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Thread: Best method for stripping flaking finish from kitchen cabinets for refinishing

  1. #1

    Best method for stripping flaking finish from kitchen cabinets for refinishing

    I am helping my parents refinish their 30 year old stained Oak kitchen cabinets. The top / clear coat on 2/3 of the doors and drawers is flaking / peeling off ranging from mild to heavy amounts depending on the cabinet and original proximity to the sink / range. The intent is for me to prep and paint them with a waterborne pigmented lacquer - Emtech 6500 with cross link or better...haven’t decided on which Top Coat yet. I have a Fuji 4 stage turbine HVLP and am not worried about the actual spraying. I will be refinishing doors, drawer fronts and face frames basically and leaving the interiors of the boxes alone. The first round (doors and drawer fronts) will be done off site after I have properly prepped them for priming and paint. The face frames will have to done in place with plenty of prepping, masking, plastic and spraying.

    I am worried about the amount of flaking finish that I’m seeing now that I’ve inspected in person and started to remove doors/drawers.

    I know the flaking finish must be removed in order to even begin to think about priming / painting and obviously want to do this right and not have adhesion issues. It doesn’t seem like only sanding will be a) totally effective at removing flaking finish b) simple to do with the profiles of the doors and drawers without loosing the definition of the details c) cost effective for my time.


    Without knowing if the original finish was some type of lacquer or an oil
    based poly, what is the most efficient and effective way to strip/remove the flaking finish?

    How do I deal with the area where the existing finish is fine but transitions into areas that are flaking when the striping happens? Am I going to end up needing to strip the entire door/drawer front even if only 25% of the door (say a bottom corner) is flaking or can I successfully blend the areas and have my primer cover.

    I have done plenty of different finishing over the years, but have limited experience with actual finish stripping.

    How would you handle this to ensure that it’s done properly?


    They are currently stained a brown color and have some type of clear coat on top that was the original finish. Doors, drawer fronts are all solid Red Oak in a traditional raised panel style and well as a small raises panel type bevel around the border of all the doors. This is way more inconvenient to hand sand / scrape than a flat panel / door style where there aren’t raised panels, tiny rounded moldings, etc to reach into.

    The 1st photo below is probably the worst of it. There are many doors that only have a smaller area and less flaking finish but enough to catch my eye upon inspection. Some (less than half) of the face frames have some flaking as well that will have to addressed in place.

    2D785C09-D050-494C-B44F-57778315A40E.jpg

    2nd photo is to get a sense of the style of the door with raised panel, etc.
    D00AA21D-78FA-4AEB-B71F-D69743FA9D51.jpg

    Thanks for any advice.
    Last edited by Phillip Mitchell; 02-19-2021 at 9:08 AM.
    Still waters run deep.

  2. #2
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    What I do is carefully scrape all the lose finish off. Using a 2 wide carbide paint scrapper. This will also remove some or most of the existing finish. I do a lot of refinishing. This is the method that I have found most effective.
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  3. #3
    Clark, thanks for the reply. Do you scrape it dry (without any chemical stripper?) How would you handle the smaller, rounded mouldings that are applied around the panel?
    Still waters run deep.

  4. #4
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    Phillip, I always scrape it dry. Sometimes you may need to use stripper in tight place. You can also use a corner of a card scrapper to get in there.
    Some Blue Tools
    Some Yellow Tools
    A Grizzly Collection
    ShapeokoXL
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  5. #5
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    I like chemical strippers most of the time, less chance to damage the surface or sand/scape through veneers. Clear finishes usually come right off. Of course I now have this third arm growing out of my abdomen...

  6. #6
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    I, too, preferred chemical strippers when I had to get into details that don't easily lend themselves to scraping or sanding. For better or worse, the good strippers have been banned and I have no clue now what brand works well, so faced with your situation I would just pick one and try it. Clear lacquer finishes should come off easily with nearly any stripper. The stain underneath doesn't matter because you're going to seal that in with primer. In that regard, make sure you use a primer with good tannin blocking properties because oak can bleed through many of them.

    All that pealing finish makes me wonder if the humidity in the kitchen is really high, or perhaps the cabinets get washed regularly or subjected to chemicals not appropriate for the finish. Worth asking a few questions so the same fate doesn't befall your efforts.

    Paint over oak is going to leave you with a lot of grain showing through unless you use a really high build primer or first fill the grain. I like the how the grain shows through on oak painted black, but not so much with light colors. If you don't want to see the grain you have some homework to do.

    John

  7. #7
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    Sometimes, it's easier to just make new doors.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tom M King View Post
    Sometimes, it's easier to just make new doors.
    ^^This. Or buy them if necessary. Especially when the existing are so degraded that there's significant effort required to get all the damaged finish off and all the surfaces all prepped to be smooth and consistent. Every nook and cranny is going to be visible once the color coats start to go on.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  9. #9
    I've used chemical strippers in the past. They work great and leave the surface ready for refinishing, with just a light sanding. I don't know what chemicals are available these days.

    Mike
    Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

  10. #10
    Personally I think you will be disappointed with an opaque finish over your oak doors. Have you considered buying new unfinished, paint ready doors from a place like Barker? Ive done that on a couple bathrooms. It will also give you a chance to upgrade the hinges to soft close which may not be on them now.

  11. #11
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    I’ve refinished plenty of pieces in my day, and it is truly a labor of love. Often necessary to employ toothbrushes, dental picks, string, various custom made scrapers, etc., to remove the old finish. It’s something appropriate for sentimental and truly valuable furniture...but I personally wouldn’t spend much time on kitchen cabinets.

    Buying new as suggested would certainly be higher initial cost, but I bet it would save you days/weeks of work to clean up the existing ones. Not the least of which is the massive mess to clean up and dispose.

    With all that said, I might try a good soak/scrubbing with lacquer thinner. Might work. But needs to be done with good ventilation and a way to dispose of the toxic waste.
    Last edited by Phil Mueller; 02-20-2021 at 9:15 AM.

  12. #12
    Thanks for all the replies. I do agree that the overall best thing to do would be to buy or make new doors, but I don’t know if my folks have the budget for that. I will spend some time tomorrow pricing out doors. Took a look at the Barker site today briefly...does anyone have any other sources for doors and drawer fronts?

    Hardly any of the doors are the same size. It’s a custom kitchen that has very little standard to it in terms of sizing. I don’t know if that matters or not when it comes to additional cost compared to ordering “standard” size pre made doors.

    The main issue with just buying or building new doors/drawers is that many areas of the cabinet face frames and a handful of large end panels have a similar level of flaking finish that will need to be dealt with in place. In reality, that’s an easier surface to deal with / strip being that they are flat without profiles, though they are of course vertical and it will be hard to really get any type of soaking effect with a stripper...still a lot less labor on its own than that plus most of the doors and drawer fronts.

    John, thanks for the reminder about the open, porous grain of oak. I wasn’t planning on using a grain filler and hoping that the primer would handle it, but it is really hard to say until some testing has been done...

    Thanks for the replies. I will check back in and update the thread as things develop.
    Still waters run deep.

  13. #13
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    My go-to for drawer boxes has been Keystone Wood Specialties and they have an extensive line of doors and drawer fronts. I will likely use them for a future project of this nature, should a particular situation become successful, because of the time savings and potentially not having a full shop available at the time of the need. Yes, there's a cost for new doors and drawer fronts, but the enormous effort that's going to be required for you to get those existing doors to a state where the paint will look even reasonably good is what balances that cost. It's also an opportunity to update the look of the room at the same time.
    --

    The most expensive tool is the one you buy "cheaply" and often...

  14. #14
    Just updating this thread - convinced them to purchase new doors and drawer fronts as my labor costs for scraping, striping, etc would have met or exceeded the cost of brand new maple shaker doors and drawer fronts.

    Thanks for the advice. I’ll post photos once the doors are sprayed as a before and after. LOL!
    Still waters run deep.

  15. #15
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    Id call that a win win solution.

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