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Whew, this refinishing job is a lot of work

QuestionIn 2001 we installed light oak cupboard doors and oak countertop edging in our kitchen. Now the edging shows wear in areas where the counters get the most use, especially in front of the dishwasher. We want to refinish the edging before it gets worse. Also, the top edges of the decorative panels on the doors in front of the sink are showing wear. We want to give these areas a more lasting finish and wonder about the best products and procedures.

AnswerNo matter what brand finish you use there could be visible wear depending on how many coats are applied, your activity in this area, and the integrity of the dishwasher door's seal. From your photos and our phone conversation, I believe only a very thin coat of clear or tinted lacquer was originally applied to both the countertop edging and the raised panel cabinet doors and drawers.

I'd like to focus on the countertop edges first. It is difficult to touch up worn or damaged areas without first stripping all the finish from the entire edge.

You'll be working with lacquer thinner, so begin by protecting yourself with chemical-resistant gloves and eye protection. You also want to protect the floor and the top of the dishwasher and ventilate the work area because lacquer thinner has a strong odor.

Soak the corner of a white rag in the lacquer thinner and rub the saturated portion of the rag over the face of the edge, working in a foot-long area at a time, until all clear finish is removed. Examine the edging after the solvent has evaporated. If you missed any spots, reapply lacquer thinner with your white rag.

After 24 hours, sand the edges using a hand-sanding block and 220-grit white TRI-M-ITE sandpaper by 3M. Wipe down the edge with a clean white rag and apply stain, again with a clean white rag, to match the existing color. Woodsheen by Minwax, a rubbing oil in a gel formula, is easy to apply.

Woodsheen both stains and finishes in one step, but I recommend applying a harder finish after 24 hours. Minwax has recently introduced a clear brushing lacquer (available in satin, semi-gloss, and gloss) that would be appropriate for this application. Apply it with a good-quality natural-bristle tapered-tip brush (not synthetic-bristle or blunt tip). Recoat in about two hours, depending on humidity and temperature. Sand between coats using the same 220-grit hand sander and remove the sanding dust with a clean tack cloth. I recommend three coats of lacquer because of the abuse the edging will take. Allow the last coat to sit overnight and rub it out using #0000 (extra fine) steel wool to knock down the sheen and smooth out the finish.

You have few options for the worn cabinet doors and drawer edges. You can touch up the edges with stain, but it will be impossible to touch up those areas with a clear finish without making it look obvious. The best approach is to recoat the doors with a new clear finish.

For the best final appearance, clean the doors and drawers of all foreign material, such as dirt, grease, and wax. Most of the cleaning products on the market will soften the clear finish, leave a residue, or damage the wood, so I recommend Minwax's Wood Cleaner. It comes in a trigger sprayer and is specially formulated to clean the surface without damaging the finish.

This can get messy, so pull the doors off their hinges and drawers out of their tracks and take them outside under shelter or into the garage for cleaning. After everything has been wiped down with a white rag and dried overnight, touch up any areas that need color. Use either Minwax's wood finish stain markers or gel or penetrating stains.

Allow the stained areas to dry overnight and lightly touch them with Minwax's clear aerosol lacquer. It's important to just mist the areas. Let the lacquer set up and spray again. The goal is to build up the void areas with a new clear finish.

When void areas are filled, you can knock down any overspray with 320 TRI-M-ITE sandpaper. Carefully wipe off any sanding dust and recoat the entire door or drawer with the spray lacquer. Apply it in only one direction (with the grain) and overlap the spray. Work quickly and move on—don't play with the lacquer. Consider applying two coats.

If this seems like a lot of work, you can always haul all the doors and drawers to a cabinet shop and let them fix trouble spots and apply a new finish while you work on the edging. If only a few doors or drawers need work, then these instructions will help you achieve a professional finish.

Copyright © 2005, 2006, & 2007 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved.
Question answered by Leon A. Frechette.

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