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Maple Cabinets
Lindsey Gorney_TownsendJanuary 2, 2013
I am in the final stages of a major bathroom remodel. The contractor hired a cabinet person who screwed up the stain on the new maple cabinets. I am not sure what happened, but it almost looked like he stained the inside and not the out. We refused to accept them and he says he had the wood replaced and stained them again. We are still not happy with the stain on the front panels; it seems dull, is uneven, and does not match the sides of the cabinet at all. The cabinets are made of maple, and the contactor is telling us that we have to accept them because maple is a hard wood to stain evenly. The stain color is supposed to be Mocha, but not only do they look light and uneven in sections, they look dull. Does this look like an acceptable stain job to you based on what you Houzzers know about maple and stain?
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I don't know if it's a light and shadow problem, but they do look really splotchy. I would not be happy with this finished project. I would take one of the doors to another cabinet maker for a second professional opinion.
    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 2:26AM
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Deborah Butler, Brickwood Builders
olldbobbi has a good idea to take the door to someone else to look at. You will never get the same finish as a factory applied. Just too hard to tell from a picture.
1 Like    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 3:52AM
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Your contractor is partly right in that maple does take stain unevenly. However when we stain maple, after we wipe on the stain we do a top coat of lacquer. This adds a sheen, which can be as shiny or dull as the customer wants. A low 10% sheen looks nice. We also "tone" the lacquer which means we add a bit of the stain colour to the lacquer to take out the blotchy, unevenness of the stain. You still get a very slight unevenness in some areas of the maple, i.e. the frame of the door might look slightly darker than the recessed panel. You do want some variance in this way to make it look like wood.

The door you have pictured looks like it just has stain on it with no top coat of protective lacquer on it. I would ask if the cabinet maker has a spray booth for lacquer or if your end product is just a wipe on stain.
1 Like    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 4:57AM
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Have you paid the contractor yet? I wouldn't! I think it is wrong for him to tell you that you have to accept a poor job. If it were true that maple is difficult to stain evenly, he should have told you that up front, and recommended a different choice. That is his responsibility. Don't be bullied into accepting substandard work.
    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 5:03AM
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Gabberts Design Studio
I agree with Lehman, in my experience, Maple is really hard to stain evenly. That being said, the cabinet maker should have prepped you when you selected your wood, that it may turn out this way. I would suggest a lacquer to help the dullness. It would brighten it up and help the blotchiness to be less visible.
    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 5:07AM
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I have attached a photo of a similar colour sample door from my office. You can see a slight sheen on this door. The lacquer is important to give a protective coating against water and scratches. Lacquer is not bullet-proof, but does offer protection and longevity in the finish.
1 Like    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 5:21AM
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Lehman, that looks much better! What about pre-stain sealers, I've seen them used on shows like This Old House?....Bobbi
    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 5:22AM
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The lacquer will also help prevent water absorption/damage if these are in an area where they could possibly get wet.
    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 5:25AM
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@ Old bobbi. Thank you.

Our process for stain finishing is 1. Wipe on stain. 2. Spray on sanding sealer. 3. Sand. 4. Toner lacquer to even out colour. 5. Top coat with clear lacquer for sheen.

Our sanding sealer is quite likely what you are referring to. We do mostly maple, oak and walnut for species as well as painted (again pigmented lacquer) one piece mdf.
    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 5:31AM
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Yes, that's it, a sanding sealer, thanks! On tv I've seen it applied before the stain, does that make a difference?
    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 5:39AM
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We usually seal after staining. The stain itself acts as a sealer as it penetrates. I believe if you applied the sealer prior your stain would not penetrate. The purpose of the sanding sealer we use is to allow the subsequent coats to lay flatter and evenly.

We have in the past used NGR stains (non grain raising) at the request of customers but we usually spray those on as opposed to wiping. Some wood finishers use 'conditioners' first but I don't have any experience with them.
1 Like    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 5:57AM
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Shawn Lagemann
Sanding sealer applied before hand can make a huge difference, dependant on the species of wood. Birch wood is very hard to get to stain evenly and looks awful without sanding sealer applied first. I am a little surprised that no one has mentioned that there are different types of stains as well. Some stains you can "build" and some you cannot. Many of the building stains are applied in different tones to build depth of color and to look more naturally varied, while straight wiping stains do not have that effect. I too have used a laquer toner to even out stained finishes, for something as large as a cabinet door I would look at having a professional either spray on sight or use a spray booth.
1 Like    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 5:58AM
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Lindsey Gorney_Townsend
Thank you for the answers! They are coming today to take off the doors and try to fix them, and I plan to pass along your information. Shawn, what exactly is a spray booth?
    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 10:58AM
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Grace Reed
I would let them try the sheen. It could make all the difference.
    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 11:42AM
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A spray booth is just a ventilation booth system where spray finishers spray lacquer to avoid fumes and dust. It would be located in cabinet shop.

You would not want any quantity of lacquer sprayed in your home. A little bit of site spraying is okay, but not an entire kitchen.

Good luck. Maybe post a photo of the finished product as an update?
    Bookmark   January 2, 2013 at 11:59AM
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Thanks for excellent info on staining maple!! Considering it.
    Bookmark   March 7, 2013 at 9:30AM
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