Best way to finish painted cabinets

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Forum topic by jonlan posted 01-12-2018 08:45 PM 16519 views 2 times favorited 25 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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72 posts in 2179 days

01-12-2018 08:45 PM

Hi All – I have a bit of a conundrum on my hands and looking for some input. My wife would like me to tackle a built in desk in the office and she wants the finish to be painted a specific color. I’ve done cabinets before that were painted and have had mixed success. The first set I sprayed with a HVLP gun using Shermin Williams pro classic oil based paint. At the time I was newer to finishing and I was impressed with how smooth the final finish was. I was not however impressed with the smell of the oil based paint. Even though I did it in the basement – the whole house smelled awful for weeks. Disclaimer – I live in Minnesota and the only places I can paint are in the garage and the basement. The garage isnt heated and its currently -10 out so I cant paint out there either.

The next set of cabinets I did I tried to spray latex based paint. My HVLP gun has a 1.8mm tip and the finish came out orange peel and the gun was often spitting paint. After much research I found that latex isnt a great candidate for HVLP guns. So I looked at airless guns but then found folks who had success shooting latex out of a HVLP with a 2.5mm jet/tip. So I tried that and I got good results after thinning with some floetrol. I fully realize that its not designed for that, but for the limited amount of painting I need to do Im happy with how this is coming out. Now comes the question of finishing….

So to level set – Im trying to use paint and finishes that are water based to keep the odor down. It sounds like the real type of paint I should be using is lacquer but its hard to come by and probably smells worse than the oil based paint. So those are my constraints.

I’ve done several samples so far with latex in the HVLP finished with water based poly. After 3 or 4 coats (sanding 320 grit in between each) I’ve been able to rub the finish out with steel wool and polishing wax to a perfect satin. I was amazed! (I’ve never rubbed a finish before). So having gotten this far, I was thinking this was how I would finish the built ins. Then I started thinking about how would I rub out the poly on the edge of drawer fronts against the grain, and other awkward places. So now Im worried this model wont work for the builtins at all. It’s also quite a bit of work considering this is going to be a whole wall of builtins with the desk.

So…. Im back to rethinking my strategy. I went to shermin williams today and talked to them. They suggested I spray a water based Urethane trim enamel they have called Emerald. He says it could be shot out of a HVLP and would give me a similar result to the oil based pro classic but without the odor and it can be colored to any color I want. The added plus of this is that its my top coat. I dont need to worry about getting a smooth finish with hand applied poly urethane. The downside is the stuff is $100 a gallon.

So Im looking for input. I realize not wanting a paint that smells is severely limiting but Im trying to stay within that constraint. Im wondering if I sprayed the water based Urethane on I wouldnt need to sand it and rub it out as much meaning that hard to reach corners wouldnt be that big of a deal to get the right finish on.

Any ideas? Am I being crazy for not just using an oil based and calling it a day? That one set of cabinets I did with the proclassic looks great and I didnt need to top coat it with anything else.


25 replies so far

View cabmaker's profile


1745 posts in 4101 days

#1 posted 01-12-2018 09:40 PM

If you like the results of the first cab job,,,,,,,just do the same thing

smell a problem.?......dont know what to tell you…..not a perfect world

View jonlan's profile


72 posts in 2179 days

#2 posted 01-12-2018 09:41 PM

Thanks – Just looking for alternatives. Trying my best to keep the odor down in the house but I see your point.

View tomsteve's profile


1182 posts in 2511 days

#3 posted 01-12-2018 10:26 PM

the odor is called
‘that new cabinet smell.”
its like “that new car smell”, cept for cabinets.
is there a 100% odorless paint?

View jonlan's profile


72 posts in 2179 days

#4 posted 01-12-2018 10:49 PM

I guess I was hoping for input on alternatives to what I know smells very bad which is Lacquer and Oil based paints (latex and water based products dont do that). I know folks use Latex to paint cabinets (right or wrong) so was wondering if there were alternatives or better ways to finish them.

I’ll keep experimenting. Thanks

View OSU55's profile


2907 posts in 3281 days

#5 posted 01-12-2018 11:10 PM

Take a look at Target coatings. They have a wb laquer that can be tinted. Had good luck with it but wasnt used on hi use item like cabinets. I think their other more wear resistant coatings might be tintable. You definitely dont want to use latex. Look for wb acrylic enamels.

View Joel J's profile

Joel J

65 posts in 3231 days

#6 posted 01-12-2018 11:45 PM

I have shot SW Pro Classic (which is a 100% acrylic) through my HVLP gun with a 2.0 and 2.5 tip. What you do is use 60% paint, 30% windshield washer solvent (the blue stuff) and the Flotrol type product that Sherwin Williams stores sell ( I forget the name). I have done numerous pieces of furniture and a number of different kitchen cabinets and had factory quality results. There are some videos on YouTube showing the use of windshield washer solvent as a thinner you should check out. The nice part is you can handle the finish product inside an hour. Good luck.

-- Joel, Denver, CO

View jonlan's profile


72 posts in 2179 days

#7 posted 01-13-2018 01:37 AM

@Joel J – I’ve been looking at those paints. There appears to be an acrylic…

And then an acrylic-alkyd….

Which one did you use? I assume the top one (the acrylic). Trying to sort out the difference between them…

View Joel J's profile

Joel J

65 posts in 3231 days

#8 posted 01-13-2018 03:58 AM

It’s the first one that I have used. I typically shoot the satin. If you want to do some additional experimenting, I have shot some cheap water based latex from HD (like $ 7.00 qt.), thin with the windshield washer solvent and Flotrol type product and then shot the HD inexpensive brand of water base poly for floors (like $ 40.00 gal in the plastic jugs), once again satin, over the top. You have to shoot clear poly over latex or it will remain “sticky”. The clear poly, which you can coat over the top right away eliminates the paint from remaining “sticky/tacky”. I have finished a whole set of kitchen cabinets with SW oil based sandable primer, numerous coats of latex and clear poly all in one day with my hvlp gun. The finish seems real durable.

Lastly, on another note, the SW Pro Classic is very durable. I have it on my kitchen cabinets and after 4 years, they look as good as the day I finished them.

-- Joel, Denver, CO

View cabmaker's profile


1745 posts in 4101 days

#9 posted 01-13-2018 08:30 AM

I guess I was hoping for input on alternatives to what I know smells very bad which is Lacquer and Oil based paints (latex and water based products dont do that). I know folks use Latex to paint cabinets (right or wrong) so was wondering if there were alternatives or better ways to finish them.

I ll keep experimenting. Thanks

- jonlan

I predominantly use latex unless stained…....that includes latex underbody as well

View AUswimKC's profile


49 posts in 3240 days

#10 posted 01-13-2018 01:08 PM

Benjamin Moore Advance. All day. Sprays beautifully and lays flat and glass even for this newbie. First time and every time after that. Thin 5-10% with distilled water.

I would do my absolute best to paint before install. I wouldn’t want anything, even water based, sprayed in the house

View Robert's profile


4799 posts in 2772 days

#11 posted 01-13-2018 02:27 PM

I’ve used SW ProClassic oil based and never thought the odor was that bad. The odor should be temporary but you should make sure your furnace air handler is sealed well. This, combined with insufficient exhaust ventilation, could be why the odors are getting in your house.

Check into SW Aqua Kem. You may also want to look into an HVLP sprayer with a bigger aperture for latex.

If Charles Neil chimes in, just do what he says ;-

-- Everything is a prototype thats why its one of a kind!!

View skcj213's profile


30 posts in 2757 days

#12 posted 01-13-2018 02:56 PM

Last year we remodeled our kitchen an I shot the cabinet doors with SW Pro Classic Alkyd Acrylic using the $100 HVLP turbine from Harbor Freight. I was amazed at how well they turned out, especially for being my first time spraying anything. I did a lot of research before painting since I had a very discerning customer(my wife) that had to be pleased with the results. The alkyd has similar properties as oil based, such as better leveling, without the smell and nasty cleanup. I thinned using just water to around 25 seconds using the viscosity cup that came with the sprayer.

View DavidOveracre's profile


45 posts in 2265 days

#13 posted 01-13-2018 03:18 PM

I will say that SW is trying to sell you their top dollar paint and 100$ is way more than they should be charging (I got a gallon for considerably less, which may have been because their 40% sale, which seems to be going on all the time, and a contractors discount). But Emerald is good paint, especially for your application. It’s a waterborne urethane modified alkyd enamel and lays nice and flat and gets hard and doesn’t smell really at all. I thinned it between 5-10% with water and shot it with a dinky two stage HVLP with a 2.5mm tip set. It lays nice and flat if thinned enough. If your using a HF hvlp then I assume you can only adjust flow and pattern, so if you can’t adjust it to get it to stop throwing spatter, thin it a bit more and it’ll spray just fine. In my experience with it, Floetrol didn’t do anything but give me tiny bubbles in the heavy areas and quite a few in general, had to sand them flat and recoat, and I tried using it twice. So water is all you need. While it will cover just fine on bare wood in two coats, I’d suggest a primer beforehand, it’ll raise some grain and give you a good base to sand down smooth so your enamel will look nice and smooth. I’ve used a couple different primers under it, doesn’t really matter.

-- Dave O.

View Thalweg's profile


103 posts in 4698 days

#14 posted 01-13-2018 03:38 PM

I wish I could have seen this thread two weeks ago. I just finished painting some cabinets with the SW Pro Classic water based acrylic alkyd. SW assured me that I could spray it through my hvlp. The kid who was helping me (obviously young with limited experience) told me I could only thin it 10% and only with water. I mixed up a pint, and it took nearly an hour to shoot that one pint. It was just too thick. So I ended up brushing it on. The results aren’t bad. This stuff flows out very well, but it’s not the finish I was hoping for. I wen’t into SW with the intention of buying the oil based version, and they gave me the look that said “are you stupid?”, and proceeded to convince me that the water based would be much better.

From what I’m reading here, I could have thinned considerably more. I’ve never heard of using windshield washer fluid in paint before. I’ll have to look into that.

View a1Jim's profile


118297 posts in 4869 days

#15 posted 01-13-2018 04:15 PM

Hello jonlan

Before addressing anything else your post said you shot some water base rubbed it out and used some steel wool and wax on it. using steel wool on water-based products is a definite NO NO if you end up recoating with water base you will have lots of little rust specs all over the place because steel wool leaves tiny little particle all over your surface even after wiping down your surface many times.
My wife and I are highly susceptible to fumes of almost any kind: smoke, perfume, most detergents, air fresheners. paint etc. We painted out living room with Home depot’s low VOC paint If I remember right is was this one
We were delighted that it hardly had any smell at all, for people who have problems with odors it’s a heaven sent. As for shooting your paint the newer electric spray guns to my surprise work very well with house paint. I’ve been spraying for 45 years so my opinion is not that of a new b to spraying. This is the one I recommend Charles Neil liked it.


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