Minimum Finish Room Space for a Small Shop

A startup cabinet shop owner in a small rural market with no commercial finishers asks about a basic finish-room setup for his shop.October 19, 2013

Question (WOODWEB Member) :
I will be breaking ground on a new shop come spring to start a cabinet business - part time at first and then transitioning into full time. Iím looking at 1,600 square feet right now and the budget doesn't leave a lot of room for more at this time. I'd like to have a dedicated finishing room but obviously there's not a lot of extra space. What's the minimum room size I could get away with for spraying finishes? Would 8x12 be a joke? Sounds like I'd also need a separate area for flash off outside the finishing room?

I'll try to sub out as much of the finishing as I can but I'm in a rural area (NW Iowa) and so far I haven't found anyone in the area that does finishing. I'd have to get another shop with its own booth to do it for me. So I'd like to have a room set up for learning and hopefully, eventually, spraying my own finishes.

Also, is there anything better than a brushing lacquer for hand application of finishes? I realize hand application is far from ideal but I need something I can go to if my schedule doesn't work out with the shop doing my finishing. Understandably their projects would come first. I have no experience with spray finishes so any advice is appreciated.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor G:
I have no opinion on hand applied finished but a small, open-faced booth won't take up much room and will allow you to spray much, much faster/productive. Since you're just starting out and it is a part-time gig, you can probably shut down the dust making activity and dedicate whatever time to just finishing. This way you can stack wet parts all over the shop for them to dry without worry of trash getting into the finish.

From contributor F:
There are plenty of different options out there you just have to find the one that works for you and your potential clients. Some of the super expensive kitchen cabinetry on the market today is hand painted and believe me they make a big deal about the fact that it is hand painted. You may also try to outsource the finishing. I know some shops prefer this as they want nothing to do with the finishing aspect of the job. Also as mentioned already you can get a small open faced booth and an inexpensive spray setup and try it yourself.

I work out of a 1700 square foot shop and it's not nearly big enough. I dedicate roughly 200 square feet to the finishing booth and it's not enough. I still manage to get work out the door though so it is what it is. Always go for as much room as you can. From there make the best use of the space you can.

From the original questioner:
I'd dismissed the idea of an open booth but you've made me think twice about it. I suppose since I'll be a one man shop and low volume, at least at first, there's no way I'll be running equipment and finishing at the same time. That's certainly something I'll look into further.

From contributor J:
An open face booth is nice as a one man. It forces you to keep your shop relatively clean, and works well. If you grow and need to be sanding/cutting/whatever at the same time you can always build some walls around it to form a room and keep the dust out.

From Contributor N:
The best space saver (and time saver) for finishing is a vertical stacking rack for your doors, drawer fronts, and smaller panels. I have the Hafele rack that holds 50 doors and it's a fantastic piece of equipment. Check in the Knowledge Base for pictures of shop made ones. Pair this with an open-faced booth and you're in business.

From contributor R:
It gets cold in your part of the country, so you really need a room. It's not just spray and work, it off-gasses for quite a while and you'll really need to be able to control temp, venting, and dust. You have to learn to spray if you want to squeak any kind of living out of this profession. It's not just time saving while getting the finish on, it's time saving for leveling and buffing the hand applied that will kill you. You might consider rolling walls, or hinge up panels. Breathing all those fumes in an open booth/ small shop will shorten anyoneís life.

From contributor I:
If you have little or no room to dedicate for curing/off gassing, you may want to consider spraying waterborne. My opinion is that this is ultimately going to be better than brushing a typical consumer finish. The better waterborne coatings all dry to the touch within 15-20 minutes at the most, sometimes less depending on the weather. After that there is no odor, or significant off-gassing. Take a look at Target Coatings.

I have been in plenty of shops that spray solvent lacquer or CV without a closed off, ventilated curing area. Even in the larger shops you can smell the fumes in the entire building. Your concerns are warranted, and that shows you know what you are going to be dealing with.

In terms of wiping finishes, I generally stick to non-film forming varnishes. I still use Watco Danish Oil from time to time when appropriate. The stuff is easy to apply and practically fool proof. I have not had a chance to try their products yet, but a lot of people recommend Sutherland and Welles.

Wiping or brushing any film forming finishes can be a can of worms if you want professional results. Laying down a perfect finish with a brush is a lost art. Doing so economically would be an even greater challenge. I am sure there are guys who can do this, and they are probably laughing at the majority of us who are dependent on our spray equipment, but that is the reality most of the time.

From Contributor B:
Have you considered any of the WB finishes? Easy to spray, fewer fire/OSHA issues, and more efficient finishing than hand applied.

From the original questioner:
I'm very interested in WB finishes. Figured since I'm starting from scratch I might as well start there.

From contributor S:
I have a tiny shop. I have lots of Hafele racks, an open face spray booth and a small drying room. I've had the fewest problems with General Finishes WB. My go-to finish, mostly for furniture and solid wood is Osmo Polyx hard wax oil. I'm very good at brushing when I need to since I don't spray solvent coatings. I would love to outsource finishing but itís ridiculously expensive in my area.

From Contributor B:
Try Target finishes. I've had real good luck and results with them. They can be used in the weather you get in Iowa, in all seasons which is a plus.

From contributor Y:
My shop measures 28 x 40. I have a 12 x 16 finishing room accessed by double doors six feet wide. For most jobs it is adequate. Finishing larger cabinets like pantries is a little tight at times. As a one man shop I finish at the end of the week, usually on Saturdays. I spray throughout the day and exhaust the fumes while spraying. In the evening I turn on the fan for a few minutes to bring in fresh air. By Monday morning there is just a slight hint of the finish smell. I use solvent based CV products because the waterborne products I've used off-gas (ammonia smell) just as much. There is a wall of intake filters and an explosion proof fan sized to the room inside a 4 foot x 6 foot filter box. For safety sake I have in-floor hot water heat run off an electric boiler, explosion proof lights, and fire extinguishers. Whether you spray, brush, or wipe finishes be concerned about the fumes during drying/curing.