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Paranoid about painting your cabinets? How to know when it's time to call a pro.

I love the look of painted cabinets, where do I begin?

You know, that's a really good question we get asked all the time. To answer that, what we need to do is break down the question. What are my options? There are so many options. You can either go professional refinisher, or you can go with a regular painter. Both of those offer two completely different types of refinishing situations. A professional refinisher is going to use a high quality industrial coating to redo your cabinet finish so that it lasts. The best news is that it could last anywhere from 10 to 30 years depending on wear and tear. While a traditional house painter would potentially use something purchased at Home Depot or Sherwin Williams that can be considered a good quality trim paint. Unfortunately what you get with trim paint is not so long a life in duration of use. So five years from now, you're going to have to do something, whether it's touch up, whether it's repainting a couple of doors, whether it's fixing some areas, depending on the product used, especially latex paint. What actually happens is oils from the kitchen get into the paint and soften it up to the point where it's not a good quality finish. It doesn't look good and it becomes impossible to clean.

Can you tell me the difference between a professional and a do it yourselfer?

Do it yourselfers can do a really good job painting cabinets if they follow the proper steps. The proper steps can be nearly the same as professional. With refinishers, what they do is they take the cabinets, they meticulously clean and sand, repair and fill pits, neccessary degreasers and solvents are employed- basically they prepare them for a primer. The primer needs to be a bonding agent that connects the finished coat to the wood. Checking for adhesion and repriming as needed, sanding, vacumming, removing all dust with compressed air...because it's all prep work. And then they use what's called an industrial coating, industrial coatings can be polyurethane based, lacquer based or even acrylic based. Each one of those separate products has good things and bad things about them.

Can you tell me the difference between brushing and rolling your cabinets or spraying your cabinets?

So, when you spray your cabinets you lay down a very even finish. And when you look at it after it's dry, you won't see any orange peel, you won't see any roller marks. You shouldn't see too many inconsistencies in the paint. When you use a brush and a roller what you're counting on is the paint's ability to level out and what that means is the “open time’ where it remains wet long enough for gravity to take over and make it smooth. Now even the best paints don't level up perfectly. And so you'll get a little orange peel consistency across. It's just impossible to match the level of a sprayed finish.

I am afraid of toxins in my home, can you tell me the difference between

waterborne and solvent based paints?

As a matter of fact, I can answer that. So to think about this, you're going to think about what paint is: paint is commonly an acrylic or polyurethane material that's held in a solution of water and slow drying solvents that, while drying, leave a hard finish behind. When you apply a waterborne paint material, in the open air, the water begins to evaporate and that is what makes it great, because you can clean up with water as well. So it's much less toxic than solvent based coatings. With the liquid solvents you're either going to have a lacquer thinner or denatured alcohol or you might have oil in the product. Just like waterborne paints, while drying those nastier chemicals have to evaporate off. Now where does that go? It goes into the air. So if you're refinishing in a house, do you want water evaporating out into the air? Or do you want denatured alcohol or lacquer thinner or some other type of solvent that really stinks, evaporating off in your house? The benefits of the solvents are that they can dry very quickly, within half an hour for most. And once it's dry and there is quality air flow, it dissipates very quickly.

What does the drying time have to do with the time it takes to be fully cured?

Well, with a waterborne paint once the solvent evaporates out, it's going to be have the features of a cured coating. So when you're using a latex paint from Home Depot, that can be 30 days of hardening before it's finally dry enough to be hard. And when you're talking about an industrial coating, within three hours from when you put it on, it's dry enough to be very hard and even sandable within 24 hours. With a solvent base, you're talking 30 minutes and surprisingly some of them even less, lacquer flashes right off so it's instantly dry.

Let's circle back to talking about solvents in your home and the difference between a professional using those products and a do it yourselfer.

That is a good question because some of these chemicals can be very dangerous to use. It is imperative that when you use a solvent in the house, you really need to contain and control that solvent. For example, as a professional, when we use a shellack, like Bin with a solvent base of denatured alcohol; we build a spray booth in the kitchen that is a very controlled environment along with an extraction fan that directs where the air is going to go. Therefore, we force the air out a window through the tube in the spray booth that we've created in the kitchen, we cut ventilation holes so that air comes into the kitchen, out the extraction fan and ultimately out the window. If you don't take these precautions, the entire house stinks because the solvent is off gassing everywhere. Rags and buckets need to be managed and disposed of properly as well.

Last question, as a professional refinisher, what is your best advice for the DIY enthusiast?

I would say, do your research. There is so much solid information out there and paint suppliers can be a valuable resource as well. Our company offers a “Shop Drop” service-We help make the process less daunting by painting the doors and drawers in our shop and supply our customers with all the details, directions and products needed to complete the base cabinetry themselves. This not only saves money but is super rewarding for someone who loves to paint and decorate.

Jim Yvon is the co-owner of Crane-Yvon Interiors/ C.Y. Cabinet Painters-Westfield, MA


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