Getting a Higher Sheen on Existing Conversion Varnish

Trying to make a kitchen cabinet shinier, in place. October 19, 2013

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
A friend of mine (now a client that I try to avoid) bought a box kitchen (kit). The contractor decided to supply the cherry island in matte finish (didn't spec it, just completed it). The client wants to dress the plain ends and back with panel frames and mouldings, etc. but wants a satin sheen, not the dull matte. Is there a way to either buff the existing CV or get something to stick to it? Worse yet it has to be completed on-site.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor C:
It will be easier and faster to shoot a coat on it. Rubbing to a satin from a dull evenly will be very tough, if not impossible for someone who doesn't do this kind of finish every day.

From Contributor G:
I don't think you will be able to get a dull sheen to a satin sheen. You have a finish with flattening paste in it, and no amount of buffing or re-coating will eliminate that flattening paste. It might make it shinier, but it will still be a flat finish with a shiny coat on it.

From the original questioner:
This is less than 25 square feet of coverage. I don't have any CV on hand (and don't want to have to buy a gallon), I have only pre-catalyzed lacquer. Do I have a chance of getting it to adhere? The exposed areas will be vertical surfaces aproximately 8" x 20".

From contributor M:
You could go from matte to glossy in one single (messy) step if you used a rotary buffer (not a random orbit buffer) and 3M Finesse-It 2 (that "2" is critical). I have sprayed a lot of my woodturnings with conversion varnish (MLC Krystal) and let it cure 24 hours and then buff it with one application of the 3M. It puts a very quick gloss on it.

From the original questioner:
I'm just trying to get from matte to satin, for two reasons. The first being that she's not crazy about the matte finish on her cherry island and it's what I have on hand. Like I was saying, this has turned into a favor job as her kitchen guy has really taken advantage of her. I'm just dressing up the island with panel frames and mouldings, some bracket legs, and columns. Eyewash really, but it makes her happy. So, what I think what I'm going to try is to scuff the CV and top coat with pre-cat. Is this doable?

From contributor R:
The problem is that manufacturers put particulates in gloss to dull it down. You aren't going to get a true glassy rub-out without using high gloss material.

From contributor M:
I can't speak for all types of finishes, but you can achieve a fairly shockingly glossy finish by using the right buffing material as long as the finish as been cured for a few weeks, in terms of conversion varnish and 2K polyurethane. I've seen countertops sprayed with dull 2K poly get buffed with 3M Finesse-It 2 and come out looking like they were soaking wet.

In my own work, I usually spray my woodturnings with the dull sheen conversion varnish we use in the cabinet shop. If I want a gloss finish, I just let it cure overnight and buff it on the lathe with the Finesse-It 2, and it looks like glass.

To the original questioner: You might have good luck getting a more satin finish by taking something a 2000 and 4000 grit Abralon pad and gently wet sanding the cabinets (follow the grain), and then follow up with a topcoat of furniture polish.

From the original questioner:
So what you're saying is that scuffing the CV finish and spraying a top coat of pre-catalyzed satin lacquer won't work?

From contributor M:
I'm sure it would work as long as the homeowner hasn't laid on a lot of furniture polish (silicone) yet, or else you may get fish eyes. Spraying a flammable solvent and highly obnoxious odor in a customer's house is something I nearly never recommend/do (meaning, not yet in my life and I intend never to). I'd lean more toward perhaps topping it with a waterborne so long as the finish provider can ensure a good adhesion to the undercoat she currently has. It's not necessarily any healthier in terms of chemicals, but it's not flammable.

From the original questioner:
The cabinets are brand new - never cleaned and the kitchen's not done yet. I'd have to spray two base cab ends approximately 12 square feet total before I apply the panel frames. I can open the windows (there are three) and the door to the garage to air it out. Anything else can be brought to my shop. I think that this will take less time and effort and create less mess than going at it with my buffer/polisher and compound. I've just been concerned about adhesion.

From contributor I:
I would try to use the same product line that the original commenter used. You have no idea what film thickness is on there, so you also should worry about cracking finish by exceeding manufacturers max film specs.

From contributor M:
Put a couple box fans in the doorways, blowing into the house (not out), and open the windows closest to you and remove the screens, if you really must spray inside the house. I also suggest you ensure the HVAC air handler is off. You need all the airflow you can get, and by blowing into the house from entryway doors, you'll be shoving air out of the windows. Just keep the box fans out of the line of fire of overspray, they are not explosion proof.

From the original questioner:
I should have asked the question about spraying pre-catalyzed lacquer over conversion varnish only, not all options. I'm resisting the sand/polish/buff because I have tried compounding out cabinet finishes in the past and it's not as easy as it sounds. Besides the mess, there is the danger of going through or burning the finish and then I'll be in trouble and have to strip, sand, and re-stain to match and re-finish. Thatís not where I'm looking to go. Contributor M - good advice on the air flow that will be the way to go.

From contributor M:
You can do pre-cat over conversion varnish. If you are worried, a quick coat of vinyl sealer before you spray the pre-cat can ensure a good bond, but I don't think it's necessary. I have sprayed whole kitchens done in CV with pre-cat. It was a white job with one coat of white vinyl primer (tinted to spec color), one coat of white pre-cat, and finished.

From contributor V:
I think that it is safe to say that the original finish is fully cured and there is no chance of going over the mil thickness limit with a several coats of new finish. He is effectively starting out at zero mils. There always seems to be so much confusion on this subject.