Durable Hand-Brushed Finishes

Ideas for how to achieve a cabinet finish with the look of brushed-on paint, but the durability of a spray-applied lacquer. April 30, 2006

I am finishing cabinetry in a high end home in upstate New York. They want a hand brushed painted finish. I am concerned with durability and onsite touchup, since the cabinetry is being finished offsite. I would prefer to spray a pigmented lacquer finish, but that's too perfect. They want brushed. Any ideas? I've tried retarding the lacquer so it can be brushed, but I'm not getting enough open time for large areas. I just don't want to use house paint because of the turn around time in my shop.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor G:
Have you tried EEP (Ethyl 3-Ethoxypropionate)?

From the original questioner:
I'm not familiar with that product. Could you tell me who makes it? I have Mohawk, MLC, and SW available in my area and I have not seen it.

From contributor D:
Unfortunately, in my experience there is no happy medium between paint and lacquer. I include pigmented waterbased finishes in the lacquer category here. Maybe I am just a bad sprayer, but a good painter with the right tools can lay out a very nice painted finish -not perfect, but very nice. Paint would seem a very good choice here if you don't even want a perfect finish. Of course, you could spray the paint, but that's a whole different story.

From contributor J:
You could paint the cabinet and then clear coat it.

From contributor G:
Eastman makes EEP. Your industrial coatings distributor should be able to find some for you, if they don't have some on hand. It makes lacquer brushable.

From contributor T:
Behlen markets a brushing lacquer and Deft is a brushing lacquer.

From contributor O:
Behlen and Deft are clear only, and the questioner needs pigmented. I don't know how much pigment you can load into gesso, but it does dry faster than house paint and you could spray your pigmented lacquer over it. You can even have exaggerated brush marks if that's a turn on for your client.

From the original questioner:
I know that you can do a nice job brushing cabinets. I have over 35 years in the painting field and have brushed my share of cabinets. The problem is drying time and turn around time, so I need something that will dry quick but still allow me to brush it out. I tried putting brush marks in the Clawlock primer and topcoating it with pigmented lacquer, but it was too smooth for the designer. I'm going to try the EEP.

From contributor T:
EEP is one of the slowest evaporating components of lacquer thinner. One that's even slower is Butyl Cellosolve. It's a good recommendation, but I don't know if it will do much more than your retarder did. Brushing lacquer is already formulated to dry slow and doesn't cost much to try.

A different approach that worked well for me recently was to apply the color by brushing on milk paint (dries fast) and then clear coating. The piece was antiqued, so I beat it up first and glazed it before the clear coat, but that wouldn't make any difference. I know you don't want to paint, but it worked well and did give a brushed look.

From contributor O:
Can you provide a source for pigmented brushing lacquer?

I don't understand why attempting to add brush marks to (sprayed?) Clawlock leads to rejection of gesso as an option. I like the suggestion of milk paint - it is pigmented and maybe you can get enough brush marks to satisfy the client. You can get real good brush marks with white pigmented shellac. It can be tinted if you don't want a white primer, dries fast and can be topcoated with your clear of choice. Regarding EEP or any other retarder, I was once victimized by errored formulation of lacquer so that while it "dried," it remained soft enough to emboss for days after finishing, and was too soft to buff (very painful memory).

From contributor T:
I can't provide a source, but I'm quite sure a guy with the questioner's experience knows how to add pigment to lacquer to make "paint." (He already did it.) Works for all kinds of bases - you just have to know which pigments you can add to the base you've selected. Pigment+Binder+Carrier=Paint

From the original questioner:
Three months ago I sat in a meeting and explained the process of finishing their cabinetry with MLC Resistant satin. Now they want a brushed finish like the doors, windows and trim. There is no comparison in durability. I guess I am trying to give this client a product that will not come back to haunt me later. It has to dry slow enough to allow me to brush it, quick enough so it won't tie up my shop, and durable enough to withstand transport and install, and the color will have to match the alkyd on the trim in the room. I don't want to use a base color with a clear topcoat because I don't think it will read the same color wise. I'm trying to keep this simple. A rep suggested a product called Cabinet Coat. It is an acrylic finish that can be brushed or sprayed and it is supposed to be tough. I'll apply it over two coats of Clawlock and see how it does. I can't seem to locate EEP - my Devoe rep hasn't heard of it. If that doesn't work, I'll try adding a hardener to Ben Moore Satin Impervo and try to make the alkyd more durable. Of course, I will have to tell this client that this inferior finish will cost more money.

From contributor S:
You got some good advice in this post. Even brushing lacquers tend to settle out, leaving a smooth film. Give your customer what she wants - a true brushed finish. We all love to spray CVs on our kitchens. I have seen a lot of quality brushed kitchens that have stood the test of time. If you choose to pre-prime with Clawlock, I would go with a single coat tight to the wood.

From contributor C:
I've had to do brushed finishes on kitchens several times over the years. The above post has got it right. Clawlock primer, then for the alkyd coat, have one person spraying and one with the hairy stick brushing it out. Nasty, but no callbacks on finish failing. We saw an off-white job we did 9 years ago recently, and it's still hangin' in there.