On wood cabinets the finish is just as important as how well the cabinets are constructed. The finish not only provides aesthetic appeal but is a key component in the protection of the underlying wood surface. It needs that protection from the moisture and chemicals that are typical in a kitchen.
(Keep in mind we're talking about wood cabinets here. Cabinets covered in laminate or melamine aren't coated with these types of finishes and surface treatments.)
The amount of material to explain the science behind the varnishes, lacquers and other cabinet surface treatments could fill a book but it's not necessary for a basic understanding of how a cabinet is put together. What we'll focus on here are some of the common finishes that you're apt to encounter in your cabinet research and their important features.
These are the most common finish treatments that you'll find on kitchen cabinets:
The Finishing Process
The cabinet finishing process is dependent on the type of finishes used and the individual cabinet maker's capabilities and formula. Large cabinet manufacturers may have sophisticated facilities and processes to apply the finish whereas smaller cabinet makers may take a simpler approach or even farm out the finishing process to a local firm that specializes in that type of work.
Wood cabinet finishing involves a number of steps that involve preparing the wood, applying the surface treatments and baking the finish. For an example of one large cabinet manufacturer's method, check out the Cabinetry Factory finishing process of cabinet door. It's an example of the multiple steps that are taken in the cabinet finishing process.
Larger cabinet makers may have the resources and advanced production capabilities to produce consistent quality finishes. Smaller shops may not have the same capabilities. One of the things on your checklist when researching smaller cabinet shops should be their finishing process. Achieving a quality finish requires controlled conditions free from airborne dirt and dust. Some finishes require baking to cure. That's not to say that high-tech production facilities are the only way to achieve a quality finish. Just be sure you understand your cabinet maker's finishing capabilities and whether they'll produce a product that will hold up to the rigors of the kitchen environment.
One final point to remember is that the finish options you choose have a bearing on the final cost of your cabinets. Finishes that include hand-rubbed treatments or multi-step coating applications take time and ultimately raise the cost of the cabinets. Glazing can produce some nice effects but it's an additional step in the process. Ask yourself whether it's absolutely essential in your kitchen style. Otherwise you may be able to save some money on simpler finish treatments.
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