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Refinishing 1950's Kitchen Cabinets

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dfwskier
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Refinishing 1950's Kitchen Cabinets

Postby dfwskier » Mon Aug 28, 2006 10:13 am

I'm in the process of redoing a 1950's kitchen. I am committed to investing 4+ weeks to strip, restain, and revarnish the cabinets (there are lots of cabinets -- 26 doors). We are not interested in painting the cabinets, and I'm sure the original stained surface was fine until the original varnish surface yellowed inconsistently and badly.

There is a problem though. It appears that the cabinets were constructed of pieces of wood of different shades (see picture cabs1). So, standard staining doesn't work as it highlights the difference in wood colors -- not good! This was not a problem with the original finish.

In stripping the old finish, I seem to find what appears to be a white washcoat under the varnish (pic cab2), if that's the case, that would explain why the different wood tones were not visible under the old finish. Some wood grain features were visible under the old finish, but not as much as I would expect from a normal application of penetrating stain.


Any opinions about whether or not my opinion about washcoat is accurate, and any opinions about how I could recreate this situation before continuing the staining, revarnishing process?

Also, I have some wood discoloration around old nail holes. I presume I would just use a bleaching compund to normalize the situation (although if the washcoat takes care of the wood shade problem that it would also take care of this one).

Thanks in advance for your help.
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Zeeman
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Postby Zeeman » Mon Aug 28, 2006 5:56 pm

A couple of thoughts, first of all, lots of hard work that will pay off when done!

You can strip everything down and sand it, then apply a very light sealer washcoat, then use a gel stain to selectivly bring the lighter colored boards even in color with the darker ones. You can then add your topcoats, and do some fine tuning of the color at that stage.

I don't think that the whitish cast is a white washcoat, just areas that are now down to the light backround wood itself, and the darker areas around it still have a trace of finish there.
dfwskier
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Postby dfwskier » Tue Aug 29, 2006 1:30 pm

Zeeman, thanks for your input.

Yesterday I spent some time at a local paint store that's been around since the early '40's (the house was built in 1953). The rep, who has been in the business since the late '50's, said that it was common practice in the old days to do a very light whitewash before either staining or applying a colored varnish.

Apparently the old time house painters would apply some white oil based paint and then apply liberal amounts of thinner via a rag to thin the product enough to let grain show thru the paint, but not enough to keep the whitewash from helping to conceal the differences in wood shades. That would also seem to fill the role of a prestain wood conditioner that would normalize absorbtion of the stain.

That would make sense given that I really do see a white compound in the wood grain after removing the varnish. I've had to do an inordinate amount of sanding to get all traces of the white out of the wood grain.

I'm also tempted to try a white pickling stain as a first coat followed by
a stain in poly product as a second (3rd, 4th?) application.

Any thoughts about either of the processes described above?

I like your suggestion about using gel stain selectively to darken the lighter woods to match the darker wood, but since the kitchen is a bit dark anyway, we're really trying to keep the cabinets relatively light in color.
Zeeman
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Postby Zeeman » Tue Aug 29, 2006 6:50 pm

Excellent research job! I have never heard of that whitewash method, but I am sure that the old method worked well for them. . .

I think that if you want a pretty even tone to all of the cabinetry, then the darkest existing stripped color is what you would target stain for the lighter areas. If you don't mind a bit of variation, you could match an in-between color and use a gel stain to get you there, followed by a poly/stain, or toner coat to blend. . .

For a complete change to a lighter color, strip, sand, pickle, and then tone as you planned. Try a sample on the back of a door. . .
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