my tale of woe.
Just finished an expensive renovation on my kitchen. All custom
cabintry, Maple cabinets, all solid wood behind the veneers
everywhere. Before the cabinets were installed I had a long
converstaion with my cabinet maker regarding finishes, I was told to
use a post-catalytic varnish, he uses a pre-catalytic varnish. He said
they are all the same, blah, blah, blah, and because i can't build or
make anything and am entirely off my area of expertise i acquisced and
let him do what he normally does. Well we've been in the house for
about 3 months now and I started to notice that the bottoms of the
cabinet doors near the sink are starting to show wear. The finish is
disappearing in little streaks that look like a mountain range, about
1/4" high in places now, but I'm sure it's going to get worse.
When I called him to ask what was happening he said that this was my
fault because i wanted counter edges that were flush and so the water
was dripping down the front of the cabinets and the drips were hanging
at the bottom of the doors and this was causing the finish to
disappear. On the face he's right, water does drip down the cabinet
doors, but we are talking drips not streams of water (both me and my
wife could earn OCD couple of the year awards for keeping our house
cleaner than the inside of a microchip factory). He also said that no
varnish is water resistant and that if water stands long enough it's
going to get through the finish. I guess i was surprised because one,
we're talking about vertical surfaces not places where water is
standing like a counter top with a sweating glass of water, and two,
even on the horizontal surfaces where I'm also seeing the finish
disappear, like the top of the drawers in the bathrooms, we're talking
about drops of water, not puddles. I would hope the water would
evaporate before it would get through the finish.
He agreeed to come fix the problem (letting me know that he doesn't
guarantee the finish and usually charges for fixes, but would do this
one gratis), but I told him not to come yet. I wanted to gather enough
information so that i could have a informed converstaion with him. Of
course his boys showed up anyway while I wasn't at home and wanted to
fix the problem, my wife said they couldnt' take the doors away and
they said they weren't gong to take them away, they were going to fix
them there. She stood firm and they went away.
So here are my questions:
1) is there a difference between post and pre catalytic finishes?
2) is one more reccomended for use around sinks?
3) is there anyway that drips from a sink should take a finish off?
4) it is possible to fix this and match the finish (it's a clear satin
5) how could they fix this finish without taking the doors off and
taking them to some dust controlled shop to re-spray them?
also, as i was looking around for other water damage, which i found in
other places in the kitchen (near the stove-top, and the bathrooms) i
noticed that some of the panels that make up the sides of the cabinets
feel like they have very small ridges that run down the cabinet. it's
hard to describe, but it feels like very, skinny creases. when I asked
the cabinet maker about it, he told me that i was feeling the grain,
which is complete bullshit, since these are veneers and they are
sanded and finished and i've never felt the grain on a finished piece
of furniture unless that was the was the way it was designed. I asked
the cabinet guy if the veneer could be coming off and he told me that
it was not possible, the veneer was heat adheised to the wood and it
could not come off. Anyone have any ideas what I'm feeling?
Sorry this was so long winded, but as is the case with all the things
that have gone wrong in my renovation i've found that knowledge is the
best defense, so any help is appreciated.
leon spinks wrote:
<snipped tale of woe>
Leon, where are you?
I hate reading stories like this! It sounds to me as if Leon is
in need of some "expert opinion" here...
I'm not an expert but /do/ use varnish on some of the stuff I
build for my shop - and I've never experienced anything like
this, even on a sailboat.
I've already made an appointment with a company that finishes cabinets
to have him take a look at what is going on. my guess is that my
cabinet guy is good at making cabinets (the cabinets really look great
if you don't count the finish), but instead of hiring someone to finish
the cabinets for him tries to do it with his own crew who have no idea
what they are doing.
Sounds like you're on the right track with the cabinet finisher
appointment. My intent in asking was to get you hooked up with
one of the resident rec.woodworking experts in your area.
I suspect your assessment of the situation is accurate; and that
you're taking exactly the right action. Good luck!
The following observations are my opinion based on research--I'm not an
expert on finishes.
leon spinks wrote:
SOLID wood behind the veneers? Not ply? Unless the guy who put this
together is a real genius, that's asking for trouble--MDF and plywood are
good surfaces for veneer because they don't move much. Solid wood is
likely to move enough to crack or loosen the veneer.
"Pre-catalytic" vs "post-catalytic" normally applies to lacquer, which is
not usually considered to be "varnish" (although the resident pedant is
probably going to jump in here and argue the point). While lacquer is a
good finish for many purposes, it's (IMO) a long way from ideal for kitchen
"Catalytic" lacquer has a chemical added that causes changes during the
curing process that make the finish more durable than "regular" lacquer.
That doesn't make it "durable" though, especially in wet areas.
The "Pre-catalytic" type has a catalyst added at the factory and starts to
crosslink as soon as the can is opened, the post-catalytic type has the
catalyst added immediately before use. Small shops that use catalyzed
lacquer tend to use the post-catalytic type because they typically won't
use up a can of pre-catalytic before it hardens in the can, while larger
shops tend to use the pre-catalytic because if they do high volume it's
easier to not have to mix in the catalyst.
In his defense, it's remarkable how much water can be absorbed that way. I
used to have a cheap particle-board microwave stand that I kept the coffee
maker on. Over time the drips from filling the coffee maker resulted in a
good deal of swelling at the bottom. But that crap didn't have _any_
finish on the bottom. Still, I've seen dirt cheap plywood doors that have
been in place for 30 years that don't show anything like what you're
While this is to some extent true, if he used a lacquer it is much more
susceptible to water damage than a conventional varnish and vastly more
That sounds like lacquer--one of its advantages is that it's relatively easy
to repair. The disadvantage is that it needs a lot of repairs if it's used
in an area subject to a lot of wear.
From the viewpoint of the guy applying them, yes, from the viewpoint of
durability after application, no. And neither is very durable.
Neither is. While lacquer has many good qualities, water resistance is not
one of them.
With lacquer, yes. One of the things they used to make you to do in boot
camp (in the Navy anyway) was run hot water over your belt buckle until the
quartermaster lacquer came off, then polish it.
Yes, but it probably won't stay fixed.
Lacquer brushes or rubs on nicely, and is easy to remove. One of the finest
finishes available is lacquer rubbed on according to a specific process
called "French polishing". Fixing it in the field isn't that big a deal.
His fix isn't likely to stay fixed though.
One possibility is that with finishes that don't have good water resistance
used in damp or humid areas the finish gives way over indentations in the
grain first, lets a moisture differential develop, the wood swells more at
those points and you end up with roughness in the surface. I have a mirror
in my bathroom on which this is happening to the frame--one of these days I
need to strip and refinish it with something durable but I haven't gotten
to it yet.
Or it could be that you're seeing the effect of movement of the underlying
wood if the grain is oriented differently from that of the veneer.
The bottom line on this is that there's a tradeoff between fineness of
finish and durability--you can get a pretty surface with lacquer but it's
not very durable--you can get a very durable surface with polyurethane but
some people don't like it aesthetically. In between are the alkyd
varnishes, which should stand up for a good long time in typical interior
use. Personally I'm of the opinion that kitchen cabinets are to be used
first, looked at second, so I prefer a durable finish over a pretty one,
but that's just me--you might feel otherwise.
This guy _should_ have discussed that tradeoff with you though. If these
are _really_ expensive cabinets I'd hope that a two-component urethane (the
kind of stuff that will last ten years on a boat deck) would be an option.
Reply to jclarke at ae tee tee global dot net
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