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February 10, 2022

 How to Spray Finish your Cabinetry

Cabinets make a statement in your kitchen. They occupy the most square footage in the room, drawing the eyes to their color, design and finish. Cabinetry defines the room's aesthetic, so if you're looking for a way to freshen up your kitchen, cabinets are the first place you should start. Fortunately, you don't have to tear everything out, start from scratch and wait months to use your kitchen again. Upgrading your cabinets with a new spray finish is a time-efficient, cost-effective and high quality solution that won't leave your home under construction for months on end or at the mercy of fluctuating costs and supply chain issues. 

In this guide, we'll walk you through the benefits of spray finishing to help you decide if it's the next right thing for your cabinets. Then we'll coach you through everything you'll need to get started on your project. Ready to transform your kitchen? Let's get started. 

Benefits of Spray Finishes

Spray finishing cabinets involves using a paint sprayer to apply uniform coats of paint over cabinet surfaces. It's the preferred method of many painting professionals due to its factory-finish quality and speedy "apply and dry" time. It's also becoming popular with many DIY enthusiasts. The equipment and supplies are accessible to the everyday consumer, while the technique can be mastered with practice. Here are some additional reasons why spray finishes are a great option:

  • Prevents brush streaks or stuck-on bristles
  • More durable than standard paint
  • Evenly coat hard to reach crevices and lifted surfaces
  • Requires only one or two coats

So whether you want to apply a new color or apply a clear coat to your cabinets, a spray finish is a professional-looking upgrade that's attainable at home.

Reasons to Brush or Roll Instead of Spray

Reasons to Brush or Roll Instead of Spray

There are times when brush painting may be better suited for your needs than a spray finish. On rustic or traditional woodwork, brushstrokes complement the wood grain and allow it to retain its natural appeal. It's also the more budget-friendly option for smaller projects. Even though spray finish is still a cost-effective solution in contrast to buying a kitchen's worth of new cabinets, brush and roll painting uses significantly less paint. 

Brush paint isn't as costly as spray paint and neither are the supplies you'll need to get the job done. A few high-quality brushes and rollers are more affordable than buying a spray gun that's powerful enough to apply the spray paint evenly. It also requires less rigorous sanding and setup on the front end than spraying. Lastly, brush-coated paint is more forgiving of bumps, nicks and scratches in the wood than a smooth glossy spray finish.

So if brush strokes add to your aesthetic, your budget is tight, your project is small and you're willing to put some elbow grease into multiple coats, then a brush finish may be a better option for your project.

Supplies for Spray Finishing Cabinetry

Applying spray finish on cabinetry well requires starting out with the right supplies. Selecting a proper spraying system and cabinet finish will go a long way in making your project quick and painless. Let's look closer at what's available and how to make the best decision for your project.

Start With the Right Sprayer

The first thing you'll need to prepare for your spraying project is the right sprayer. Sprayers need three components: a system that produces pressurized air, a hose to transmit the air, and an air gun that holds, atomizes and sprays the paint. The pressurized air systems are typically and at-home air compressor or a high-velocity, low-pressure (HVLP) turbine system. Let's take a look at how each works.

Compressed Air

Compressor-fed guns attach directly to an at-home air compressor hose, which can put out 40 to 60 pounds per square inch (psi) of air pressure. That's powerful enough to atomize the paint and apply the smooth finish you're looking for. That power comes at a price, however. When the psi is that high, it causes something called blowback, which is when the atomized paint particles hit a surface so hard that they bounce off of it. This leads to an uneven coat, wasted finish and overspray that needs to be filtered and ventilated from your workspace. It's also essential to match the gun's air volume requirements against your air compressor's output to ensure that everything works together properly.

Another consideration for air compressors is the need for a drip leg on your system. Air from a compressor always contains water vapor that inevitably combines with your finish. Oil can also compromise the air and thus your finish if its an oil-lubricated compressor. The best way to prevent this is an inline filter or drip leg attached downstream from the compressor so that the water and oil can condense and never make it to the spray gun.

HVLP Turbine System

HVLP turbine systems are a specialized sprayer that can produce a more efficient atomized mist than its compressed-air counterpart. They greatly reduce blowback and overspray and convert 60 to 80 percent of the finish on a project's surface. These systems are packaged with all three essential sprayer components — the spray gun, the hose and a turbine that produces dry, filtered air at 10 psi or less. Buying an HVLP system ensures that each piece is designed to work as a unit, preventing buyers from mismatching the turbine output and spray gun's air requirements. 

When it comes to deciding on the right sprayer for your project, an important priority is preventing finish loss. If more spray ends up in the air than on your project, you'll end up spending a lot more money for an inferior outcome. HVLPs may cost more up front, but they may end up saving you money in the long run. Also, if your at-home compressor can't meet the specifications of the appropriate spray gun, it'll probably cost more to upgrade your compressor than to buy a HVLP turbine system.

Choose a User-friendly Finish

Choose a User-friendly Finish

Lacquer is the type of paint that's used for spray finishes. It can be applied to wood or metal surfaces and is available as a clear-coat or in a range of colors. Thinner than traditional enamel paint, lacquer is easily atomized by a spray gun to produce a finish that is solid and durable when dried. Lacquer finishes are chip-resistant, waterproof and adaptable to the natural expansion and contraction of wood over time. It comes in the full spectrum of sheens, from high gloss to matte, and can be polished to maintain its appearance over time.

Types of Lacquer

When you go shopping for lacquers, you will notice that are four types available. Here are the types and how each of them can be used:

  • Acrylic: Originally developed in the 1950s for automobiles, acrylic lacquer is fast-drying and can be used on lighter woods due to its anti-yellowing formula.
  • Catalyzed: Catalyzed lacquer comes either pre-catalyzed or post-catalyzed. Pre-catalyzed is premixed at manufacturing before purchase while post-catalyzed is the result of a buyer mixing purchased lacquer and catalyst. Once combined, it must be used quickly. This lacquer is especially durable due to the chemical reaction taking place.
  • Nitrocellulose: This is the most common type of lacquer and is frequently used on wooden instruments and products. Nitrocellulose lacquer dries quickly but is sensitive to heat and certain solvents. Because it yellows as it ages, it's not the best choice for lighter colored woods. 
  • Water-based: Water-based lacquer is the popular choice for finishing cabinetry. It is contains fewer toxins but remains durable and scratch resistant.

Water-based solvents are ideal for spray finishing cabinets at home because they aren't flammable and don't require any specialized respirators or spray booths. The rest of our recommendations will be based on the assumption that only a water-based lacquer is being used. 

If you have access to the proper safety and ventilation equipment, then you may opt for a solvent or oil-based lacquer instead. Try applying shellac as a sealer before spraying your lacquer to help with adhesion. Remember, disregarding important safety measures while using oil-based lacquer paint can result in severe health consequences and even explosions, so be sure to take all the proper precautions.

How To Measure Lacquer Viscosity

How To Measure Lacquer Viscosity 

Achieving the proper lacquer viscosity, or thickness, is important for achieving the best spray finish. If a finish is too thin, it will result in paint sags. If it's too thick, it will splatter or won't atomize at all. The best way to measure lacquer viscosity is by acquiring a viscosity cup and following this process:

  • Step one: Mix the lacquer, but be sure not to create bubbles. If there are bubbles, wait until these fully dissipate before continuing with the test. 
  • Step two: Prepare a timer by opening the clock app on your smartphone or by keeping a stopwatch nearby.
  • Step three: Dip the viscosity cup into the finish container until it is full submerged just above the cup's rim. Make sure your cup remains level. 
  • Step four: Lift your cup straight up out of the finish. Once the bottom breaks the surface, start your timer immediately. 
  • Step five: Watch the flow carefully. Stop the timer the moment there is a break in the flow, even if more finish continues to flow out afterward. The amount of time it takes for the finish to flow out of the viscosity cup is your viscosity measurement. 

Once you have your measurement, compare it to the spray gun's manual to determine which nozzle is needed for that finish. 

How To Dilute Lacquer for Spraying

If the viscosity doesn't match any of the nozzles' measurements, you will need to thin it out with distilled water. Some water-born lacquers will need to be thinned at least 5 to 10 percent in order to be sprayed. Determine how much water you may need to add by measuring the viscosity of the finish without any thinning to create a control measurement.

How To Dilute Lacquer for Spraying

Using only the amount of finish you intend to use, dilute it with a little bit of water and remeasure the viscosity using the viscosity measurement test. Repeat this as necessary, gradually diluting the finish more and more until the proper viscosity is reached. Once the viscosity measurement and spray gun nozzle specifications match, it's ready to use!

How to Spray Finish Your Cabinetry

Now that you have your spray gun system, a finish and the correct viscosity for your gun's nozzle, you're ready to begin. Here's how to spray finish your cabinetry.

Disassemble and Prepare Your Cabinets

Once all dishes and small appliances are out of the kitchen, the first step is to remove all the cabinet doors and drawer faces from your cabinetry. If you'd prefer to paint the entire drawer, as opposed to just the face, remove the entire pieces from its tracks for painting. Then, remove the hinges and create an identification system to help you remember which door belongs where. One way to do this is to lightly write a number that corresponds to a door or drawer's placement on the spot where the hinge usually goes. Cover this up with tape so you don't spray over it and lose the number. 

Next, prepare the surfaces for paint application. Clean them first, sand them second and dust them third. Once all necessary pieces are disassembled and prepped, mask any edges or boundaries that you don't want painted. Use plastic to cover large sections of your kitchen, such as countertops, light fixtures, floors, backsplashes and large appliances.

New Doors Versus Current Doors

New Doors Versus Current Doors

Using your current doors and drawer faces is a cost-conscious choice, but if they're a little worse for wear, ordering new doors and drawer faces can help freshen up a kitchen. They can also save you some preparation time if you purchase primed cabinet components that are ready for painting. Be sure that you measure your cabinets carefully when you're sizing for new pieces and be sure to read their specifications to ensure they don't need any prep work before painting.

Prepare Your Workspace

Now that your cabinetry is prepped, it's time to construct your workspace. Unless you have access to a speciality spray booth for oil or solvent-based lacquers, you'll need to create a makeshift spray tent in your shop or garage to paint your cabinet pieces. Start off by situating one or two box fans in a nearby window. They should both have pleated ventilation filters installed on the intake side, which should be facing you. Opening a door or window on the opposite side of shop will provide adequate make-up air. 

Next, construct a spray tent. If the project is small, place a worktable by the window fans and construct a three-sided cardboard casing that has an opening for the fan to suck out overspray and fumes. If the project is larger, you'll need to construct a tent out of muslin drop cloths. These work better than plastic, since the static electricity can cling to dust that might float onto wet surface. Cover any surfaces that may contribute dust, including the ceiling, or that need protection from overspray. 

Find a place for your HVLP turbine system, ensuring that the turbine can receive adequate air to keep itself cool. If necessary, install bright lights that illuminate your workspace as much as possible. This can help you see how the finish builds on the surface as you work. Lastly, keep your workspace temperature at 60 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal outcomes.

Practice on Cardboard First

Practice on Cardboard First

Before you start spraying your cabinets, it's a good idea to practice on a few pieces of cardboard. Now's the time to test all the features of your system. Modify the volume, size and pattern of spray. Alter the speed at which you use the gun and inspect the results. Test different distances, spraying within a few inches of the cardboard and gradually increasing the distance till you're six to eight inches away. Find out which combination of settings and modes creates the most even spray and no drips. Since cardboard is more absorbent than wood, it may be a good idea to try out your new strategy on a piece of scrap or plywood to really solidify the proper technique.

Spray Your Cabinets

Now that you've practiced, it's time to spray the cabinetry. One of the best strategies for applying an even coat is to pull the spray trigger before you approach the cabinet piece, pass over the piece at an even pace, and don't release the trigger until the spray is past the project. This prevents uneven coats, drips, or runs.

When painting doors, it's helpful to begin at the edges. Then coat any embellishments before making a pass over the entire surface with paint. For drawers, start with the back of the drawer first. Then spray the edges, followed by the faces. Work from the top to bottom for the best results. 

Ten Tips for Spray Finishing Cabinets

Spray finishing takes time to master. Here are ten tips to help you with your technique:

  1. Place smaller pieces on a turntable to rotate pieces instead of rotating the spray gun. This ensures a consistent spray all around.
  2. To blend edges, spray halfway onto a previously sprayed pass. This is called a "wet edge" and blends things smoothly.
  3. Keep the spray tip level and parallel to the surface as you move across the project. Don't move the gun in an arc pattern to cover a large piece.
  4. Move at a steady pace. A good rule of thumb is to go the speed you would when tipping off a brush finish.
  5. Don't oversaturate vertical surfaces to avoid runs. 
  6. Opt for multiple thin coats as oppose to one or two thick coats.
  7. Touch up any runs or sags with a high-quality bristle brush while it is still wet, but not while it's tacky. In that case, sand down any blemishes once everything is completely dry.
  8. Allow items to dry overnight before applying additional coats.
  9. For easy access to tight corners and interiors, keep the backs off cabinets and case pieces while painting. This also protects you from blowback.
  10. Sand between coats to cut down on dust nibs that may have settled on surfaces during the drying time.

Reinstall Your Cabinets

Reinstall Your Cabinets

Once all the pieces are finished and dried, they're ready for reinstallation. During this process, carefully screw hinges back in place, taking care to remove any paint that collected in screw holes to ensure a proper fit. Remove any tape and plastic carefully and sweep up any remaining residue. Voilà! Your cabinets are finished. Now you can reap the rewards of all that hard work and enjoy the way your cabinets shine in your updated kitchen. 

Renovate with Components from Cabinet Doors 'N' More

The best kitchen cabinets marry both form and function. Not only should they look good, they should also be made of quality materials that will stand the test of time. At Cabinet Doors 'N' More, we specialize in crafting beautiful, quality cabinet components that will make your kitchen shine with your renovations. Our doors, drawers, end panels and veneers come in a variety of natural hardwoods and without any finish so that they're ready for you to start your spray finish project as soon as they arrive. Our highly customizable cabinet components are ready for kitchens or any other renovations in your home. Make your renovation dreams a reality and shop for new kitchen components today. 

Renovate with Components from Cabinet Doors 'N' More

Learn More About Painting & Staining Cabinets

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