White finishes

Recommended finishing systems for achieving white, off-white and pickled finishes. February 12, 2001

The popularity of white, off-white and pickle finishes for kitchens and baths seems to be increasing. What has caused this and what finishing systems do you recommend?

You are correct, the white trend seems to be getting stronger. The biggest reason is technology, and non-yellowing finishes and stable substrates probably have as much to do with it as anything else.

Many cabinetmakers use MDF and HDF board for the floating panel in a five-piece door or route an entire door out of MDF. The lack of expansion and contraction of MDF eliminates the shadows and cracking at seams. MDF has challenged the lacquer industry to develop primer undercoats, specifically for the porous MDF routed areas, plus finishing systems that will not yellow.

The worst finishes for white cabinets are regular latex paints, oil based paint enamels, and/or general purpose lacquers. The best alternatives are the new CAB lacquers, both pre-catalyzed and regular. They give all of the benefits of the old nitrocellulose lacquers, fast dry and touch up, plus excellent non-yellowing ability. Post catalyzed CAB products will reportedly be introduced in the near future, and they may prove to be the ultimate choice.

Other alternatives are polyester white systems. These are excellent, but very expensive, and require sophisticated spray equipment. White conversion varnish is the best compromise currently for commercial use where extreme chemical and abrasion resistance is required. In the finishing industry they say that every system is a compromise, and the compromise with conversion varnish is that it too will yellow. After post-catalyzed CAB becomes available, it will replace white conversion varnish.

I do not recommend regular nitrocellulose or general purpose production lacquers for white systems due to their poor yellow resistance. For pickle systems it is also imperative to use CAB clear sealers and lacquers. We have seen several pastel blue stains turn an unsightly green after being top coated with nitrocellulose or general purpose lacquers and then exposed to sunlight.

Woodrow "Woody" Sanders is the Technical Information Director at Sampson Coatings, Inc.