, scuff the white in areas to reveal the black background, and apply your finish coats.

Most adhesion problems happen when you use products that aren't compatible with one another. Another surefire way to guarantee a finish failure is to try and accomplish this type of finish in record breaking time.

From contributor J:
Think in terms of what is a natural occurrence as far as finishes go. Have you ever seen a white paint over a black background? Probably not. You may be thinking of a white finish (paint or stain) with worn or chipped areas that have darkened from the accumulation of dirt and oils. You'll be wasting your time with some of this garbage.

Keep it simple: Never mix different coating systems together. The different solvents along with an added catalyst is too much. Lacquers, including all solvent based coatings, are like heavy set people. We'll say latex and the water based coatings are the skinny guys. Skinny guys get crushed under conditions they cannot withstand, but the opposite you can sometimes get away with.

From the original questioner:
So would you say that the Milk Paint (being water base) is not a good idea to use under pre-cat lacquer?

From contributor T:
From my experience, you can topcoat milk paint with just about any clear finish with no adhesion or reaction problems. Milk paint "old fashioned brand" is not latex; it is basically made up of lime, clay, casein binder and powdered pigments. When dry, it is hard as a rock, sort of a cement paint. One color alone applied with brush or sprayed and back brushed has an unusual modeled type of look, almost like a couple of colors applied at the same time. Cool stuff! Look up the "Old fashioned Milk Paint" website for frequently asked questions and customer support.

From contributor J:
Contributor T is correct. Milk paint is one of those universal coatings that is compatible with a lot of finishing systems - same applies for shellac and this is what I'd recommend if you're absolute about using a different brand of undercoating than what the topcoat brand is. I still believe that the black undercoating or a white undercoating is incorrect as far as procedures go, but I haven't seen the sample and wouldn't be surprised if I'm mistaken. I would up the ante and think about going with the C-V or the Chemcraft Danspeed Elite or the Plasticlear. These are post cat (one's a hybrid lacquer that is closer to CV and easier to T/U.) The Plasticlear is CV - a lot more steps involved, but worth the toughness. If lacquer, I would lean towards vinyl sealer and an acrylic lacquer for clarity.

From contributor M:
I have a customer that uses the following system on all their pieces for the primitive look on pine. They apply a pine dip stain, spray a black w/b sealer, light hand scuff, apply the chosen final color, aggressive sand (orbital on cut through areas), apply a BU glaze and on some, not all pieces, topcoat with n/c lacquer. The pieces are beautiful. I know it seams like a lot, but it is a pretty quick process.

From contributor B:

Contributor M, that comment about migrating plasticizers has got me worried! Would using a vinyl sealer between NC lacquer base and conversion varnish topcoat stop the plasticizers from migrating upward?

From contributor J:
The plasticizers are the least of your worries. Why do you insist on mixing n/c lacquer and now with a topcoat of c/v? Use the vinyl sealer (catalyzed) as the undercoat or sealer and/or the milk paint and a n/c topcoat, but I would play safe than sorry and stick with the correct products under c/v, rather than take unnecessary chances for problems down the line. If you're dead set on the course you're going, I hope you make samples first, at least, before jumping into the project!

Contributor M, I do like the finishes on those pieces of furniture. I believe I read your thread wrong and you meant to say that the final glaze was only applied to the burned through areas and not the lacquer was randomly applied. That is a good example of achieving the dark background look under a lighter stain finish. I think some people interpret the finish as being dark stained and somehow achieving the light overall appearance. I would venture to guess that the waterbased pine dip stain was proceeded with a vinyl sealer and then the n/c lacquer topcoat. Either way, waterbased is no problem under this system if allowed to dry correctly.

Side note: I'm finishing a 60.000 sq. ft. house right now and the front doors came in with the idea that the manufacturer would distress and antique them in the same manner my control samples throughout the house are done. These are 12' doors and when they arrived, the distressing looks as though a bear had clawed five furrows in even patterns on doors and jamb (not to mention the worm holes were only located tightly concentrated around this bear attack)! This gives the appearance of a bear scratching post and Frankenstein's sutures. So, when reproducing wear and tear of aging, please make it appear in areas that logically damage could take place and nature would take it's toll!

From contributor M:
Contributor B, I cannot say you will have a migration problem, which would be a cracking problem in this situation, but I certainly would be concerned about adhesion. I have seen some major companies go under because of using a n/c sealer under a catalyzed lacquer/topcoat. I do not know if you've heard of Temple Stuart Co. or not, but they were a major furniture manufacturer in the NE for 100+ years and could not recover from all the "cracking and adhesion" problems due to this schedule.

If you just did this once, I would not be too alarmed, but if this is your standard finishing schedule, I would stop. Always use a catalyzed product under a catalyzed topcoat. I am not trying to scare you as much as telling you what I have seen in my twenty plus years of working with and formulating these coatings. Whenever I set up an account, I get them into a self-seal system. This system is best for adhesion as well as a cost factor. You only need to stock one item and you can always find something to seal at the end of the day instead of dumping the unused topcoat.

From the original questioner:
All: thanks for all the experience and info. I have learned so much from this forum.