Finishing Big Batches of Cabinet Doors

A finisher gets advice on finish schedules, color consistency, and efficiency for a high-volume job. June 18, 2009

Ok, what do the big production shops do when they have 200 doors to finish with a stain, glaze and topcoat? Is it all automatic machinery? Do they bother to do washcoats? How do large kitchen companies do it?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor F:
Typically a spray stain, followed by glaze, followed by clear coat. Stain and clear are usually done with automated spray equipment. Glaze is hand applied. Washcoat isnít required with a spray stain. Iím assuming you are not a big production shop and want a fast way of doing this. Group the doors in batches of 40 or 50. Stain each batch, then put on your seal coat. Once all 200 doors are done scuff sand, glaze, then topcoat in batches of 40 or 50. Create a large finishing sample step board so you can refer to it to maintain consistency between the batches. The reason for 40 or 50 at a time is this is what I can personally do in a single day. Adjust to suit your capabilities.

From the original questioner:
That sounds good but what kind of spray stain do these guys use?

From contributor F:
MLC makes one called amazing stain, Chemcraft makes one but I donít know what they call it and Iím sure other manufacturers have them too. Iím just not familiar with any other. If you have never used a spray stain before, get some and practice. It can be tricky to learn how to get it applied evenly and to fill in corners where a door panel meets a frame. You may be better with a wiping stain if you donít have any spray stain experience. I will typically apply MLC clear wiping stain base as a washcoat, followed by one of their wiping stains which I spray on and wipe off. Works great on cherry to control blotching, and works okay on maple.

From contributor B:
Spray only stain is what most companies use on volume pieces like that but it does take practice and experience with setting spray gun up to proper settings. Gemini has a good spray only stain.

From the original questioner:
I have used Chemcraft NGR mahogany stain on one job and it looked fantastic. Now I switched to alcohol stain with a spray application as well. That being said I feel I am not bad at spray stain. I was wondering if there is some special spray stain that is used in volume applications. Chemcraft has not been much help to me with product information as I do not buy 10,000 liters a year, but I can still buy any product they sell. I have a supplier in Regina who carries the full ML Campell line so if anyone can suggest which particular product to use if I go with that line. I am using the black NGR for an island and staining maple with a light tea colored brown. Blotching is not an issue as I have figured that out perfectly. Now, the doors are mitred corner doors with a raised panel and a detailed frame. The thing I am worried about is the tall wide doors where there may be inconsistency in stain tone/depth over the whole piece.

From contributor F:
Typically Chemcraft is useless for support unless, like you said, you are buying a gazillion gallons a year from them. For ML Campbell, the product is called Amazing Stain. Itís a spray only stain. MLC seems to offer fantastic support to the smaller cabinet shops, so I would talk with your rep to help with a finishing schedule. Since you are glazing these doors, just make sure the glaze evens out the color in the cracks and crevices of the door.

From contributor F:
Most spray stains including Amazing Stain, are just mass produced toners of some sort. They can be either dye or pigment based, pigment generally being required if there is any white in the mix as in pastel colors. Pigment base spray stains looks a bit cheap and it's easy to overdo it trying to get a deeper darker color only to end up getting a painted look. Dye base toners have a much nicer look and retain their clarity without obscuring the grain.

From contributor R:
You have to be really careful spraying dye stain on a large batch of doors. You can get a lot of variation in the color. When you spray a dye stain if you spray a little more on one door than another it will be darker. I like to lay out my doors by elevation if possible so I avoid the issue of having different colored doors right next to each other. That can take a ton of time to fix and you can get into dry film thickness issues having to shade over a finished door to even out color.

The "big" shops use something like a flat line sprayer or a conveyor system to do large jobs. With our flat line sprayer in FL. we used SW S61 dye stain and mixed them into one part water and three parts acetone. The water in the mix allows the stain to penetrate into raised panel areas better and then flash off. It also gives a "wiped stain" look even though you spray it on. SW S61 is very expensive but I believe Valspars Irgasperse dyes are the same product and are about 1/3 the price. (We mixed all our stain using a gram scale so there was no variation on a big job).

From the original questioner:
In response to contributor F's post, Elias uses Chemcraft spray stains and are one of my parts suppliers. They have a line sprayer. I talked to the ML Campbell rep today and will try the amazing stain product as well.

From contributor C:
I use FUHR 155 series this is a waterborne die based stain. They have a new line that I have not been able to try just yet. I have had great success without wiping but on open grain wood such as oak you really have to wet it so keep a sponge handy to keep the consistency. Wet the sponge with water and squeeze the excess and just lightly remove the puddles and clean the edges.

From contributor F:
I too purchase from Elias. If you havenít ordered the doors yet, why not order them prefinished? The cost of pre-finishing is about $3-4 per square foot. I personally canít touch that price. If they donít offer them glazed to a color you want, just buy them stained and cleared, then give them a scuff sand when you get them, apply your glaze, and shoot another coat of clear over them. They use Chemcraft 35 degree post cat. I would think any pre or post cat lacquer over them would be fine if you need to glaze yourself.

From the original questioner:
I thought about that after I had the doors in the shop. This is my workflow so far:

Sealer coat with thinned Target 9000 at 50/50.
Light sand with 320grit Mirka.
Dye concentrate in Isopropyl alcohol at 1:100 ratio.
5% 2lb cut blonde shellac in the stain as a binder.
Topcoat with two coats of Target 9000..

The problem is in the spraying of the stain on flat panels where there will be small areas which will take more stain than others - but not in a blotching way. It is as if the stain coats start to migrate away from areas. So this morning I did two light coats of stain to get a slight tone then sprayed a slightly thinned coat of the 9000, let it dry and then continued with the stain to get the final color. I think with the doors they are more forgiving as there will be an accent glaze, but the flat panels really show defects.

From contributor F:
Sounds to me like you are making it way more difficult then it needs to be, but this is depending on whether your working on a budget cabinet, or a truly custom cabinet.

Assuming a budget cabinet I would have:
Sanded to 150.
Sprayed Amazing stain.
Sprayed Krystal.
Sand with 320-400 Norton sponge.
Spray and rub Amazing Glaze.
Spray Krystal topcoat.

Expensive finish would be along the lines of, NGR, sealer coat, wiping stain, clear, toner, glaze, clear along with all the required sanding and stuff between coats. It all depends on how dark you need to get the wood and what type of finished product you require.

Whenever a customer wants maple, and they want it dark, I always talk them into cherry. Itís much easier to get dark in fewer steps. 90% of my work is with cherry. A lot of MLC dealers offer a "spray school" that goes over prep, techniques, and using their products as a finishing system. It might be worth looking into.

From the original questioner:
I want to have a chat with the supplier and the guy who mixes the stain before I dive in. The client wants maple with a mid tone stain and glaze. I agree that your schedule is quite straight forward. All the same, the drive gets me out of the shop for a well needed break!

From contributor F:
Be sure and let us know what they recommend.

From contributor R:
Try eliminating your first sealer coat. Spray your dye stain directly on the wood. It will absorb more evenly.

From the original questioner:
That's it. I think I am giving up on dye stains. When I say dye stains I mean a dye concentrate that I mix myself with alcohol. I cannot get a consistent stain result. I have a very good SATA gun and can apply amazing stain perfectly but the dye looks like crap. Maybe if I mix it with acetone instead of methanol? I switched to Amazing Stain for this job so that I can get consistent results. It is as if the dye in alcohol needs some sort of a binder so that it wonít bleed when the second and third thin coats go on. What a drag because I dropped a few hundred bucks on the dye. I really need a waterbase (haps free) system to stain maple and use waterborne topcoats.

From contributor R:
If your dye mixes with alcohol, put water in it. In my opinion, water stains work the best on maple.