Alternatives to painted interiors

Woodworkers offer alternatives to painted cabinet interiors. September 6, 2000

I build quite a few MDF cabinets painted with white lacquer. I am tired of having to paint inside the cabinets, and it is hard to get a real smooth finish inside unless we spend a lot of time sanding.

I am looking for a new way to finish the inside or maybe use some new materials, white or natural that are prefinished, to build the boxes out of so that I will only have to paint the doors, faces and finished ends.

What about melamine? Or, if you don't want to change your materials, prefinish the components prior to assembly. I did that on a big painted job and it really saved me some serious time. Finishing flat panels is way easier than boxes.

I've gotten away from using melamine as much as possible - seems like no matter how good a job I do, it ends up looking like something from Home Depot, which was never my life's goal.

I agree that painting an interior is a total and expensive pain. When somebody wants a finished cabinet interior, I'm using prefinished maple plywood about 95 percent of the time. It's cost-efficient, lightweight, strong, and can be roughed-up to take paint if necessary (I'm more often using applied, finished ends in unfinished maple or MDF.)

My other choice is to have vertical-grade laminate panels laid up, usually on plywood, though MDF works fine. Customers get a distinctive look, choice of any color in any laminate supplier's line, and a solid cabinet that'll take some abuse and still look great. I pay about $1.50/SF for the maple ply, and about $2.70/SF for two-sided, laid-up panels both a far cry from the $.70/SF for melamine, but panel material is a minor part of my total cost (it might add $600 to $700 to a kitchen that sells for $10k).

Designers and customers love the upgrade, and it's definitely improved the quality of both my product and clientele, since I'm not out there fighting for my share of the low-profit, low-end market.

Have you sought out white HPL cabinet liner? It is available in .5mm or .0198" instead of .7mm or .026" vert. grade thickness, and costs quite a bit less. Other colors of laminate backer are also available, most notably brown.

MDF is available with melamine on one side. This product saves a lot of time and looks great.

Nothing beats a melamine interior for kitchen cabinets. If you like MDF interiors, try spraying your cabs with the backs off. Pigmented lacquers tend to dry fast, so by the time you spray the whole interior(with the back on), the finish, in areas, has started to flash (dry)and collect overspray. The backs, left off, can be sprayed flat. If you don`t want the backs off, lacquer retarder will help by slowing down the dry time, reducing overspray.

During the last few years of operation we subcontracted our finishing to a specialist. It allowed us to offer all the latest and greatest custom finishes as well as avoiding the hassles of hazards compliance.

The idea had been brewing for some time but became possible when our sheet supplier offered us prefinished birch ply. It changed our method of work completely. Previously, we built boxes with frames attached but without backs, hauled them to the booth for finishing, etc. After we began subing out the finish, we could assemble face frames and drawer boxes, and ship them to our finisher. If we outsourced the doors our supplier shipped them directly to the finisher as well.

While we waited for the return trip, we cut up, machined and bored case sides, backs, shelves. Assembling prefinished material was a bit tricky at first but we quickly became accustomed it.

My customers liked the prefinished interiors. They looked great whether used on natural jobs or painted ones. In fact, we got a few calls asking for painted kitchens with natural interiors from folks who saw our work elsewhere.
Michael Poster, forum moderator

I have purchased some prefinished maple. Now I am going to have to find out the best way to paint the face and finished ends without messing up the interior. I am thinking about putting paper under the faces frame before installing them, and tearing it out after I'm through. Has anyone else tried this?

Also, the prefinished material is about $50 a sheet, which will raise the price quite a bit. I think I am going to try painting a few cabinets with the backs off also. Thanks for the input.

You mention that a sheet costs about $50 when purchased prefinished. Every now and then I hear a reference to the cost of prefinished and I wonder what the per-square-foot cost is for a shop to prep and flat finish parts or panels. I've found that some of the time at least it doesn't cost, it pays. Not an argument, just a thought.

When we use prefinished interiors we leave the backs off the wall cabinets and use cardboard cut to the opening sizes and screw it to the back of face frames. You can reuse cardboard on a number of jobs, and it comes free from the delivery trucks when we receive wood shipments.