Should a Cabinetmaker Take Up Finishing?

A cabinetmaker considers bringing finish operations in house, and get advice both pro and con. May 11, 2006

We have been making custom cabinetry in the Los Angeles area for over 15 years. We pay our finisher over $100,000 a year for lacquer based paint and stain finishing and the price seems to be going up every month. In the past 15 years, we have learned a lot about lacquer finishing, but when I read some of your postings, the info seems overwhelming. Still, we are considering purchasing a spray booth and some guns and hiring someone with experience to work for us. It seems that finding experienced finishers would not be hard in our area. If there is anyone out there with some advice, I would love to here from you!

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor S:
You will learn experienced finishers will be hard to find, but spray technicians will be relatively easy to find. What I would call an experienced finisher would border on being a magician.

From contributor W:
In the L.A. area, finding the finisher may not be the problem. I have seen many posts on this forum about the compliance problems in CA. From the fire marshal to the EPA, it still may be cheaper to stick with the outside finisher until you can find your way through the red tape.

From contributor C:
There may be good reasons for doing your own finishing, but I'll bet that you won't save money that way. If that is your motivation, you are likely to have a nasty surprise. I know that the outfits that I work for here bring me jobs that are incredibly difficult. Ask yourself what a couple of serious mistakes over, say, the next year, are likely to cost you. How much to strip and refinish a couple of cabinets here and a whole kitchen there? How much for lost customer confidence (or even a couple of lost customers)? How much intangible loss when you deliver a job a week or two late?

From contributor B:
And you also need to consider those big bucks paid out to improve the lifestyle of your finisher! My finisher was leaving so many mistakes that I realized I could do just as badly and pocket the difference. And now I found out I can do a better job. And I don't have to pack up everything for the round trip to his shop. Sure, it's another skill to learn, but so what? The time I spent finishing paid very well. And making money is the same if building the boxes or finishing them. Think about all the money paid out for materials, hardware, doors, drawer boxes, finishing, delivery and installation. And where you can save the expense. And put that in your pocket.

From contributor E:
I recommend you set up your booth and take on a few small projects before you cut your main finisher loose. You'll discover the finish work is harder than it looks. Items like dealing with color/stain problems and an occasional bad batch of material can make a novice run for cover. Get your feet wet (so to speak). It took me years of being around my so-called experts to get a feel for what I can and can not do in my booth. I still call in a hit man when there's something I'm not completely confident with. Squeezing the Kremlin trigger is the easy part. Dealing with the chemicals is where the action is. Prove to yourself you can do what he does. That's the test.

From contributor T:
I also subbed out my finishing for a couple of years. I brought it all in house for a couple of reasons. First was scheduling; I had problems with timeliness on my finisher's end as well as the inability to accommodate last minute rush projects or reworks from field installation errors, etc. Second was cost. I could pay them and their profit margin or bring it in house and keep the profit for myself. Doing my own finishing has made me much more money than most other parts of the build/install process. The best advice I can give is to find one system and one local supplier. Our local supplier offers day long training seminars that are invaluable. Their sales reps are also extremely knowledgeable and available whenever I need help or advice. They also do color matching for a nominal fee - frees up a lot of time. Find a system that you like. Develop as simple a finish schedule as you can and stick to it so there aren't any surprises.