Gloss Paint on Veneer

Pondering how to get an opaque finish to look good on veneered cabinet ends. February 16, 2012

I agreed to build a kitchen for someone else who is going to use their own finisher. The kitchen calls for prefinished maple ply interiors and MDF slab doors that are a gloss piano finish. I already did a sample of the door and their finisher did a beautiful job on the sample.

Where he is going to have a problem is on my cabinet finished ends. The design does not allow for MDF end panels and thus I must veneer the sides of the cabinets. The finisher is saying, and I agree with him, that the cabinets will not look the same as the doors. Too many waves and voids in the veneer for it to look like the doors.

Does anyone have suggestions as far as a veneer or skin goes? I quoted maple before I was told that it was a gloss piano finish. I was only told paint grade. This is a very good repeat customer so I do want to help him out and give him a nice product.

Forum Responses
(Cabinetmaking Forum)
From contributor M:
All panels need to be of balanced construction, so veneered inside, MDF outside won't work as a single panel. You could use a better veneered product, such as a combi-core, to give the finisher something easier to work with. If the design precludes an end panel, then either the inside (of the end panels) are painted, or the outside needs prep work. Will you also be responsible for lack of uniformity in the MDF?

From contributor J:
So if I understand your question right, you have to have the cabinet sides themselves with a gloss finish outside and a pre-fin maple interior?

If so I would probably stick with the pre-fin maple with one side finished. Leave the unfinished panel to the outside. Maple is pretty tight grained. Even so the finisher will probably need to fill and sand to get the gloss, but that's on him. I don't see another material to use unless you want to go through the hassle of using MDF for those particular sides, and veneering and finishing the inside with maple. Lot of extra work you need to be compensated for. I also don't see why you think you need to veneer the panel after? Maybe I'm missing something but I would just have him finish the cab side.

I avoid high gloss like the plague. Those are tricky finishes to get just right. Just out of curiosity, how are they going to finish the bottoms of the cabs?

From contributor K:
You could also use laminate instead of veneer on the outside. Painter just needs to lightly sand it with 120 grit so the primer has something to stick to. It will give you a nice smooth surface (do a test piece). If he paints cabinets, he already knows this. Let him do the prep so there is one chain of responsibility when it comes to the paint. If you use 2-sided pre-finished ply, just make sure you also sand the outside before you apply the laminate. Some ply suppliers also sell pre-finished maple with melamine on the other side. Works the same way in prepping for the paint. Ask your supplier.

From contributor O:
I've had issues with heavier/very high gloss finishes pulling veneer layers up, kind of cupping almost as the finish cured. Why not go with a thinner box, maybe 5/8 finished 1 side for interior, then add a thin layer of hardboard for the painted surface?

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the responses. A lot of good points were presented. I do think that I found the solution I was looking for and it was right under my nose. Earlier this year we did a large veneer panel job that was laid up by a local supplier and a product that he referred to as "reso" was pressed onto the backside to balance the sheet. Apparently reso is a resin impregnated paper. This reso should give a nice paintable surface. I have already dropped off a sample for the finisher to test. Now do I post laminate with the reso or do I have it laid up on the pre-finished? We seem to have gotten our technique down for laminating with veneers (and not bubbling) but contributor O made me nervous about all the finish pulling up the veneer. It will take a lot more time but I will probably opt to dowel my cabinets together.