Matching the Finish on Manufactured Cabinets

It's easier said than done. Here, pros explain the difficultles involved. January 13, 2006

I just installed a cherry kitchen and given the circumstances and lack of communication between builder and cabinet company, I had to build a big decorative hood vent to match the kitchen. These cabinets are factory made by Woodmode/Brookhaven. I have ordered stain directly from the cabinetmaker. Considering the finish that is typical of factory cabinets, what materials, products, and steps should I take to get the best matching finish possible? Iím a woodworker and not a finisher. The hood looks beautiful and I donít want to ruin it.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
If you don't have confidence in your ability to match a factory finish, I'd suggest getting someone who does. Learning from written instructions from a forum is not really the way to finish a cherry piece. There are lots of ways to screw up a nicely built cabinet.

From contributor B:
Why don't you phone the head of the finishing dept. of the cabinet maker where you ordered the stain from and ask him/her? It's likely that they could fax or email you a finishing schedule, too. Even if it sounds more complicated than you want to tackle, whoever you do get to finish it will have some time saved by having the schedule.

From contributor C:
Having a stain in a container does not get you a project that matches. You need to do what the manufacturer did, going through the same finish schedule. Another way is to learn to match colored looks. You are not matching color, per se, but the look of the existing cabinets. For example you could match what you think is the color and paint out the wood entirely. So, that does not help you. You need to look at the Woodmode stuff and evaluate what you see. Look at the clarity of the wood. Look at the sheen, the thickness of the finish, the amount of orange peel, and the amount of blotching (unlikely there will be any). Look at the ground color and then the secondary color because that's what you need to match.

Color in a can does nothing in your case. In my case it did everything because I mixed up a stain for myself and ran out. So I was able to use the drippings on the side of my container to mix more and since I was the finisher I knew what steps I took to apply that mixed stain, so I just repeated more of the same and got continued consistency which is the nature of our game.

In your case I would lay down a diluted yellow dye stain coat (no puddling hen spraying, just enough so it goes on wet and flashes within 5 seconds). Then I would washcoat with some vinyl sealer diluted 3 parts lacquer thinner to one part vinyl sealer, sprayed lightly. Then I would mix my own spray-only stain (which will behave like a toner) using combinations of Huls 844 or 824 bunt sienna and burnt umber. You may need a kicker color of red which you can either use as a paste colorant red or some red dye. The spray-only stain is mixed at three ounces of color to 40 ounces of lacquer thinner. If you do need red to kick the color I would do this after doing the spray-only stain. If it's dye you can let it down in acetone or denatured alcohol and spray it on real light so that you sneak up on your kicked color, less being enough, more being too much.

Washcoat again, so you have something to scuff in case there are dust nibs to be dealt with, and topcoat with a finish that is rated for exposure to heat and chemicals. Duravar from ML Campbell will work nicely, Krystal even better. Shoot on enough topcoat passes so that your overall dry mil thickness measurement is within range for the performance of your coating (4-5 dry mils for Duravar and Krystal).

Doing your first heart transplant on a live patient is a tough one. Experiment on animals first, meaning lots of wood samples and lots of mixing practice, lots of waste, etc. Cut back on your trial and error waste by working with ratios: 3 ounces of color to 40 ounces of lacquer thinner will work nicely with 30 ml's of color to 400 ml's of lacquer thinner. There are about 30 ml's to an ounce. Get metal measuring spoons and graduated tiny mixing cups. Or you could use a beam balance scale. Just preserve your ratios, use a gravity gun and consistency (predictability) is yours.

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
It's impossible to say what steps the factory used to do their finish. There's a number of ways to apply a stain and having a can of it is no guarantee that you'll get good results. And there may be other coloring steps in the finish that the cabinet maker did not provide. Since you asked about materials, products, and steps to do a finish, I think the advice to find a good finisher is likely your best option. What if the finisher from the cabinet shop sends a schedule like this:

4% solids washcoat
Spray & wipe stain after flash
Seal with low solids vinyl
Glaze profiles with VDB
Seal with low solids vinyl
Scuff and tone with 1.5 oz BU dye per quart
Two topcoats Chemcraft Opticlear 35 sheen

Would you feel confident that you could do the finish and match theirs? Even if they just say "stain the wood and spray two coats of conversion varnish" there's a good chance you won't get the same results they did.