Yellowing Paint on New Poplar Doors

      This long discussion deals partly with the performance of paint on poplar, and partly with the division of responsibility between the cabinetmaker and the finisher. January 24, 2014

(Finishing Forum)
(WOODWEB Member):
I recently replaced old raised panel cabinet doors and drawer fronts with shaker doors I built and MDF drawer fronts. The doors were constructed with poplar frames and MDF panels. Poplar is typically used in my area for paint grade cabinetry in addition to soft maple. I only build and install unfinished custom trim and cabinetry, so I wasn't involved with the finishing. I received a call from the homeowner saying the paint was yellowing in places on a few doors. The painter called in a rep, I believe from Sherwin Williams, who is telling him that the wood is the problem and not the paint. I'm no finishing expert, but I was thinking a quality stain blocking primer should have prevented this problem. Can anyone tell by the pictures what is causing this, if it is in fact some kind of tannin bleed through, and if a quality primer should have prevented it?

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Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor L

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Poplar is a great wood to paint. Has no tannins to bleed through or stain. If he is a professional painter then he already knows whatever he did was his problem and not yours. He is trying to make you the scapegoat. I've painted lots of poplar with all kinds of prime/paint combinations and have never had any issues. Tell him to reseal and repaint.

From contributor D:
We have had maple bleed through just like that with all waterbase systems, but not poplar.

From contributor R:
That finish looks thirsty to me. Were the doors/drawers done in a shop or on the job site?

From contributor K:
Call the homeowner, the painter and the paint rep together on the job site and have the diagnosis given again for everyone's benefit. My guess is that the painter will not show up.

From contributor B:
Looks like green poplar show through to me. If I was betting, I'd say it's probably a two coat finish. I've done poplar (I prefer maple as it is more stable) where the green will show through and I'll hit it with extra undercoat. (I use GF's pigmented poly.)

From the original questioner:
I appreciate all the responses so far. I spoke again with the homeowner who told me that the doors and drawer fronts were sprayed on site; never removed from the cabinets. I don't know if a water or oil base finish was used. He said initially the finish was fine and then after a couple weeks or so the discoloration appeared. If it is the darker green shades of the poplar showing through, why would it not have shown through when they were freshly painted? Whatever the case may be, the homeowner said the painter was going to charge him again to repaint any doors, so I want to have as much info as I can lest he claims I'm responsible for using defective wood.

From contributor N:
It looks like the discoloration is distinctly on an individual rail or stile, so it could be something with the wood. That said, I have painted miles of poplar casing and base board with water base and have never had any bleed through. Some of that poplar has been anywhere from white to dark green to purple and black. Sometimes I could swear it was going to bleed through and never has.

From contributor L

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I had a lady tell me I gave her defective maple because she couldn't stain it nice. The I told her to go to her daughter's home and look at the 2 vanities that I made and tell me how the finish looked. They were all made from the same load of wood. She ended up painting it. She was using an all in one stain and finish, which I strictly advised her not to.

From contributor J:
I've furnished and finished a lot of poplar here and never had a single issue with doing a pigmented finish on any poplar, and most of it ranges from greenish gray to green with black streak. What was the finish schedule? What's the finish build? Anybody tested positive for crystal? Obviously the painters check must've cleared the check cashing store and he's gone off radar, so homeowner is hoping you'll cover his mistake.

From contributor M:
I had something like that happen a few years ago. I built some bookshelves and the homeowner hired a painter to finish it. I got a call from the homeowner asking if I could stop by and look at the paint job. What I saw was very close to those pictures showing on the OP. I used MDF and poplar. But I found out that the painter did not use any primer/sealer and used a cheap latex paint that he thinned with water - a lot of water - because he wanted to use a turbine spray system that was not powerful enough to spray latex. I don't know what happened after that. I think the homeowner got some other painter to redo the job. I never saw the final project.

From contributor F:
I too have finished many kitchens with poplar and solid or MDF panels. Sometimes the poplar is black/purple/green. It's all primed sanded reprimed and topcoated with a quality pigmented conversion varnish. This type of professional finishing cannot normally be done on site, let alone in place. Sounds like some house painter thought he could finish kitchen cabinets. Rest assured you or the wood is not at fault here. It is the painter's, and he is out of his element here. Maybe the homeowner went with the lowest price.

From contributor K:
"...never removed the doors from the cabinets." Tells me everything. Very poor practice. Your experience needs to trump the alleged painter's excuses. As stated earlier, call a meeting with the paint rep and homeowner and painter so everyone gets to hear the story one time, no adds or omissions. The only thing you can be held to is letting the job get out from your control to some clown with some paint.

From contributor R:
Looks and sounds like your customer took the easy way out. Typical of a customer to start the finger pointing process when the results of their budget constraints commence to pay off. It's difficult enough and rather time consuming to complete a quality finishing job in a shop, let alone in a customer's home.

Since you had nothing to do with the finishing or the color or the product that was applied once the cabinets were installed, any issues after the fact lie clearly in the lap of the painter. Homeowners like the bling of stainless appliances and groovy grainy countertops, yet want to save a buck on the most important aspect of the job. I see it all the time, someone puts a cheapo $50.00 saddle on a purebred show horse.

From contributor E:
First thing I'd ask your client (or painter as that's where it probably came from) is to define "defective wood"? I can think of a lot of things that could be construed as defective - warp, twist, case hardening, etc., but the color showing through a coat of paint… yeah, I can't go there.

If you sit down with the client and have a rational discussion, I don't think there's really any argument for what failed here that doesn't begin and end with the finish. I do think it's important to visit the client and show that you're genuinely concerned. Then calmly explain that the wood is not actively ruining the finish, but instead the finish is simply inadequate.

From contributor K:
Try going to the painter and threaten to sue him for ruining your wood with his defective paint! Seriously - your reputation and experience and ability to deliver are being jeopardized by this flunky with a spray unit.

As a second position, discuss potential liability of the client for hiring an unproven painter that not only ruined their cabinets but also threatens the health of your business. How dare they! If they want to throw around such allegations, you can - should - must - do it too.

I would move fast, with full confidence and take direction of the whole conversation and shut it down in no time. Finish it with a good laugh - "defective wood, indeed! How about a defective budget for painting?" None of it is your fault, but since they are all pointing at you, you better defend yourself. Defective wood - challenge anyone to define that!

From the original questioner:
I didn't intend for it to seem like the homeowner was finding me at fault. It just sounds like the painter, wanting to charge again and calling in the paint rep, is looking for a scapegoat. Maybe the paint rep said the wood is causing the problem because being there with the painter he didn't want to offend him? The homeowner was skeptical from the beginning but called asking what kind of wood I'd used and if I'd ever heard of it bleeding through a finish.

I just wanted to be as helpful as I could and prepared to defend myself if held to blame. Last I talked to the homeowner he was also asking me about building a built-in entertainment center, so there's definitely no ill will at this point. Thanks again for all the replies.

From contributor N:
A bad paint job still does not explain why the discoloration is distinctly on the rail in the bottom pic. Just wondering?

From contributor L

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If the paint was very thin and there was no primer, that would explain it perfectly.

From contributor N:
But why would it end at the rail? Why wouldn't it carry over to the stile?

From contributor L

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Because poplar is a porous wood and that particular piece of wood might have sucked in the paint more than the rest of the surrounding wood.

From contributor N:
Thanks - that explains it perfectly.

From contributor C:
Thicker coating just would have delayed the color from bleeding out. When you see discoloration in straight lines like that, there is something going on with the wood. You would never be able to know this when picking out the wood, but time does tell. I have seen this before with many different kinds of wood. Always one or two pieces of hardwood and always a single piece here and there, almost like it was masked off and sprayed a different color.

From contributor R:
What might be going on with the wood that would cause it to discolor like it has? I was inclined to believe that it was due to the finish being thirsty. Almost transparent and the discoloration is due to the lack of coatings or even too much material reduction. Looking at the full size image on the first photo it looks like the color of the raw poplar is pretty even. I see a few color differences but overall I think you did a nice job when it came to lumber selection. With a professional using professional coatings and proper finishing procedures, those color differences would be invisible, no?

From contributor X:
I just think it seems odd that it showed up later. If the painter didn't put enough finish on, wouldn't that have been obvious from the very beginning?

From contributor R:
Just guessing here, but maybe once the finish had a chance to finally settle in, the discoloring appeared?

From the original questioner:
So far what I'm hearing is two different things.

One, the green poplar bled through the paint while it was curing and there was still moisture at play, even though the paint was dry to the touch; like a red shirt would bleed out in a wash with whites.

Two, the particular stile or rail was so porous that it soaked in enough paint while it was curing to the point that it was thin enough to be inadequate; in other words not completely opaque.

I started out as a finish carpenter in new construction and have also installed thousands of feet of trim and built plenty of cabinets and built-ins using poplar in all shades. I can understand a painter complaining of a carpenter/cabinetmaker sweating or getting glue on wood that was to be stained, but I've never heard of a builder having a painter come to him and tell him that he was going to charge him again to re-paint some poplar that bled through or soaked up his finish.

From contributor I:
That painter needs to quit bellyaching and finish what he started.

From contributor C:
Painter needs to get more money to cover cabinetmaker's wood issue.

From contributor F:
This was never a wood issue. The wood was never primed correctly and it was never properly topcoated with a quality pigmented conversion varnish.

From contributor G:
Painter missed his bid. Take it on the chin. Finish the job.

From contributor Y:
Finishing on site is always problematic, which is why I try to give such jobs a wide berth. Poplar can have a random density, with one piece soaking up more finish than the next, which leads me to agree with the consensus of too thin a paint and possibly an inappropriate product as well - probably latex as opposed to a good quality water based cabinet finish. Any real finisher should know there is a world of difference between the two.

From contributor C:
You guys have no clue what is going on. The wood doesn't know the difference in coatings or thicknesses. Yet there are straight lines - wood piece lines - finish doesn't know where the joints are. Show me some discoloration in the middle or a white spot or two in the middle of the problem pieces, then I would blame the painter or paint. This is clearly a wood issue and if I was the painter on this job I wouldn't do anything to correct it.

From contributor V:
So what is your take on it? The wood is defective and cannot be painted properly? The wood doesn't know how to paint itself either.

From contributor M:
Are you saying there are some pieces of wood that cannot be covered with solid color no matter what you use? How do you select the lumber so that it does not happen? This has never happened to me. I always prime/seal my work.

From contributor R:
If I spray three coats of clear on five sides of a piece of solid maple, the end grain will suck up a lot of those three coats. The face surfaces might look okay, but the end grain might look different even though I swear to God Almighty that I sprayed three coats of material on all surfaces of that piece of maple.

If I want that end grain to look like the other three sides, I have to apply more coatings to the end grain. If I do spray more coatings on the end grain so it looks like the other three sides, there is a good chance that within a few days/weeks/months, etc., the finish on the end grain will have sunken into the pores and will in all probability look different than the other three sides.

I suppose you could blame the wood for not behaving in a civil manner, but come on.

From contributor L

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The painter can't control how the wood reacts to the finish. He will, however, have to deal with how the wood reacts with the finish. I have painted lots and lots of poplar and never had this issue.

From contributor Q:
This is simply a poor primer. It has nothing to do with the wood. If a quality primer that blocks staining/tannin bleed was used, or a first seal coat of shellac was used, this would not have happened. This is like the knots in pine bleeding through a latex paint no matter how many coats of paint you put on them.

The solution here is to scuff sand, prime with a quality primer - not wall primer, a proper primer for wood finishing - then topcoat. That said, the correct primer may not stick to whatever is currently on the doors. This is just a bad paint job.

From contributor K:
This discussion is an example of how obfuscation can and does infect everything we do. The fact that so few are capable of logical diagnosis is a bit scary. No wonder we are in the Stone Age, as a profession. I should laugh at all this, but I am afraid this is all too common.

Several very knowledgeable people state clearly that it is a paint problem, that the wood cannot cause such problems. This is so bleedin' obvious that it does not bear explanation, but somehow… Other folks state that faulty wood is the problem, with no explanation of how the wood is faulty or how it can cause the problems at hand. There is plenty of research on the science of wood, and none will ever describe how wood can be made faulty and then produce the problems we see. There is scientific precedent and reasoning behind nearly everything a person can do to or with wood. If in doubt, send a cabinet door to the Forest Products Laboratory for a diagnosis.

Then the questioner states he is hearing two things, neither of which is the central core of the diagnosis - that the paint is at fault. He seems to want to discard fact and put blame on the wood. However, green poplar does not bleed through paint. Poplar is not so porous that it soaks up the paint to give such a look - or if a piece were so porous or different from all the others, he would have noticed the wood and not put it into his cabinets.

There are facts, based on observation and science and precedent. Then there is opinion based upon conjecture, misdirection, inexperience and lack of knowledge. The painter used the wrong products and/or process as a result of ignorance. Period. The questioner needs to take charge of the discussion and settle his part in it before he gets blamed directly or incidentally, opinion.

From contributor Z:
Funny thing about this thread. We paint a crapload of poplar cabinets and have never had this happen either. I was going to suggest it may have been some cleaning product the client may have used on the cabinets and then lo and behold, my rookie finisher comes to me yesterday and asks me to look at a poplar cabinet that he just shot with his second coat of Diamond Vogel MilMax primer and wouldn't you know, we got that same look.

I let it dry overnight and shot one more coat on it in the morning followed by two coats of super quick 30 and it looks like it is gone. I will watch to see if it comes back. Due to recent events I would let the cabinet guy and the painter off the hook and say it was a natural, unforeseeable occurrence that will more than likely require another coat of primer and paint.

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From contributor O:
I also use poplar for 90% of my painted work, and have had this happen. It seems only to happen on really dark or green colored pieces of poplar, and as many have suspected, it just takes the proper primer that will block bleed and stain, etc. The painter is sol in this case.

From contributor A:
This is amazing - going through the same exact problem as we speak. Finished a kitchen over a month ago with outsourced shaker doors, poplar frame and 1/2" MDF panel. Doors were sanded to 180 grit and appeared fine. I do all my finishing in house, so we can eliminate this as the problem. Doors sprayed with two coats of white vinyl primer, one coat of high performance pre-cat followed by a coat of clear for protection. Three coats of a pigmented finish all up to required mil thickness. All finishes sprayed with no thinning by a Graco AAA gun. Finished kitchen and received a callback due to yellow and black streaks bleeding through. Had new doors made and now received a call about two more doors. Before you blame it on your finish guy, have all the facts. Who knows?

From contributor K:
If this bleeding is now a common behavior (fact) with poplar, then who has the responsibility to deal with it? I have bought a t/l of poplar a week for many years for interior residential millwork, and have seen this problem exactly zero times - believe me, I'd know it if anyone had a problem. I would therefore not anticipate it if I was a painter. None of the finishers I know have ever seen this.

However, if it is as common as it now appears, then is it the woodworker's job to replace the doors - admit it was his fault? Or is it the job of the painter to know the potential problem and prepare to deal with it if need be? Just as he would with Honduras, red cedar or other woods that may not behave as he hopes.

If this is now a characteristic of poplar, would not the paint problem be the responsibility of the person that specified poplar for the cabinets?

Further, did the experienced painter look at the job before he agreed to paint it? If so, the problem is his to solve, with my sympathy. If I made the doors for sale to the cabinetmaker, then I would have a hard time refunding or replacing without some definition and proof of fault (unless you were buying 20k of doors a month). Talk to Connestoga or any of the big door companies and see what they would say about this.

If the facts are different than I observe, so be it. But they are still facts and there is no definitive cause of the problem that does not use the imprecise phrase "faulty wood."

From contributor E:
Certainly an interesting discussion, but I think it still comes back to the painter. The painter's job is to put a coating on the piece provided that will look good and last. Doesn't matter if it's poplar, plastic, metal or what have you. That's their profession and as such they need to know how to properly coat the material they're working with.

Some woods like soft maple and poplar will bleed through thin finishes. It's not because they're faulty or defective or substandard, it's just one aspect of the material chosen.

In a situation like this where the doors provided were not finished, the fabricator is only responsible for the structural integrity of the doors. If they fall apart or warp, or some other defect of poor fabrication technique, then he is responsible. In this case it's clear that the finish is the issue and so can only be linked to the finisher. I just don't see how one can reasonably argue it any other way?

I don't think a single coat of pigmented lacquer is adequate for these woods. I'm surprised you haven't had more callbacks! I shoot 2 coats of Clawlock followed by a minimum of 2 top coats. I don't use poplar much but soft maple will also bleed through and sometimes requires an additional primer and/or topcoat to be safe in my experience.

My worst callback was a soft maple kitchen which bled through. It was very faint, but there was definitely yellowing and streakiness. That was one of the last projects I did using Aqualente and haven't had any more callbacks since switching back to solvents… yet! Of course I refinished the whole kitchen at my expense and moved on, as should this painter.

From contributor B:
This is absolutely the finisher/painter's fault. He should know that it's possible for this to happen. Usually extra primer will do the trick. If that doesn't cut it, I have a rattle can of Bin white shellac handy for hard cases including poplar show through. This is a pretty simple though time consuming fix. Sand/prep the doors, hit the affected areas with Bin white shellac sealer/stain blocker, seal then top coat.

From contributor U:
Absolutely the finisher - if it was a wood that had tannin bleed, it would be up to the painter/finisher to know about and apply the correct primer to prevent the tannin bleeding through, I see no difference here.

From contributor R:
Just make it look exactly like the signed off color sample.

From contributor P:
I, like most of the wood guys chiming in, have cut a couple of forests worth of poplar. I have seen a few of the deep purple pieces bleed through waterborne primer on trim. This is more common with soft maple.

1. painter primed wood
2. wood bled through primer
3. painter ignored #2
4. painter applied topcoats
5. wood eventually bled through topcoats
The painter is liable.

From contributor H:
It seems almost everything here is speculation and I'm surprised the fundamental question has not been answered. What process and materials did the painter actually use?

From contributor R:
What difference does it make?

From contributor S

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Painters are not finishers. Finishers are not painters. I finish, however I would never think about telling a painter how to do his job.

The painter was out of his realm of expertise and did what he knew to do. Granted, any painter I know would use an oil or shellac primer on raw wood. As far as defective, wood I had a GC and painter try to sue me because I supplied 9,000' of defective oak trim. The painters stained all of it in a huge garage and then moved it to drying racks in the driveway, where the sun beats on it and makes the stain bubble out.

From contributor T:
My bathroom has a poplar door and some trim that was in need of some paint/touch up. I sanded it all back in spots, not really to bare wood, and re-coated with an oil based primer. It has been sitting there with just primer - I got too busy with work to repaint it- and the primer looks just like that yellow... Maybe he never top coated over the primer?

From contributor R:
It doesn't matter if it was a painter or a master wood finisher or the next door neighbor's kid. It doesn't matter if it was lacquer or latex or conversion varnish, the guy/gal who did the work needs to step to the plate and fix what's wrong. Whoever/whatever needs to make the entire kitchen match the signed off color sample.

From contributor Y:
It makes a difference because the painter is trying to blame the questioner for supplying defective wood. Diagnosing these types of problems is what this forum is all about. I agree that whoever did the job needs to man up and fix it, but maybe there was no signed off sample? And I highly doubt that what we see in those pics would happen with a quality pigmented conversion varnish. I'd be willing to bet that it's thinned down latex. As others have stated, the mere fact that they never removed the doors speaks volumes about the overall quality of the work.

From contributor H:
What materials and process were used to finish this installation? Until this is answered, we can't really address why it occurred and how it can be remedied.

From contributor S

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I agree. The reason I want to know how the finish was applied is so the questioner can go back to the owners and say, you hired an idiot. You can say that all you want and it means nothing. Hit them with good solid facts and he might be able to get the point across.

From the original questioner:
I never found out what the finish schedule was; if I knew I'd post it. Called homeowner again a few days after original post and he never called back.

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