Cabinet Doors – Finishing Techniques by Henny Donovan

Cabinet Doors finishing techniques by Henny Donovan

Care taken in finishing your doors is particularly important in the kitchen, which receives some of the heaviest wear and tear in a house. The doors must be carefully sealed and protected with varnish so they can be wiped down regularly and will stay looking good.


With its shiny, varnish-like finish, shellac can be used as a sealer, but it is not strong enough to be used on its own as a protector; it must be finished with varnish as well. Water-based acrylic varnishes are easy to use as well as durable. They are also preferable because they do not discolor over time, as all oil-based varnishes do. Most of the projects in
this book are finished with acrylic varnishes for this reason, with the occasional use of oil-based polyurethane varnish, where an aging, yellowing look is actually desired.
Waxes provide a water-resistant finish only; they are not waterproof, and thus are not generally suitable for the kitchen (although they are fine on overhead cupboards)’ Colored wax can, however, be used sparingly over a per-varnished surface on small sections of a door, as the varnish will enable the surface to be wiped down. Water splashes will mark a waxed surface over time, so do not use wax near sink areas.


Shellac is used for sealing gilded and decoupaged effects, a on paint finishes for a lacquer-style finish before varnishing. White shellac is bleached, so it won’t discolor the finish it is being applied to. Button polish shellac is honey-colored, a perfect for achieving and is instant antiqued look. If button is unavailable, tint white polish with burnt sienna, raw umber, and yellow ocher universal tinters for a similar look. The solvent in shellac (denatured alcohol) evaporates rapidly, careful application is required. Dip a varnish brush into the shellac and glide it onto the surface. After laying on, brush through only twice before evaporation starts, or the smooth look will be spoiled. A single coat should take 15-20 minutes to dry. Wait two hours before applying a top coat of varnish.


  • Always read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions on all products, and work in a well-ventilated area.
  • When using oil- and alcohol-based products, wear protective rubber gloves to avoid direct skin contact.
  • When using water-based products, avoid lengthy exposure to the skin. Wear protective gloves if your skin is sensitive.
  • Dispose of all leftover products and soiled rags according to the manufacturer’s instructions and local regulations.


A water-based varnish, acrylic varnish is available in matte, semi-gloss, and gloss finishes. Paint effects with a chalky, look, such as color washing, are best protected with matte varnish. Semi-gloss and gloss varnishes are better for gilding and dark colors, as these styles suit a reflective surface, an because matte varnish can result in a milky look. Using a varnish brush, apply an even coat of varnish over the surface brushing it out to avoid ridges. The white sheen will disappear once dry. Apply a minimum of two coats.

Polyurethane and Uralkyd v Arnish

Polyurethane and Uralkyd v Arnish

Polyurethane varnish is an inexpensive and easy-to-use oil based varnish. It is available in matte, semi-gloss, and gloss
finishes. With exposure to light, oxidation will occur, causing yellowing. This varnish is recoatable within six hours and has a
strong, durable finish. Uralkyd varnishes contain a UV filter to combat yellowing, so they are clearer than plain polyurethane
arnishes. These varnishes are also strong and durable. Using a varnish brush, apply an even coat of varnish over the surface, brushing it out thoroughly to avoid unevenness. Sand lightly with fine-grade sandpaper between coats, removing dust with a cloth slightly dampened with mineral spirits.

Specialist and Metallic Varnishes


Modern advances have led to the development of metallic finishes, thereby extending the range of varnishing options available. These metallic varnishes can be purchased at specialist outlets, and come in pearlescent, graphite, gold, silver, and copper finishes. They are recoatable after one hour, and are best applied over prepainted surfaces. Use a varnish
brush to evenly lay on me varnish. Layoff in one direction only; the direction of the brush affects the way the varnish reflects light, so brush upward or downward (but not both), or
you will end up with a striped effect. Work quickly, as these varnishes are quick-drying. Recoat after one hour for extra depth of color or for a stronger metallic effect.


Colored wax and Gilding Wax

Both waxes are generally used to highlight moldings or
paneling. They are best applied after one or two coats of
acrylic varnish. Using a lint-free cloth, apply colored wax to
the desired area. Wait five minutes, then buff. Using a lint-free
cloth or a sable paintbush, apply gilding wax to the desired
area. Leave as is, or buff. Do not use wax near sink areas.



Liquid waxes are available from specialist outlets and are easy to use. Use them only on doors that will not be subject to a lot of moisture or will not need repeated cleaning. Brush on the wax using a varnish brush. Leave for about 20 minutes, then buff with a lint-free cloth.


For more information and decorating ideas from Henny Donovan please visit a You also can find The Painted Kitchen Book on Google.

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