Glazing and Toning over Clear Lacquer

Detailed advice on formulas and application methods that will achieve a dark walnut tone on oak cabinets that already have a coat of clear lacquer. May 17, 2005

How do you apply glaze over a clear lacquer finish without striping the cabinet? I've done a couple sets and I use lacquer stain 10% in lacquer finish, using a toning technique. Looks okay, but seems like there should be an easier way, with better results.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
Sounds like you're shading and/or toning, not glazing. What sort of "better results" are you looking for and what difficulties are you having?

From the original questioner:
I read Bob Flexner's book, and he said if you want one color across the entire surface, it was toning, and if you wanted highlights, it was shading, but that the term was used in both ways.

I want to change the color entirely. I have a set of oak cabinets done clear lacquer, in good shape. The last set I sprayed lacquer stain mixed with lacquer finish, but after spraying a raised panel door, the finish seems cloudy and doesn't seem to get all the way in the nooks and crannies. Should I tone and then use a gel stain to get all the recesses, and let dry, then top with clear lacquer? How do I get a color change without striping the cabinets?

From contributor D:
Shading/toning - a process by which you bring up a color (tone), to either even out a color or enhance a color. Usually done by spray application, but may also be done with brushes and rags.

Glazing - a process by which an accent color is applied to bring out the details (recesses) in a piece. Glazes may be applied to the entire piece or just specific spots. This is sort of a forced perspective; you are forcing the shadow and light perspective regardless of the lighting on any specific spot. A white kitchen with raised panel doors may have a lot of details - inside and outside routed edges, beading, roping, etc. - but from a distance, these details go mostly unnoticed. Add a little glaze to the mix and the detail jumps out at you.

Take a trip to any stock cabinet shop and look through their sample doors. You'll find several glazing samples in various colors. Pick the one that most resembles the finish you are trying to achieve and start problem solving. What is the base color? Where is the glaze on the sample (recesses, flats, high spots)? What is the glaze color? Is the glaze applied to the entire sample and removed or just applied to specific spots? Answer the questions and the finish schedule will develop for you.

From contributor C:
I often do glaze with an overall even toned finish to change the hue of cabinet sets. Since you are going over a lacquer finish, I suggest that you do not use a lacquer based glaze. The problem is that straight lacquers are able to re-dissolve the previous coats when a new one is shot on. This makes it difficult to control the color depth and still get an even and smoothly laid coat. The coat that you are shooting on is biting into the undercoats and they are sucking the solvents out of your topcoat, leaving you with an overly dry surface that isn't well wetted out (unless you spray more finish, which over darkens the color). I think you will have better luck if you either seal coat the existing finish and then shoot your glaze over the seal coat, or use a water base glaze medium that will act in a self-sealing way. Of course, you must scuff sand the lacquer surface before shooting either of these products, because they will not burn in like the lacquer does. I have had excellent results shooting breakthrough over lacquers. I use a satin clear and then tint it myself to get the right sort of hue shift. It is very helpful to shoot the first glaze coat a bit on the light side, as it is very easy to shoot another coat (possibly diluted with more clear finish), but quite difficult to remove some color if you get it too dark.

From the original questioner:
By seal coat, do you mean vinyl or shellac? And will a water based glaze adhere to the clear lacquer? What I want to do is spray a base stain color over the clear, and then apply the same color stain in another method to achieve a uniform color. She wants a walnut color on the cabinets. The way I do maple and the way I would do this set of oak cabs are exactly the same - lacquer stain mixed with lacquer sanding sealer or finish, and then clear. But they just don't come out right.

I should tell you why I don't apply wiping stain directly to the wood. I did my first maple staircase about two years ago. The owner had a designer talk with me about the color, and the designer asked me to make it similar to golden oak by Minwax, so I did a piece of the skirting veneer. (Don't do samples in the veneers - use solid pieces.) She liked it. So I proceeded to stain the whole staircase with Minwax golden oak. The owner didn't like it, and of course asked other finishers how to do maple and was told not to stain it directly. I didn't know that. So that cost me 4 thousand. Now I don't use oil stain on maple. The only other stain I found was lacquer, but like this set of cabinets, when I tone it on the cabinets to achieve the color I want, it just doesn't look right. I think (correct me If I'm wrong) that I should washcoat, oil stain, toning sealer, followed by clear. My problems start when I use the toning technique either over bare maple or over a clear lacquer. I hope this makes sense. If you have different techniques, I would love to try them.

From contributor C:
I would spray a coat of clear satin Breakthrough that I had tinted to a walnut hue (raw umber and/or burnt umber with maybe a little burnt sienna). Then I'd follow that with a second coat of the same material with much less tint and perhaps with just a little black or raw umber added. I'd follow up with a clear coat of the satin Breakthrough clear. As I said in my first post, you have to scuff sand before coating over the lacquer and you'd also need to de-nib or scuff sand between coats. Yes, the breakthrough will stick to the lacquer if you do it as I've suggested, and will also provide a far more durable surface than the original lacquer.

I've done some over water based finish, but I've also done them over NC lacquers with excellent results. The most likely source of problems is fisheye hassles due to Pledge contamination. Careful cleaning and a couple of thinly sprayed barrier coats of the Breakthrough clear satin will minimize the problem (if it does exist... and you have to assume that it will). Check the archives here for more info on dealing with fisheye and silicone contamination... it's a very complex subject.

From the original questioner:
So thin coats will reduce the fish eyes and keep the Breakthrough from running? Spraying waterbased does sound nice. I shot a white wash oak staircase once using Varathane. Would not stop running. I prefer the chem based products only because I can add stuff to make them flash. I'm at the mercy of water. I'm going to try a sample in your technique. Will the finish have a more uniform appearance?

From contributor J:
Degrease cabinets, quick scuff coat 220, clean, make my own glaze and add a base color similar to the walnut, getting it as dark as I can without streaking too bad (a little would be fine to replicate a walnut wood). Vinyl sealer (I'm going with the quick finish because I want to make money), sponge sand block everything and clean. Bring color together with a toner and apply two coats, one right after another, to finish. The way I figure it, the homeowner isn't popping for walnut because they're cheap, so why should I apply a more expensive coating when all they'd say is that's too much? Lacquer it is!

From Paul Snyder, forum technical advisor:
The best way to change natural oak to a walnut color is to strip the old finish and start over. A walnut dye, washcoat, burnt umber or Van Dyke brown glaze, optional toner, a couple topcoats and it'll look great. Or just a good walnut stain will look good; oak stains well. What you're looking to do is build all the color above the wood. It can be done, but it'll look a little weird. If stripping isn't an option, here's a technique you can try on the back of a door and see what the customer thinks.

* Scuff sand the lacquer with 320 and follow with maroon Scotchbrite to remove the scratches.
* Wipe a burnt umber or Van Dyke brown glaze over the surface, leaving a thin layer of color (a little extra in the recesses if you want).
* Once the glaze flashes, seal with a coat of vinyl.
* Smooth with Scotchbrite.
* Add 1-2 ounces of walnut dye to a quart of highly thinned lacquer and "fog" this color on at low volume and pressure. Try to get the color in one coat if you can.
* Topcoat

There are some variations you can try also:
* Skip the glaze and get all the color from the toner coat(s).
* Add a little of the stain to the toner (dye in thinned lacquer) to boost the color. Don't use too much stain/pigment or you'll get a semi-transparent look.

From contributor C:
The satin Breakthrough sprays like a dream, but don't make the mistake of using the gloss because it is so excessively retarded that you'll think you are reliving your Varathane nightmare again. I've used a tinted even glaze that was followed with a very dark (near black) glaze which was wiped back to leave the distressing black and also to introduce the grainy streaking. If you just do the spray work and not the manipulated glazing, you'll have a much smoother and more even look... though the strong oak grain will show through much more than the wimpy maple grain would have. Yes, thin, quick flashing coats are less vulnerable to the ravages of fisheye. A good cleaning with TSP is also helpful as a first step in the fisheye defense.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor A:
There is a problem of applying darker stains (sometimes only a shade) to the end grain of almost any wood. If you are going to stain cabinets or turned pieces such as balustrades anywhere that the end grain will show your stain will come out several shades darker, if not blackish when you apply to raw unsealed wood. The problem is exaggerated on softer woods like alder, birch, and of course the spruce family. It might be a desired effect if you want to pull these areas into shadow visually. It might help to be aware that when you try to remove that stain the capillaries pull the stain into the wood far deeper than sanding will allow removal of. Anytime a bias to the grain is exposed, you have to plan on this effect. There are many sealers on the market and they accept a variety of stains without beading, etc.