I built some kitchen cabinets five years ago for a customer out of cherry and finished with a Minwax cherry stain with minimum of six coats of sprayed lacquer (Home Depot's nitrocellulose satin). Everything looked great when I installed them... now the cabinet finish looks terrible. A white haze has developed where water has contacted the cabinets and the finish is very rough overall. Customer is not happy. What are my options? Sand, restain and spray with a better lacquer? What are my chances of having a visit from the local fire department if I were to seal off the kitchen and respray the cabinets? This is why I stick to cabinetmaking... not finishing!
From contributor D:
A better lacquer? The Home Depot sold Parks lacquer. There is nothing wrong with Parks lacquer. There is and was something wrong with your selection of that finish. Lacquer should not be used as a finishing system for kitchen or bathroom cabinetry. It lacks durability and performance as you are now finding out.
Onsite refinishing is done all the time. Will a fire marshal allow such an activity? No. If you are incorporated or if you have employees, will OSHA allow such activities? No. Can you or your company get away with such activities? It is done all the time. You need proper safeguards, common sense and care. For example, do some companies spray finishes without taping over electrical outlets? Yes, even though this common source of spark is easy to deal with. Door and drawer fronts can be refinished in your shop or wherever you want to set up for that. Cases and side panels can be refinished onsite.
Begin by washing everything down with TSP and water. Don't strip dirty surfaces. Onsite stripping is done either by sanding off the original finish or by using chemical strippers. Obviously, sanding is safer. But chemical stripping does not create sand throughs in veneers. To sand off a finish, start with those very nice Sandvik scrapers. Then, finish sand using your random orbit and final sand using a sanding block and the right grit sandpaper. Wash and rinse with lacquer thinner.
This response is not a primer on onsite finishing. It is a grand overview of what faces you should you go ahead with that option. Choose a topcoat/finish system that matches the intended use of your projects. Kitchen and bath cabinetry deserves to have either catalyzed lacquer, conversion varnish, polyester, 2k polyurethane or a precatalyzed lacquer that is tried and true in terms of performance. The subtitle of Bob Flexner's "Understanding Wood Finishing" is "How to Select and Apply the Right Finish." What a great book. It opened my eyes and it still does.
After 5 years, do you still feel it's your responsibility to refinish these cabinets? Or is the customer paying you to re-do these units? Is it just the doors and drawer fronts that are bad or is it the face frames as well? You could do some hand sanding with 220 till you get it smooth again and seal it with a dewaxed shellac to act as a barrier, then apply some new finish on top of that.
Since 5 years ago when you did these cabinets, they looked fine, and now they look terrible, I would not be so fast to condemn the lacquer. I would blame the customer for not caring for her cabinets. I bet the bottom cabinets and those not near the sink or oven are still in good condition. Also, the customer could have caused the problem by using some harsh cleaners or polishes that created or added to the problem.
By the way, customer is my in-laws. As long as I am married to their daughter, I "own" the cabinets!