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Pro Tips: How to Get the Best Custom Cabinet Finish

Many of our customers share pictures of their work with us–it’s actually the best part of our job to be able to see the final payoff, finished with a Target Coatings waterborne topcoat. We had the opportunity to chat with Tyler Grace of TRG Home Concepts in Haddon Heights, NJ about how to get the best finish on a job he recently completed using EM6500 Pigmented Lacquer. The project–custom built-in bookcases on either side of a new fireplace mantel along with a console box to create a beautiful living room upgrade–looks amazing and we’re sure the homeowners are enjoying the added functionality of the space.

How to Get the Best Finish on Built-In Cabinetry

Getting the best finish on any project requires preparation. Here are the steps Tyler walked us through for how he achieved the best results on this project.

Start with a good substrate.

Tyler chose soft maple for the face frames, and primed poplar for the cabinet backs. For the bookcases, he used mdf veneer plywood. The fireplace mantel is soft maple, and the panels on the fireplace are mdf veneer plywood. The console box alongside the wall is made of prefinished maple with mdf veneer plywood on the end panels.

Seal & Prime.

The first step in the finishing process was to seal up the lumber with a 50/50 blend of denatured alcohol and dewaxed shellac. Tyler doesn’t sand immediately after the shellac–rather, after sealing, he applies two coats of primer, and he sands after each primer coat. He also finds it easier to use two different spray guns–one for the shellac and then a separate one for the waterborne primer and topcoat.

Apply the Topcoat.

After sealing and priming the wood, Tyler used Target Coatings custom-tinted EM6500 Waterborne Pigmented Lacquer. The custom color the client wanted was Benjamin Moore Cloud Nine, which we tinted to an exact match in our lab. Tyler applied two topcoats of EM6500, sanding after each coat.

Tyler uses a Fuji mini mite 4 turbine with a gravity gun, and a siphon feed Aerojet gun to finish his projects. He notes it’s important to “Prep, prep, prep!” As a contractor, he hadn’t started out spraying his work–he took on the job when he wasn’t satisfied with the work he was seeing from subcontractors. And while he says he’s making due with his existing setup, a small pressure pot is next on his list in order to be able to spray upside down.

Thanks to Tyler Grace of TRG Home Concepts for sharing the pictures of this project, and for his tips on how he achieves such a beautiful finish!


11 thoughts on “Pro Tips: How to Get the Best Custom Cabinet Finish”

  1. Hi Jeff,

    Very interesting process the contractor used. I have used pigmented opaque solvent based lacquers and the product I used I could put it directly on raw wood after I did all my sanding and prep, then I used the their clear satin top coat to seal the pigmented coat. Can you do the same process with the EM6500 ? Then top coat it with the EM9300? Thank you

    1. Yes, you can apply EM6500 directly to raw wood without the use of a primer/surfacer. However, keep in mind that EM6500 is not rated as a ‘stain-blocker’, i.e. tannin stains will bleed through if not properly sealed. Lastly, yes, you can top coat with EM9300 or EM7000HBL to change the sheen of the EM6500 or to create a harder shell.

  2. Anthony DeRosa

    I’m building Shaker style cabinet doors with maple rails and stiles and an MDF panel. I plan to spray them with EM6500. Should I caulk around the panel? And if so, before or after the primer?

    1. Anthony – Thank you for your inquiry. You can caulk then prime. Follow the instructions for the caulk you plan on using in regards to dry-time and how soon it can be painted.

    1. Alan — Yes, EM6500 can be applied with a close-nap roller. Also, keep in mind that EM6500 is very brush=friendly and works very well with any high-quality synthetic bristle — I like the Purdy Nylox series of brushes for large and small area applications.

  3. Can you spray EM6500 over EM6000 to change the color to white? I finished my kitchen cabinets with EM6000 in 2011, and the wife wants a change. Thanks.

    1. Patrick – Yes, EM6500 can be applied directly over the older EM6000 clear coat. Ensure that you clean the existing finish/surfaces with a solution of water and denatured alcohol mixed 1:1. If you think a light sanding is also required you should use the lightest grit schedule that removes the defects..400-grit is a good starting point.

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