Finishing Panels, One Side Only

Can a cabinetmaker get away with finishing the inside of panels before assembly, and the outside face later? Probably. June 28, 2006

I am building some cabinets with raised panel ends and backs that are part of the cabinet (not applied). The client wants the cabinet interiors to be all white melamine. In order to build the cabinets that way the insides of the raised panels will have melamine partitions covering them in fairly close proximity.

My dilemma is this, can I spray a few coats of precat lacquer on the insides of these raised panel parts to seal them and then build the cabinets leaving the outsides bare of finish? I cannot have the outsides finished until after cabinet assembly due to construction techniques and the need for sanding etc. I worry that having only one side of the raised panel sealed for two or three weeks before I can spray the other side may cause them to warp. Does anyone have suggestions or input? Anyone think they will probably not warp? The wood species is red oak and the width of the panels is typical for kitchen upper and lower cabinets.

I have done plywood panel finished ends on cabinets with all melamine interiors and just left them unfinished on the inside with no trouble. I am not too sure that will work for 3/4" thick solid wood panels.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor R:
If they are going to be painted then seal both sides at the same time and your worries are over.

From the original questioner:
As I think I mentioned above, the panels get lacquered. I am unable to lacquer the outsides of the panels until after the cabinets are assembled and sanded. I am unable to lacquer the insides of the panels after the cabinets are assembled because the inside of the panel will be covered by melamine panels.

From contributor F:

If the conditions in your shop don't change appreciably I don't think there will be a problem.

From contributor D:
I kind of agree with Contributor F even though some people freak out about finishing both sides equally. I've gotten away with not doing it plenty, but if you're unsure, could you skin the inside with melamine after all is said and done? Then you could brush a coat or two on the back of the wooden panel to avoid overspray on the inside.

From contributor B:
Why not finish the back of panel and do the face up until the last coat. Leave that off until after assembly.

From contributor T:
Contributor F has it right. Your concern and question are reasonable, but the world is full of cabinets (furniture) that are only finished on the exterior and are doing just fine. Think 100 year old roll-top desks with raised panel sides, back and ends - no one put a coat of anything on the unseen areas.

From contributor R:
On raised panel doors that we build in the shop, I like to seal the backs thoroughly and then stain and seal the raised panels before assembly of the rails and stiles. I find this works well in case of any panel shrinkage late on (no unfinished lines around the panels.)

Is it necessary? I really doubt it; I've seen many old cabinets and furniture with unfinished backs hold up well. However, if the panels fail or cup etc and the backs are not sealed who do you think will catch the blame?