Touch-Up Problems With White Cabinets

Lacquer, paint, or varnish? Shop or site finish? Pros kick around the choices. April 14, 2005

I am in a debate here. We currently are spraying a Chemcraft White Lacquer for all of our white cabinet jobs. We have a Kremlin HVLP setup with 2 gallon pressure pot. The problem is that this stuff canít be touched up very well on job site as you may know. We are contemplating just using white paint instead like all of the trimwork guys use. I only want to spray our cabinets, not brush or roll the paint on. I know you donít get that protective finish like the lacquer, but at least we can touch up all of the nail holes, etc. easier on site. What have your experiences been? What are you currently doing? Iím getting sick of the hassles with white lacquer.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
If you are at all concerned with the quality of your work, you should be using a conversion varnish system. Chemcraft has a line of pigmented CV called plasticolor - I believe their primer is called something else.

The problem with what you are spraying is that it is not very chemical resistant to household cleaners and it will yellow over time. It is not very moisture resistant, and it is not as durable as CV. I think if you are looking to switch to an enamel paint, you are taking a step in the wrong direction. Sometimes a little hassle pays off in the end.

From contributor B:
It sounds to me like you want to cut off the head to spite the tail. Step back for a moment and ask yourself "what is the main reason for touch-up out in the field"? It mainly boils down to nail holes as the main problem, jobsite negligence second and adjustments to site conditions covering the rest. I have never been a fan of paint grade jobs done in the shop and then installed. Your options to keep your quality up and to raise the bar are these:
talented finishers and installers. All paint grade wood work will be finished onsite and worksite scheduling to allow proper conditions and spot in interior finish schedule to minimize labor of all trades. Example - before floors are down and or finished, before final wall paint applied, before appliances installed.

The benefits of this type of schedule are that the woodwork has a chance to acclimate to onsite conditions before finish is applied; all nail holes, mitre cuts, seams Dapped; modifications done; delivery and install damage repaired. With conditions in shop in mind all doors, drawers, shelves done in shop and installed after trades have finished ensuring less chance of field damage. Benefits of in shop paint grade finishing - convenience. Keep in mind that nail holes, mitre cuts, scribing and open or improperly filled seams will be the first to fail from effects of water or moisture or cleaning methods. Also dirt, dust will accumulate in improperly repaired areas leading to unhappy customers even if they were happy at the jobs completion. They will then give negative reviews of your company's quality. There are, of course other methods such as taping off repair and using a detail gun or cup gun to fix finish or install problems.

From contributor C:
Lacquer is about the easiest finish to touch up that exists so you are not going to gain much by switching to some other finish. I like to use white satin Breakthrough for my white finish cabs. You might try that but I also think that you need to work at becoming more skillful and efficient at doing your touch up work. Try getting a good airbrush for touch ups in the field (I recommend an Iwata Eclipse). Or invest in some very nice artist quality brushes. Get some in very small sizes. Some micron papers or fine pumice followed by soft scrub cleanser will help to blend touched up areas. I make my own tints of color putty with glaziers putty and tinting concentrates. It is very efficient for filling nail holes. You can finish over it after 24 hours, or not, if you are satisfied with the results. Do wipe over with a clean smooth rag after a couple of hours to remove surface haze around the nail holes.

From Paul Snyder, technical advisor Finishing Forum:
What problems are you having that make you want to use a different kind of paint?

From the original questioner:
To answer your question, the problems all are in the touch up aspect of white lacquer. You canít just take a brush, dip it in the white lacquer and brush over the imperfection without it looking like a touch up. With paint, you can easily hide so many imperfections or problems. I am not familiar with conversion varnish but I have the same feeling in the sense that it wonít touch up any easier than the white lacquer. One fellow mentioned using putty that can be coated in 24 hours. We are trying to get the job done in one visit. Multiple visits especially to touch up nail holes is lost money. I will look into the airbrush gun because I think that sounds like a good idea. I may be blowing this too far out of proportion, but I want to make the right move. If white lacquer is a quality product, then why arenít the trim guys spraying it - especially on baseboard where they get beat up the most. As far as the guy mentioned about spraying on site, we donít do that. 99% of our work is done in a finished house, plus I couldnít imagine dealing with the overspray and problems that I would expect to arise.

From contributor B:
The only way to do a decent job on nail hole touch-ups would be to tape and paper off the areas that surround crown moulding for instance, fill sand flush and prime areas, re-sand primer tack and color coats applied to the whole crown or piece being worked on. Dabs of paint look just like that. Spot painting leaves halos from overspray and rubbing them out still makes it difficult to achieve proper sheen. If there was some way you could use kickers to moulding that had a high strength adhesive applied to attach mouldings then you might be able to get away with edges of mitres touched-up and not all the holes. What does your finisher say when you asked this question? Rereading your post again I noticed you only say white finish. If that is so, wax sticks will be your answer.

From contributor E:
I don't understand what the hassle is. Lacquer, be it clear, white or purple is a very forgiving finish. No finish, paint included, is without limitation. I only finish onsite. This does come with some disadvantages - overspray, finished surfaces. But I try to explain to the client what the advantages are. Contributor B stated correctly, when providing a painted (Opaque) finish regardless of product, finishing onsite will give you the best overall result. Nail holes, caulking seams, scribing inadvertent installation dings and dents - when finishing onsite these problems can be dealt with in the course of normal prep.

I do frequently work with the cabinet shops building the pieces and doing the installs. Many times I have them finish the interiors (clear) and prime in shop, before installation. This leaves me to fine tune the prep and to concentrate on the details.

Granted, spraying onsite is fraught with risk. But with the proper precautions these risks are minimized. I have finished a panelized mantle and overmantle, which was applied directly over silk handpainted wallpaper, with no damage to the paper.

As far as touching up goes, I repair the damage and mask off the area. I generally try to mask from corner to corner (either inside or outside). I also do decorative painting and almost always follow the same touchup procedure when using a brush.

In summary, don't discount onsite finishing. Your client will notice the difference and that will speak volumes about your company. Just try to minimize the risks. Mask off areas and try to ventilate as much as possible. Another reason I forgot to mention is, if you are trying to finish in one visit, nothing dries and sands as readily as good old NC Lacquer.

From contributor F:
There are ways to build and install your cab with very minimal use of nails, avoiding the holes to touch up. On places where you do need nails (crown joints etc.) have you ever tried a headless pinner? They leave virtually no hole and definitely no need to touch up with any thing more than at the most a tiny bit of color putty. The holes left are almost invisible.

From Paul Snyder, technical advisor, Finishing Forum:
You're right about brushing lacquer; it dries to fast to flow and blend over a sprayed finish. For larger repairs, a touch-up gun is the way to go.

All the paint jobs I send out I send along one of those little bottles with a brush in the lid (like a nail polish bottle) filled with the paint that has a little retarder in it. The install guys use that for minor touch-ups. For nail holes, they use wax fillers. Konig has a good system as well as Mohawk. The nail hole repairs are quick and easy.

From contributor C:
You can still use the color putty - if you can't get back to paint over it just call it good as it is. Even without overpainting it is a superior nail hole filler. It will dry and be durable (just not as nice of a sheen match) even without an overcoat. It is also much faster than wax putties to work with. You'll only spend about 1/3 to 1/4 of the time that waxing nail holes takes. If there are lots of holes to fill, wax fillers are just exorbitantly costly because of the time involved.

From contributor G:
We have pondered the same thing. We avoid the white jobs if possible but when we do one, they are a pain to install and touch-up. With us, outsourcing finish or having them finished on-site is not an option. I have used thinned white lacquer with a small brush for minor scratches. The retarder is a good idea there. As for nail holes, I don't have a 23 gauge pinner, but an 18 gauge. One thing that I have found that works well for filling the nail holes is white seam-fill for PL countertops as long as you just fill the nail hole and don't get it on the surrounding finish.

From contributor H:
Brad nails - I know this doesn't refer to your finish, but for touch-up, smaller holes are better. Porter Cable, and probably some other brands make a Micro Pin Nailer (23 gauge) that is much smaller then the standard 18 gauge brad nailer. I can nail through a toothpick without a problem, and for most trim installed over wood, these small pin nails are plenty strong and the holes are so small, a little wood putty can't be noticed from 2' away.