We are a small company and we do most of our own standard finishing (stain and clear coat). Six months ago, we had a kitchen job that required a white lacquer finish. Because I had never done colored finishes, we decided to play it safe and sub out the finish.
At the customer's request, we made the face frames, doors and drawer fronts out of solid paint grade maple (rock maple, not soft maple) and all exposed sides out of one-sided melamine/maple.
The finisher used Trinity brand sanding sealer and a pre-cat lacquer, also Trinity brand. He applied three coats of sanding sealer, sanding between coats, then two coats of finish. They looked good, except I thought that the edges looked a little light. Within a month, some of the doors and drawer fronts started to chip and flake off, mainly around the edges. The funny thing is that the finish came off all the way down to the bare wood. Could someone shed light on why this happened?
From contributor R:
What reason has the finisher given you for this happening? Since the edges looked starved to you, I'm wondering if they were eased? Some cabinetmakers like to just break an edge. Breaking an edge just gives you two more edges on which the paint can chip or peel. Slightly rounding an edge assures that if there's three coats of material on a surface, there's going to be three coats of material on an edge.
In any event, you do have a defective finish, not from the manufacturer but from the finisher. Always look at operator error first and you will usually find the pesky detail where the error is.
Precat on a kitchen is risky enough just from exposure and wear that the coating will receive. Add to the risk a finish schedule which seems funky and then turns out to behave according to the funkiness in which the finish was applied and there you go, a failing finish.
Your finisher can strip and start over. Onsite stripping of the frames and attached millwork is interesting work. The doors and drawers can be stripped off-premises, so that's no biggie.
Finish only fails, in a nutshell, because of:
The importance of detail in the prep work cannot be stressed enough!
If it is not sanded correctly or uniformly,
If there is contaminate on the surface or in the crack,
If it is not clean,
If it is not stripped right,
If it is not smooth to begin with,
If the steps of finishing are not followed properly,
If the dry and coating windows are not followed…
The finish will fail!
What you describe is an adhesion problem. Most likely sanded too smooth at whitewood level and burnished rather than sanded. Not clean of fine sanding powder can also be a culprit. Seal coat should have been a primer/sealer coat going with pigmented pre-cat. I would opt for Optiset by Chemcraft as topcoat. Done well with it for years.
While it is your finisher's problem, it's your customer and your problem. Your image and reputation is what's at stake, not his. The client hired you. If it means finding another finisher, move on it. Speed of service and communication is important. I've had nightmare job issues, but when the client sees rapid communication, no avoidance, and something being done, they have always been patient and happy in the end, in my experience.
Comment from contributor L:
It's a moisture failure. If any part of the cabinet face frames or doors did not get a sufficient build of sealer and finish, water will find a way into the wood and migrate through the film and escape. This process swells the wood fibers, then as the moisture evaporates, they shrink, causing the finish to lose mechanical adhesion to the wood surface. Maple is a tough wood to finish in any case. I try to steer people away from maple for that reason alone.