Home made or store bought floor and cabinets?

We've recently hired a contractor to redo our kitchen. For a reasonable price, he said he'd like to make the cabinets (vs. store bought as the other contractor candidates planned), and finish the hardwood floors himself. He brushes polyurethane on the floor, and sprays it on and in the cabinets.
How does this type of finish compare to the "industrial" finishes done by companies like Kraftmaid for the cabinets? How does this type of floor finish (for a high traffic area) compare (especially regarding durability) to a prefinished solid wood floor (cherry)?
He's invited us to his home to see his cabinets. They are just a few years old, so it will be impossible to assess how well the finish will wear, but it will be a good chance to see the craftsmanship. (Our old, store bought, cabinets have a few areas (particularly around the stove and sink) where the finish lifted and changed color, hence my concerns.
Thanks in advance for any advice.
David
(FWIW, I liked him best of all the contractors. After learning of my woodworking interest, he invited me to help in the cabinet building - and anything else I had time for - (said he'd either teach me stuff, or let me work off (i.e. sand off) some of the expense of the cabinets. He seems like a creative thinker in terms of design, and a bit of a perfectionist in everything else.)
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"David" wrote

As far as the cabinets go, the proof is in the pudding. Take a look at what he did, and if you like what you see, be sure to put the same quality expectation in the specs for the job.
Caveat: when comparing a cabinetmaker built to a factory product like KraftMaid, don't be fooled by eye candy. The "feel" is more important than the "look", particularly to those unsure of the differences. You should be able to feel a solidness to the construction that is just not evident in most factory built, or even builder built, cabinets. You get this feel by opening and closing drawers and doors and pushing on sides and backs.
Most of the factory made cabinets look really good, but under the hood do not compare with a good cabinetmaker's efforts which may not be as fancy or ornate. AAMOF, once your eye gets trained to the difference, just a walk through place like the Borg's that sell even the higher grade factory kitchen cabinets literally screams out to you, CHEAP!
It could well be that you've stumbled upon that rare being in construction these days ... keep your fingers crossed.
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Last update: 3/8/08
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The one problem with the " store bought" is they come in certain sizes So you end up filler strips.Cabinet maker builds the cabinets to fit your needs. As for quality there is a wide range from low end to high end. Also the price varies. In my opinion a good contractor has a cabinet builder he works with and will build the cabinets to your likening. I would go check out your contractors Cabinets. Now this is a fact it is hard to find a good contractor if you are happy and pleased with your contactors work it's a no brainier. Now hear is some other advice If you are getting bids from various contractors ask them were they get there cabinets if the say Home Depot or Lowes your in trouble I guarantee they will screw everything up. At one time someone posted some sting video's of HD. and people that got screwed , one was a lady that said they have been working on her kitchen for over a year. My own experience ordering Widows and doors for my old house I'll never order anything from them again. The other thing is really think out what you want little stuff like do I want an outlet in certain spot, try and save yourself from extra's
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Polyurethane is nearly as tough as it gets. The pre-finished floor would be done with poly for sure. However, if the contractor is good at his business you will get a better finish from him, then pre- finished.
Store bought cabinets could possibly be done with lacquer which looks great (at first), is much faster and easier for the manufacture but will not hold up near as well as poly. Sprayed poly, will be about as durable as you can get. Again, making sure the guy is good at his business is important. This is one process that cannot be undone or easily repaired on large areas if it is not done right the first time. If this is his business, just get some references. His own home is OK but I would want to talk to other "Customers", just to make sure he is and has been in business and not that he did his own and wants to do yours too.
Finally, I am surprised that he didn't suggest doing pre-finished interiors or even better in my opinion, laminate interiors. Yes, laminate seems cheap but for interiors it is really nice in my opinion. Most commercial builders would easily be able to do either. I know the pre-finished interiors would be cheaper, not sure about laminates, depends on his shop setup.
Finally, maple dovetailed drawer boxes for a real nice touch. If he is in the business, he can buy them and get you real nice stuff for not too much.

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Polyurethane is nearly as tough as it gets. The pre-finished floor would be done with poly for sure.
Not exactly, at least not like it will be done on the job, Most are using more sophisticated finishes than available in a paint store and need special equipment to apply it.
From Mannington Introducing ScratchResistT. Unbeatable Durability. Our 7-step UltraWear Plus finish with ScratchResistT is a polyurethane/aluminum oxide finish that provides unsurpassed protection against normal wear. Each UltraWear Plus step is an ultraviolet cured process we pioneered. It gives our solvent-free finishes wear-and-scuff-resistance along with depth and clarity you just can't get any other way. Waxing? Polishing? Forget it! ScratchResistT helps to protect against fine scratches that dull the finish of wood floors. Now available on all Mannington Wood Floors
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Edwin Pawlowski wrote:

Actually it's just polyurethane with aluminum oxide powder added. The "ultraviolet cured process" doesn't add anything to the durability, it just lets them get seven coats on in fifteen minutes.
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It also destroys chop saw blades while doing nothing to strengthen the substrate. Hit it with enough force, say, by dropping a hammer, and it dents. Repair is difficult, if not impossible.
We tried cutting a floor vent with a Dremel with an alox cutoff wheel. Lots of smoke, and you could watch the wheel shrink down to nothing in about 30 seconds.
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Father Haskell wrote:

It's the aluminum oxide powder doing that, not the UV cure.
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It also destroys chop saw blades while doing nothing to strengthen the substrate. Hit it with enough force, say, by dropping a hammer, and it dents. Repair is difficult, if not impossible.
We tried cutting a floor vent with a Dremel with an alox cutoff wheel. Lots of smoke, and you could watch the wheel shrink down to nothing in about 30 seconds.
**************************
Never had that problem with pre-finished flooring, but I did with laminate. That stuff is hell on blades.
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Yeah it might be something better but I always see those types of branded names as something like the additives in gasoline like Techron in Chevron gas. The marketers are looking for some angle to differentiate. So yes, most people think about durability when buying floors so you position your product as having some unique thing "ScratchResistT" and no one else has that exact same thing so you might win the business. I did a Google search of Varathane, and then looked at their Diamond Floor finish. Here is their thing:
"Varathane Diamond Floor Finish is formulated with patented Aluminum Oxide Nano Technology to outperforms leading national brands with superior scuff and scratch resistance."
They have nano technology. I guess the oxide powder is ground into real small particles. Sorry, Mannington doesn't have nano technology. It's all a game. The other big push in floor finishes looks to be "clarity", yes it's hard but is it clear? Varathena has language about that too.
As I said, Poly is about as hard as you are going to get but an oxide additive type might be a good addition.
It's like "Mountain Grown" coffee. I believe that coffee bushes will only grow well above certain elevations anyway, so it is all mountain grown.

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Marketing and ads often exaggerate or even outright lie. Nano is an abused term for marketing, but there is actually some science going on that is making it to the current marketplace. Often you won't know because it's a trade secret and the company only wants the benefit of the nano property without the complexity of customer relations and possible product regulations.
Paints and varnishes with nano-tech have been coming out into the market since pre-2002. Many hospitals and labs have already been sold on the silver nano anti-bacterial paints. The water and stain repellent paints are impressive also, used both in commercial and residential new construction.
Nano is a buzzword, but if presented truthfully it does tend to promote two ideas. It's usually a post 2000 formula and it's a high-tech formula, (mixing, dispersion and binding issues). Nano particles aren't always magic. Although there are some with special properties, many nano particles are just smaller. Smaller particles of an opaque substance, aluminum oxide for instance, make a more translucent product. (paint, varnish or sunscreen) More translucency could allow a higher ratio of aluminum oxide in the nano-tech product, it does in the nano sunscreen products.
On the flip-side most of these products have not been field tested yet for their full warranty years.
When I run out of stock, I'll surely pick up at least some samples of newer nano-tech finishes. Theoretically, they can be better. It remains to be seen if each specific one is actually any better. I'm especially waiting for the color changing nano-paints to reach mass market.
Answer to the original question: If you can afford it and can verify quality of workmanship, almost always custom made for cabinets. Floors are 50/50, exotics you should go custom. Standard varieties of quality pre-finished flooring can be more cost effective than custom. Cheap stuff is cheap stuff, thin veneer topped floors and cheap MDF cabinets usually aren't worth the install costs. The real question should be why or who for? Is this for you or just to fix up and sell? Do you care what it's made of? How about the local home buyers, do they care? Then the answers should be obvious.
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Of course you've seen this yourself and have hard evidence? My pre-finished floors are holding up quite well after about 5 or 6 years now. Need far less care than the typical poly floor.
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If his cabinets are a few years old you'll get a pretty good idea about how the finish will wear. There's no point in looking at cabinets that are twenty years old. Cabinets that look bad might have had the holy crap beat out of them, but actually be really well done. Conversely, great looking old cabinets might mean that the people don't know how to cook, are expert and making reservations, don't have kids and don't know where the pots and pans are kept!
Custom built cabinets can be better or worse than store bought, but if the guy is a bit of a perfectionist I'd imagine they'd be better than the typical cabinets you'd get with the other contractors. The fact that he's willing to help you learn more about woodworking and do some of the menial labor is great. You'll learn a boat load under the tutelage of someone who knows what they're doing.
Sounds like you might have found yourself a winner. Check some references and see some other kitchens and floors he's done, and if they're good, you have a good feeling about the guy and the price is reasonable, it sounds like good a deal.
R
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David,

I found a cabinetmaker who allowed me to go with him to pick out the cherry from the lumber yard. I didn't have time to work in his shop (to be honest, he didn't offer). But what I did do, is to visit it. It was neat as a pin. Not sure if he cleaned up for my visit, but was impressed. His references all checked out.
Norm's been building a kitchen (most boring of his shows, I'd have to say). He used prefinished maple ply for his carcasses. Looks like a great idea. Easy to maintain and saves money in finishing.
You got a great guy from what I can see. Call 3 of his last jobs tho and check with local contractor agency to make sure he hasn't any bad references to his name. Oh, I'm sure you'll ask for his insurance number. He will be coming into your home after all.
MJ Wallace
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