Whether to Spray-Finish Cabinets on Site

Finishing on site is more troublesome, but may have some advantages. May 12, 2008

I don't understand spray finishing after install. Doesn't it take a lot of time to tape and cover everything up? And it will just make a mess of overspray. You guys that do it, why do you choose to? Why not finish everything at the shop, then go install everything and be done?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor V:
I've been thinking about this too. I've done site finish, and I've done pre-finished. I think you've got more control when you finish it in the shop, but there are definitely jobs which need site finishing. I prefer taking it to the site already finished. It takes more planning, but less actual time on site.

From contributor C:
When you must paint inside, if you have positive cross ventilation through a filtered fan, a Kremlin you are familiar with, the absence of a bunch of through traffic, agreeable season of the year so you can ventilate, masking tape, rolls of plastic, rubber coated drop cloths, air compressor, pail to wash up in, place to dispose of washup byproducts, sticks to stir your finish, rags to wipe with, vacuum to get rid of the dust, solvents, ford cup, finish, sandpaper to touch up with before you vacuum, water cooler, porta-john, pickup truck with torn tarp, 3.50 gallon gas, warm fully equipped shop with all the spare parts?

From contributor J:
Most of the jobs that are finished on site are done by professional painters. Depending on the region of the country you are in, this could be common or not so much. Most of the new homes in my area specify unfinished cabinets, then the contractor subs out the painting of the house, cabinets, and any other woodwork. As far as taping off, forget it. They do all of the painting, so they do it in an order that will prevent most of the taping off. This is only done in new construction in most cases. Remodels are to be pre-finished.

From contributor K:
Here's how it works for me. My painter gives me a better price if he is able to spray a job in the shop. And of course you eliminate a lot of the problems encountered on-site (dust, fumes, etc.). However... much of the custom stuff I do can be so unique that it comes down to "designing on the fly." In this situation, they will spray everything possible in the shop, then I install and am able to alter and sand as needed, then they come in and spray the whole thing. It comes out seamless, but the upcharge is about 20% to 30%. It's a pain for the painters - they need special fans and their insurance rates are higher for on-site work. So in answer to your question... sometimes it just makes sense to spray on-site. Sometimes it doesn't. No question that it is easier to spray first. Here in the Northeast, my customers want a top shelf job and are willing to pay extra to get it.

From contributor R:
Around my area, we typically install unfinished, but that has changed to about half pre-finished. Most of my work is unfinished and I have a painter that is far more professional than most cabinetmakers, so the end result is much better than most pre-finished cabinets. I don't mean to say that cabinet shops don't have good painters, but a guy that does only painting is likely to get very good at it. I find that it is difficult to install pre-finished cabinets. For instance, nailing on the finished crown molding is far from perfect. Also, I find that some parts need to be sanded in place after installation to look seamless. That isn't possible with pre-finished cabinets. I agree that with remodels, pre-finishing offers a better way to go for the customer since they usually are living in the house. But even then, I usually install unfinished after explaining the quality differences. I have yet to have a customer unhappy that we finished in place. However, I have lost jobs by not offering to pre-finish.

From contributor B:
I spray everything in the shop now, but I used to refinish on site. The company I worked for decided to use water borne lacquer to keep the fumes down and the cleanup easy, which did work, but you have to have a dedicated setup for the water borne finishes, and yes, the tape-offs were difficult.