Faux wood paint: 56 Cabinet doors and drawer faces
I was referred to the contractor for this by a student who was too busy to take it on.
I was busy, but fortunately the lead time for the project was 60 to 90 days.
I get a lot of calls and emails for graining work, but since my primary job is teaching, I only accept a few, carefully chosen jobs.
My criteria for accepting projects are largely based on whether the work will be of value to students.
Since I hadn’t done any high volume graining work for a while, I was excited to add this one to my portfolio.
I knew it would translate to valuable lessons for myself and students of The Faux Wood Master Course and The Car Graining Course.
Table of Contents
The high end, custom cabinetry for this yacht was built and installed in the 1990’s
The doors and drawer faces were solid cherry wood while the boxes were clear (straight grain, without knots) and burl cherry veneer.
Most hardwoods darken or otherwise change over time due to atmospheric influences such as temperature and humidity and Cherry is no exception.
Over the decades, the solid wood doors and faces darkened significantly, while the veneer on the boxes stayed mostly the same.
The result was a stark contrast that made the entire cabinet set look like it had been cobbled together from two different kits.
So my job was to lighten the doors to they’d match the cabinets more closely.
Lead up to the project
The client was a yacht maintenance and remodel contractor in Seattle. He was in the process of making some improvements to a yacht he’d had custom built in the 90’s for some clients I would be a subcontractor.
It was late November and I was not in the Seattle area at the time, but due to return in March.
I always establish realistic expectations, so I made my availability timing clear.
Fortunately, he was in no hurry so an early spring start time worked for he and his client.
Even though this would not start, nor was I able to view the boat for some months, I wanted to make it clear that I was serious about my interest, so I scheduled a phone call with the contractor.
I also asked him to email me photo’s, number of pieces to be grained and any other details he might find relevant.
Establishing client relations
During our phone call I got the sense that both the lead contractor and his client would be reasonable to work with.
We had a good rapport and I felt comfortable that he was well organized and had many years of experience.
Because larger jobs tend to be intricate, require some weeks of planning and might involve some surprises or points of difficulty, it’s important that all parities be professional and cool headed.
The phone call went great. He got an idea of who I was and what to expect going forward, and I felt comfortable that I was dealing with an established professional who worked with smart clients.
Should you provide a “ballpark” bid?
During our phone call, he asked me for an estimate of price to create and apply the cherry faux wood paint.
There are many philosophies and attitudes about offering sight unseen job estimates. Mostly, it’s a bad idea, but there are exceptions.
During the earliest stage of discussion with a new potential client, it’s best to make sure they have some idea of how much it will cost.
This benefits both sides by establishing whether or not they can afford my price range. If not, we can both move on.
But it’s equally important to not commit to a narrow range of cost prior to seeing the work.
Since this would likely be very involved, complex and time consuming I knew the price would be high.
I told him to expect an estimate in the twelve to twenty thousand dollar range, possibly higher.
He responded that he assumed it might be that high, but he was confident that his client would be okay with it.
I also trusted that, as a contractor with many years of experience in his field, he wouldn’t run to his client and say “He’ll do it for 12K!” and that he’d wait until he had a written estimate in hand.
Creating the preliminary faux cherry samples
As mentioned in my series on faux finishing business. I don’t produce samples for free.
My time is valuable and I make it clear in early discussions that I bill to create job specific samples.
If it’s a matching project and I can’t match the finish, I refund the cost of sample creation.
Otherwise, if they don’t want to pay me for my precious time and expertise, they were never a real customer and probably would’ve been problematic to work with in the first place.
One reason this works for me is that I have a vast portfolio of samples and it’s rare that I can’t provide examples of my work that’s similar to what the potential client needs.
Such was the case with this one; lots of cherry samples in my portfolio to put the client at ease regarding my abilities.
So I collected a small deposit to get started with sample production.
This one required an accurate reproduction of a subtle finish with nuanced color variation and very minimal primary grain.
In terms of matching work, that means being very careful with color accuracy and not going overboard on texture.
Bid, deposit, payment schedule
When writing the bid and deciding on a final amount, my biggest concern was that matching the subtle, light cherry would require a lot of very time consuming brush and tool work.
This turned out to be true, but nothing I couldn’t handle. More about the process details later.
I structure payment schedules very carefully. It’s important that all materials and most labor costs are covered in the first deposit.
The initial deposit is often 50% of the total bid amount, but can be more, depending on several factors. This ensures that I can work without concern for operating costs.
I’ll sometimes break up very large projects into several payments, depending on complexity, crew size and other factors.
In this case, I only needed two payments. The first as initial deposit and the second upon completion of the work, and prior to delivery of the finished work to the boat.
Since this blog is public and client privacy is a concern, I can’t share specific numbers.
I do help students of my courses work through details like estimating, deposits, payment schedules and other specifics, in private conversations.
Perfect Woodgrain courses and tutorials include one-on-one coaching, not only for learning to paint faux wood at the expert level, but for painting and decorating business development.
Developing a project specific faux painted cherry finish
While it’s not uncommon to create a project-specific finish, this one provided some very real challenges.
Specifically, the hardwood cherry veneer that I needed to match was very subtle, and the relief or shape of the cabinet faces were complex enough that I had to develop woodgrain tool and brush techniques to get the look right.
A major lesson learned
The best way to approach this is to take all the time necessary to perfect every aspect of the finish, from beginning to end, on two or more of the actual pieces involved.
That last part; “actual pieces involved’ is important because until I had the agreement signed and the deposit in hand, I couldn’t do any painting on the cabinet doors in question because that work couldn’t be undone.
Painting the sample only established the process on a flat panel. The real development work began when I had the actual doors in hand.
What went wrong?
I allowed the schedules of others involved to influence my thinking about the early stage of the job.
No one’s fault but mine, by the way.
This resulted in rushing through the early development of the finish which in turn lead to the need to redo a large portion of the work.
I tried to develop the finish process in a day or two. I should have taken 4 to 6 days.
It was less about lost time than the stress of having to start over and redo some of the work.
So my advice to anyone reading along (and to my future self) is this: No matter how long it takes, get your process nailed down before you begin.
Choosing faux wood tools and brushes
The raised panel doors in this boat are cathedral style, so they include curved channels and rounded tops.
This presented some challenges for creating grain lines, figure and other aspects of the faux cherry.
I spent several hours experimenting with brushes, sponges and other graining tools to arrive at a process that worked.
It was tedious to get there, but the results were worth the effort.
Preparing the Cherry cabinet doors for faux painting
Of course any paint project requires a lot of preparation to ensure the finish will last.
Nothing unusual about this project in terms of prep.
I removed all the hardware while still on the boat and left it there. No reason to move it.
I ran into some issues with the hinges as they were original, installed in the 90’s, tired and ready for replacement.
This required an addendum to the contract as I’m not a cabinetry specialist and cannot install new hinges.
The result was I wouldn’t have to re-install the doors, only the drawer faces.
Sounds like a freebie in terms of time, but I can assure you it took plenty of extra time to remove those old hinges and screws. No freebie.
The preparation process:
- Clean: Step one was to degrease the doors and faces thoroughly. The boat gets used a lot so they were pretty filthy. I had to remove tape and other adhesives, grease and lots of dirt.
- Sand: Every piece had to be lightly sanded and vacuumed in preparation for the primer and base coat.
- Prime: A high quality, sandable latex primer was applied and allowed to dry completely, then sanded lightly and vacuumed, ready for base color.
- Base coat: Two coats of high end (Benjamin Moore) base coat was applied prior to the grain work.
Applying the faux painted cherry woodgrain finish to the yacht cabinet doors and drawer faces
This work can get a bit tedious. While it can be more rewarding to finish a door completely prior to moving on to the next, it’s too time consuming to change tools, brushes, glaze colors and other aspects of the work.
So we do one stage over and over on all the doors, let that dry and then go back to the first door, and start on the next stage.
Since things like planning sections, handedness (working around the piece in a way that keeps your hands, arms, sleeves… out of wet paint), direction and flow of lines, is all part of the process, it’s best to do it in stages.
Honoring Joinery and direction of grain
Paint can be used to completely cover all joints lines in any woodwork. This can result in an unnatural look, overall, so it usually pays to avoid it.
It’s important to keep track of the direction of grain of the real wood, and duplicate that as the grain work is developed.
This is done with strategic masking and timing of sections to dry to serve both visual goals and for timely completion.
I applied the initial grain lines in 5 stages by section, organized to keep the joint lines of the doors clean and crisp and to paint natural direction of grain as seen on real cabinet wood.
Project completion and installation
Once all the initial grain work was done, the final step was to apply 3 layers of clear varnish for protection and depth.
Since I work entirely with water based glazes, I don’t really get to see the depth of layers until I apply clear coats.
It’s really the only disadvantage of working with acrylic vs oil, as oils show depth at every stage. But the disadvantages of oils are not worth that one little issue.
Sometimes that means throwing on a layer of clear just to see where I’m at in terms of layer depth.
If all that sounds like so much Chinese, no worries, I go into great detail in the my courses and tutorials.
Correcting Cherry faux wood paint with a toned varnish
Scroll back up and take a look at the initial sample. Note how the real Cherry veneer is slightly more gray than the sample.
Though I tried to correct that with my figure layer (the final stage of the graining process), the final pieces lacked the gray tone of the real Cherry.
The answer was to use some blue and black to the final layer of varnish.
This solved the problem while adding more depth to the work.
The installation went pretty smooth. Again, I didn’t have to hang the doors, only the drawer faces.
Prior to transport, I wrapped each piece (!) in paper to avoid any rubbing during transport. Not that I don’t trust the clear coats, but why risk it?
One issue was that the boxes have a lot of variation in color, some subtle and some pretty severe. In many spots the cabinet veneer changes color at the seems of the veneer.
Since I was not able to do the project on the boat, and to match every door to every piece of veneer would’ve been impossible, there are some areas that stand out.
We’re planning to do some color correction on a few doors in the future to minimize this. I’ll do that using a toned clear coat, on site.
This will be a very subtle tone so as not to hide the grain. Wish me luck.
The final result is a more uniform look overall without the harsh contrast of the dark red doors and drawers.
This job was a joy to work on, overall and i’m glad I accepted the challenge.
I look forward to sharing more details of the process with the students of my courses and tutorials.
The lead contractor on this was Yacht Services of Seattle, located at 1220 Westlake Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109
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