Cabinet Finish – Understand What Makes a Quality Finish

 Stain is available at the hardware store, so anyone can buy a brush and paint it on, right?  Nope!

You and your family will touch and dirty and clean this finish everyday, multiple times a day.  The finish will come in contact with grease, oils, food and ingredients that are starchy, granular and acidic.  You will also wipe the finish with a rag, sponge, cleaning products and soaps.  You will bang into the finish with your hips, your knees, a pan.  Your dog might balance himself with one paw against your cabinet, like mine does.  You get the point.  The finish gets use, and lots of it!

Yes, it is important!

What makes a finish hard, long lasting and durable?  

How Knobs and Pulls can also help save your cabinets.


An important step to creating a great finish, is sanding.  The cabinets will need to be sanded to a fine level to ensure a smooth finish.  If there are any particles or slivers of wood, it will show in the finish and those spots may lead to future scuff spots, which can grow over time.  


A cabinet finished in a dust-free environment is ideal.  Whether your cabinets are sanded well or not, if you have dust flying around in a workshop or on the jobsite that settles in the finish, you may end up with scuff marks too.  

Scuff marks from dust may not show up for a few years, or even 10.  But when they do, it’s not pretty.  


A great finish will have a multi-step process with layers of stain, glaze and a top coat.  Some of the high-end cabinet manufacturers use a very thick top coat to give a very luxurious and smooth feel.

Types of Finishes: Catalyzed & Lacquer

A Catalyzed Conversion Varnish is a fabulous finish!  The catalyst is a hardening agent that is activated when the doors and trim pieces are sent through an oven to bake-on the finish.  These type of machines are costly, which is why many local cabinet makers stick to a lacquer finish which can be sprayed on by hand.  

How can you tell if the cabinets you are interested in, have a great finish?  

Feel it!  Do you feel any tiny particles?  How many?  Can you feel the wood grain, or do you feel a smooth coating?  Is it rough?  If it rough like a sandpaper, steer clear. 

If you feel a few particles, question the cabinet maker or manufacturer about their finishing process and how they ensure that dust does not enter the finish.  Also ask about how many layers of finish is used. 

I have found that cabinetry finished in a factory will have a longer lifespan than cabinetry finished onsite.  Why?  Future incentives for the manufacturer.  


Cabinet manufacturers have invested in expensive, high-tech machinery that create finishes to fulfill their warranties.  Cabinet manufacturers DO NOT want to deal with customers that purchased cabinetry 5 years prior for a warranty issue.  Hence why they create products to last through their warranties.  

Research your company.  Does it offer a warranty?  What does it cover?  A cabinet warranty will give you an idea of the quality of the product.  Is it lifetime, or is only 1 year?  

Not many local cabinet makers offer any warranty, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.


Yes, a cabinet finish will contribute to its price tag.  Some cabinet manufacturers formulate their own finishes to stand out from their competition.  Others use off-the-shelf stains that everyone else has access to. 

If the finish is baked-on, it will cost more.  If the company takes more time with their finish process, it will cost more.  

Consider this, more $$$ spent up front, can save you a headache (or nightmare) down the road.  A good, quality finish will ensure that your cabinetry will stand the test of time, and keep your cabinetry looking beautiful for years and years.

If you have found this article helpful or interesting, please share and connect.  Thanks for reading!