Friday, September 25, 2015

How to Poly Cabinet Doors - The Right Way

Finishing cabinet doors is pretty straight forward but there is a lot of bad advice out there. In our kitchen we liked the look of natural wood so we decided to coat our doors with polyurethane to protect them from spills and scrapes.



Their are two main varieties of poly - water based and oil based. The are both equal in terms of protection but their finish and application is a bit different.

Water based poly on the left vs. Oil based poly on the right. The center has no poly.

Water based poly dries clear. If you take a sample of wood and wet it with water, you'll have a pretty good idea what the finished product is going to look like. Water based poly is a little more work to apply though. A perfectly sanded piece of wood will feel fuzzy after wetting it; this is called grain raise. This means you are going to have to sand with 400 grit paper until the fuzziness disappears between coats of poly.

Oil based poly dries with a slight amber hue that gets richer over ~30 days. Oil based poly does not raise the grain like water based poly. You should still give your door a quick scuff sand with 400 git paper between coats, it is just much less work than sanding down the raised grain had you used a water based product.

We chose to go with water based poly. Jenn wasn't a fan of the oil on our alder doors. She thought it made them too dark and brought out more of the red color than we wanted in our kitchen. We set up two saw horses in the garage with 2x4's to make work tables and got to work.

Here are the supplies we used:
  • Foam Brushes (harbor freight - they're cheap and work great!)
  • Tack cloth (sticky cloth to wipe away dust between coats - Lowes
  • Polyurethane (we used satin General Finishes Poly from Woodcraft)
  • 400 grit sanding pad
The most difficult thing about applying poly is making sure you don't end up with puddles and drips on the door. To prevent this we worked in this order.

  1. Tack cloth the door before you apply poly. This gets rid of any left over sawdust from the workshop.
  2. Apply your first coat of poly to the back side of the door first. 
  3. Back brush what you just painted and the sides of the door with a dry foam brush. This will get rid of any drips or pools where you applied the coat to thickly.
  4. Wait about 20 minutes, flip the door and poly the sides of the door. If you are going in an assembly line doing 7 or 8 doors at a time you should be ready to return to your first door by the time you make it down the line. 
  5. Back brush the sides, front and back of the door to eliminate drips.
  6. Poly the front of the door.
  7. Back brush the front of the door and sides of the door.
  8. Wait 4 hours.
  9. Lightly sand with a 400 grit sanding pad until the fuzziness from the raised grain is sanded away. If you are using oil based poly, just give it a quick light sand to scuff the surface a little and give your next coat something to adhere to.
  10. Repeat Steps 1-9.
  11. Repeat Steps 1-8.  
A batch of doors drying after their 3rd coat of poly!


 I know that looks like a really big list and I will say, there is a reason why cabinet manufacturers charge you so much for finishing. It's easy, but time consuming. Budget about 30 minutes per door if you plan on using water based poly. 20 minutes per door if you plan on an oil based product.

Stay tuned for how we mounted Barker doors on our Ikea cabinet boxes!

3 comments:

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  2. I stumbled onto this and am so glad I did! I am interested in the natural alder cabinets from Barker. My hubby says alder is too soft and will dent easily. He also says I cannot do a good DYI finish like the factory. I have recently used the water based poly on a few furniture projects and have liked the process with no toxic odor and the easy clean up. I would be very, very, interested in your thoughts after 4 years living with the cabinets and how they have held up, both the finish in general (protection from water) and the alder wood (denting). Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
  3. I stumbled onto this and am so glad I did! I am interested in the natural alder cabinets from Barker. My hubby says alder is too soft and will dent easily. He also says I cannot do a good DYI finish like the factory. I have recently used the water based poly on a few furniture projects and have liked the process with no toxic odor and the easy clean up. I would be very, very, interested in your thoughts after 4 years living with the cabinets and how they have held up, both the finish in general (protection from water) and the alder wood (denting). Thanks!

    ReplyDelete