Refinishing Kitchen Cabinets on Site

Here's an in-depth discussion of the difficulties of re-finishing a kitchen full of cabinetry in place. June 30, 2014

I have agreed to look at repainting kitchen cabs installed on site. I have always steered away from this in the past. The insides of the boxes are original (dark stain with a varnish or poly finish applied from a can). The box exteriors, doors, and drawer fronts have been painted over and are now latex. I would like to use one primer product and one top coat product for both interiors and exteriors if possible, and I would like to use a durable catalyzed/conversion product rather than big box latex or alkyd oil. I would also like to go over the existing latex without stripping or sanding it off. Is this possible? If so, what should I use?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor J:
I would not go that route, but you are the one who has to decide what you are willing to stand behind.

From contributor O:
I do not think what you want to do is such a good idea. You cannot spray a CV over latex paint and expect it to adhere. Also just spraying a full kitchen on site is very difficult. The boxes will produce massive amounts of over-spray. I really don't know how you would get a quality result on site. This is one job I would pass up.

From contributor F:
These types of issues are why I stay away from on-site refinish jobs. Spraying a CV over old latex is asking for trouble. It breaks the age old rule of not putting a hard finish over a soft one. Even if there is no initial problems it opens up a Pandora's box of potential issues down the road - poor adhesion, cracking and etc. No matter how good your finish is it will only ever be as good as the finish underneath it.

From contributor W:
We have refinished a lot of kitchens in our 40 years. Painting is much easier than staining, so hereís what I would do. First, do nothing to the insides of the cabinets. The only way I would agree to do this is if the frames, doors and drawers are stripped down to bare wood, sanded, primed and painted off-site. Try to avoid spraying on-site but if you have to itís not all that hard - it will take a lot of masking. Note that paint remover will kill vinyl flooring.

From Contributor B:
First, I completely agree with the no hard finish over soft finish comments. Second, having done on-site work such as this make sure you build a lot of extra time for prep into your quote. You'll be loading and unloading a lot of equip., spending loads of time setting up masking, venting, drop cloths, and lastly cleanup.

From contributor N:
I do 6-12 refinishes a year and I agree that it's a lot of work. WB's make for great refinish materials especially if the house is occupied; little initial odor, no out-gassing, fast drying, no flammability concerns and pretty darn durable (I'd say as good as most pre-cat finishes with some that are better) and if you prep your surface well they can be applied over most sound finishes, so no need to strip. Even if I'm finishing the doors and drawers in the shop with solvent CV I'll re-finish the site work with WB. I'll spray the big stuff; end panels, refer box and etc. and brush out the edge banding or face-frames. I've found cleaning with Dirt Tex (fairly strong ammonia spray on cleaner) sprayed on then wet sanded with a Scotch-Brite and then wiped off with a clean rag works great for surfaces you don't plan to strip.

From contributor N:
If youíre considering going WB and the job is for a pigmented finish I don't mix the two (solvent in the shop and WB on-site) I just go WB all the way. I've been getting good results and happy customers with the following finish schedule:

Clean/prep with the Dirt Tex.
One coat pigmented shellac.
Two coats Target WB 6500 pigmented lacquer.
One or two coats Target 7000 clear lacquer or 9000 clear poly/acrylic.

I think the 7000 gives a smoother finish but the 9000 is tougher. Yes four-five coats is a lot of work so make sure you get paid for it.

From the original questioner
I have decided to not go this route, but I've been given a lot of food for thought. I'm actually considering going to mostly WB finishing for all projects. They just seem to have come such a long way.

From contributor M:
I do the occasional kitchen refinishing myself and I just did a fairly large kitchen. Given what you have said I think you made the right decision not to do it. Here is what I can offer for others reading this. First off, I do not do stain re-finish work on existing doors and cabinets. I will only top off with paint (solid colors). If they want a brand new looking stain job, I will talk them into getting new stained doors (sprayed in the shop with CV) and maybe brush on a new clear coat (Deft brush lacquer usually) on the face frames. I will not strip and stain face frames in the house under any circumstance unless the house is uninhabited. Even then, it shall be expensive.

1. If the existing doors have any latex paint, either suggest to them to get new doors and start fresh, or just paint them with latex again and tell the customer that they will not last long unless they pamper them. Offer no warranty.

2. If the doors are painted with oil based, repaint with oil based with a good primer in between. Do the same with the face frames.

3. If the doors are lacquered, take them to the shop and sand with 120, spray with white vinyl primer, and top with precat paint (yes, I have done this, no, I have not had trouble with it).

4. If the face frames are lacquered I put on a bonding primer and top coat with oil based that is color matched to the doors I just sprayed. You do have to let the customers know the sheen will slightly vary. If they are not ok with this in writing, then I don't do the job. The kitchen I just did here was all in black, and the customers are wonderfully thrilled with the result.

From the original questioner
This is pretty much what I am doing. The boxes are being recoated in latex, with new doors and drawer fronts being finished with the good stuff back at the shop. I used to re-paint cabinet doors that had a CL or CV finish all the time with a vinyl primer and then fresh CV or CL. I'm wondering why some pros would have a problem with this?

From contributor N:
One more thing that we've overlooked in this thread but is often a big and often frustrating part of the job (especially for us finishers) is the removing and replacing of the doors, drawer fronts and their respective hardware and the transporting to and from the shop. Depending on the size of the job, type of hinge and the way the drawer fronts are mounted this process can eat up the better part of two days. Of course if you have new doors and drawer fronts no need to worry.

If you are dealing with this I always forewarn the customer (and put in the contract) that I'm a finisher, not an installer, and although I'll do my best at the re-installing the fine tuning of the adjustments usually takes an experienced hand and that I'll recommend someone for the work, but the cost of that work is not included in my price.