Depth of finish?

We're doing some remodeling of our kitchen. On the list is refinishing the cabinets so we're testing out color combinations on scraps of wood. The cabinets are red oak and in order to bring out the grain pattern on some scrap I had in the shop, I wiped some BLO on it. On a whim, I also grabbed a can of Tung Oil. In the end, we'll end up staining them with some sort of color, though. A few days later, the BLO still looks great. Nice depth. The pieces that we've stained for color matching just don't look as nice anymore. Very flat, even after an application of poly over it. In the past, I've done different layers of color... color over dark stain, etc, that looks nice, but I'm wondering if there's another way to increase the 'depth' of the color. I need to get my finishing book back from my friend because it's all a bit confusing to me.. what can be applied over what, etc. Thanks for any tips! Mark
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Mark: In my experience the first coat of poly--or nearly every finish--looks a bit flat. Try a test piece with three or more coats, smoothed between, and evaluate then. Yeah, it's a lot of work, but then the cabinets are worth it, right?
Bob

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Bob Schmall wrote:

I'll have to add some more coats to my sample piece and see how it looks. They're worth my time to redo them, so I certainly want to make sure they turn out correctly... hence, the post. ;) Thanks for reminding me of the flattening that happens with a first coat. I get involved in a project and focused on the finish line and forget to check things along the way. Mark
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And so what did you use for stain? It makes a difference, particularly on a porous wood like red oak.
Is the problem finish clarity, such that the grain is clearly visible? Are you trying to match at home something done in a factory or pro shop?
And then there's the whole grain filling question...
Dyes work differently than pigment stains, and a Google search on the collected wisdom of the wReck will yield some insight on where your testing and practice pieces should lead you.
There is a trade off, particulary with kitchen cabinets. That fine, hand- rubbed deep looking oil finish is somewhat at odds with the needs of a hard-working kitchen. Steam, airborne grease, and cleaners tend to be hard on the finish. On the other hand, the cabinets can be renewed much more easily than anything encased in poly.
This is, perhaps, why, in addition to the whims of fashion, kitchen cabinets are considered consumables, in some circles, after no more than 20 years, sometimes less.
BTW, on red oak bedroom furniture, and quilt display racks, I've used danish oil, topped with various colors of shellac, and colored Briwax paste wax, and like the results. Not something I'd put in a kitchen, though.
Are you sure you wouldn't like to use a nice alkyd enamel paint? ;-)
Patriarch
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We're just trying to match up some new paint, flooring, and counters. New color, old cabinets. We'll have to strip the current ones and make some modifications. My wife wants the cabinets to be of differing heights for some visual interest, so it'll mean making a couple/few new ones as well.

Yeah, I'm not going to be spending a lot of time rubbing out a finish, but is poly the best/only choice?

It's funny you mention this because my sister-in-law just re-did their kitchen and painted their cabinets. They're wondering why we're going through the trouble of stripping and restaining instead of just painting like they did. I still don't know what the correct answer to that one is. ;)
Thanks for your post, Mark
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I'm not the guy to ask about how to best do a durable surface finish. There are many others, with far better information, and far more experience than I have, who can help you there.
Most of my successes beyond oil and wax involved shellac, and that may not be your road to happiness in a kitchen remodel.
I spent an hour Friday at the place where many cabinetmakers and furniture builders shop in Oakland, CA. (www.pals4wood.com, no affiliation, etc.) It was a slow afternoon, because of the Reagan funeral, I guess, and the desk expert had some time to talk about what was available. (Normally, since I'm a 'cash customer', (hobbyist) and my purchases are less than $150 per visit, I don't like to burn a lot of their time...) They showed me some really nice prefinished birch core, maple face veneer plywood, with a clear, factory-applied finish, available in some very convenient configurations. A lighbulb went off, because one of the hurdles I hadn't been able to plan around was the one about finishing the insides of the cabinets and shelves, in my garage/shop/studio, without a spray setup, or anything. Using prefinished plywood, and Jim Tolpin's or Udo Schmidt's kitchen cabinet books as a guideline, I could go from a pickup truck load of plywood to finished cases in a weekend. If the doors and drawer fronts were already done, and stacked neatly and safely away in the shed, then this job gets much more accessible... Then, just the face frames...
BTW, I've seen some nice kitchens where the lower cabinets were darker, or painted and darker, than the upper cabinets. Nobody said they all had to be the same. Wait, maybe she did. Make sure your wife likes the results, or you'll likely be back for more advice.
Patriarch
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Stain typically is NOT a finish, it is something to get the right color, THEN you apply something like poly over the stain to get that "wet" look and depth
John

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...

Well, I'm still learning this, too ... but perhaps these comments may help:
- The type of stain used can make a big difference. Some products sold as stain are just godawful goo. Water or alcohol-soluble aniline dye stains are nice for adding modest color without hiding the grain and the figure. - You can use oil over the aniline dye to help the figure of the wood. Give the wood a couple of days to dry after the aniline dye. - Dewaxed shellac is the (nearly) universal barrier coat to put between layers of finish that would otherwise be incompatible (e.g., mixing oil versus water based finishes).
Cheers, Nate
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