- Dull and Duller — the Quest for the Dead Flat Finish

When you need a finish that's flatter than Kansas, add as much flatting agent as you can and apply in very light mist coats. June 28, 2006

We are trying to match a sheen that's pretty dull for some cabinets in an existing house. We got the color right, but the sheen is "maxed out". We are using ML Campbell's Magnamax and have added their acid-cure flatting paste to it to the maximum amount, which is basically one step duller than their "dull". This still isn't quite what we need. Since this is a pricey job I'd hate to add more flatting paste than they recommend (10% volume) and have issues. Rubbing with steel wool is fruitless - it makes it more glossy (even 0 steel wool) and it leaves obvious streaks. So how does one do this? The original cabinets were done by a big box with pigmented CV.

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor A:
Thin out the dull (15º) Magnamax to about 50%, then shoot on two coats. Won't have as much protection as a normal full coat would but it should give you the sheen you're looking for. For more protection you can start with a vinyl sealer.

From contributor B:
You can flatten with powder instead of paste and go past the 10%. Your dealer will have to shake it in for you. Check the Knowledge Base, too.

From contributor C:
I think that Chemcraft makes a 5 sheen precat, but if you need to flatten it out more than that, try a maroon scotch brite pad.

From contributor D:
If you have access to an ICA Chemicals dealer, try their line of products.I believe they have a dull finish called Cerawood and looks and feels like a flat wax finish. I have not used it personally, but have seen completed projects and the coating is out of this world.

From contributor E:
Working on samples, try shooting a quick mist coat. This can get to an extremely flat look and is quite adjustable too as you can adjust nozzle/aircap sizes and air/fluid settings as well as application technique to get pretty much whatever you want. I've seen it used to get really nice eggshell finishes with very glossy material. With fine satin finish I have imitated the sheen of matte formica in this manner. Best technique is to lay it onto a base of a full wet coat that is just set and still tacky so that it bonds well. I'd really rather do it this way than to use a lot of flatters as the durability is degraded less.

From contributor F:
You need to be very careful when you’re trying to completely dull out the sheen. As you already know, any rubbing only will only bring up a sheen or leave markings in the coating. You may be just wasting your time and money - with very little solids and lots of flattening compound that's what happens.

From contributor D:
Too much flattening agent can lead to a novelty finish known as a crackle finish.

From contributor G:
The best advice has already been given. This is the light mist coat. The thicker you put on a flat coating the shinier it gets since the flattening agents sink. By putting the film on thin they have no choice but to stand up and refract light which is what you want. Build as much as you want but for the last coat. After the build coats have completely dried, try a fast light coat. This will give you the best you can do.

From contributor H:
Contributor G hit the nail on the head. So, I'll add, the thinner you can build your finish with your dead flat, the deader and flatter your finish will be. You want a close-to-the-grain look. Since you will have less than the 4-5 dry mils of finish film, don't expect your finish to have the durability it's rated to have. That durability only comes when you have the proper amount of dry mil thickness. You have to sacrifice durability for sheen. You want to build as little film as possible, maybe 3 dry mils at the max.

The reason that steel wool or scotch brites are not good enough is that as dull as their scratch patterns seem to be, the scratching is still burnishing your film, raising the sheen above that which you need it to be.

From contributor F:
In coating theory, you build with gloss and end off with the duller sheen. There is a balance when you reduce the solids and then increase the flattening agents. As contributor D mentioned, you could end up with a crackle finish if you go too far. It's a known fact, that on colored coatings you may get the dullest sheen, but you also will end up with a coating that will show up anything that is wiped or pressed across it. There is a limit.

From contributor I:
Just a clarification on contributor A's comment. I thought that thinning the product would increase the gloss. That's what my Campbell rep says, and the assumption that I have worked with.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for the advice, I'll print this out and use it. The advice on laying a final, thinned coat sounds like the ticket.

From contributor A:
If you thin the finish, less will end up on your project. It will not have the smooth glass like finish that will cause it to seem glossy. This is at the cost of protection, because you have less finish on the surface. I was playing around with thinning out some satin and noticed when I had a 50-50 ratio that the second coat was very flat looking. Even the third coat wasn't what I considered satin, and when I hit the fourth (equivalent to two coats at full unthinned satin) it started to look like the satin I have come to know.

From contributor B:
Depending on the look you want, you could add in some texture. That brings the gloss level down with a bang.