custom finishes for cabinets - Englund Studio part 2

April 2015 Newsletter

not all wood species are created equal

In our last edition, Steve Englund of Englund Studio explained that it took years to learn about all the different wood species cabinet makers use and the subtle differences in the way they take finishes. 

Among the more familiar wood species, those with a closed grain (small pores and less distinct figures and patterns), tend to finish better. Examples are maple, cherry, alder, and birch. Bamboo, although technically a grass, is fast growing and easily renewable, and its close grain makes it an excellent surface for finishes.

Other popular choices for cabinets, such as oak, walnut, mahogany, and some exotic hardwoods, have moderately open grain (large pores and more pronounced patterns). More care is needed in the application of coloring and finishes in order to achieve a smooth and even appearance.

Certainly, designers and homeowners choose a wood specie based on many factors: appearance, durability, abundance in well managed North American forests, etc. In general, a harder wood resists dents better and therefore holds up better in the long run. In traditional style cabinets with face frames, the hardness of the wood should be taken into consideration. In modern style flat panels, however, the plywood underlays provide the necessary structural integrity. So, feel free to choose walnut or American cherry (both are moderately soft) as veneers.

protect your investment - maintenance and repair

For regular cleaning, use a clean soft cloth or sponge slightly dampened with water. Spray glass cleaner on the cloth and wipe with the grain. Allow to dry. The key is to clean regularly. Do not let kitchen grease or food scraps harden on the surfaces. 

For serious damages, individual door panels are taken back to the studio to be stripped, sanded and finished. This can be completed in a week and returned to you just like new. Such is the advantage of having your cabinets done locally.

In terms of repair: clear finish is the easiest since it only requires sanding and resealing. Pigmented opaque (such as white) is also rather simple since solid color is easy to replicate. Translucent (stain or dye) is hardest to fix. It will take more time to match the exact shade.

Steve's tips for clients: buy the most expensive wood your budget allows and opt for a clear finish. It is not wise to buy a cheap wood and try to fix the appearance with finishes. A simple clear finish is easy to repair and also better for the environment.

a greener option

Water based conversion varnish, with much lower VOCs (volatile organic compounds), has been in use for over 10 years. It is approved by the KCMA (Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association, for quality and durability. The process of application is similar to that of the conventional conversion varnish.

Bear in mind that there is a subtle difference in color of the finished wood with a water-bourne finish. It does not penetrate wood fibers as deeply as a solvent based one, and as a result it doesn't achieve the same deep color and luster. So, walnut may look slightly grayish instead of the familiar rich brown. With the constant improvement of this greener option, it is expected that the color differences will become insignificant. This alternative is getting more popular as it is kinder to the environment and better for the health of the workers.
Photo captions: L-R
1.Amber bamboo with clear finish                                             2.Mahogany with clear finish
3.Wall:white oak with grey wash; island:opaque (pigmented)   4.Walnut with clear finish     
5.Amber bamboo with dark chocolate stain (translucent)         6.Walnut with
water based varnish 
shoup residence featured as a 'legacy house' in this year's AIA Marin Living Home Tours.

a big thank you to our clients and colleagues for their stellar reviews

shoup residence featured at

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