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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Hey all. New here, but I've read posts before. I did some searching on Google and here (as well as some other forums), but I can't seem to find a solution to this issue...or another issue like it.

My cabinets are knotty alder that has been stained fairly dark. Chocolate color or thereabouts. I'm not sure what type of stain was used or the top coat type. I had the house built about 2.5 years ago.

So, here's the issue. I'm getting white scratch marks very easily all over my cabinets. Finger nails, small bumps, and utensils can scratch the cabinets and leave a white mark. These are not wiping off with water and don't sand off, either. I'm not a finish expert, and truth be told, I'm not even an amateur.

Below is a picture of what I'm talking about. I did that scratch with my fingernail and it didn't take much pressure. Like I said, it won't sand off, either. It's almost like it goes through the top coat, but I'm not sure.

I'd really appreciate some help here...not only recommendations or ideas on getting rid of them, but ways I can prevent it from happening. If that means applying a new top coat to all the cabinets in my house (there sure are a lot of them), then I'm fine with that. Obviously the cheap stuff at Lowe's and Home Depot don't cut it and I know that. But I don't have many specialty stores around here. The nearest Woodcraft, for example, is 2 hours away. I don't mind driving there if I know what I'm looking for.

Anyway, hope you guys can help. Let me know if you need any more pictures.

 

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It seems that you might have a failed finish. It is very soft and scratches very easily. I would find out what the painter or wood finisher used. I don't feel that another coat is going to solve the underlying problem. I think it is imperative that you find out what the finish schedule was for your cabinets.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
I could ask my builder, but I doubt he'll know. I can say that the company that came in and did the cabinet staining/finishing is no longer in business. So, unfortunately, it'll be pretty hard to find out what the top coat is.
 

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What I expect is that the finish is a nitrocellulose lacquer finish. It is inherently soft and easy to scratch. The first thing I would do is try to determine if it is a lacquer finish. I would find an inconspicuous place like the back side of a drawer front and wet it with lacquer thinner and see if the finish dissolves. If it does, the cabinets can be cleaned off and coated over with catalyzed lacquer. This would be a harder and more durable finish. The scratch marks should dissolve when coated over. It could first be wiped with lacquer thinner to be sure. Just don't rub the spot or you will take the finish off. The idea is just to wet the scratches. Another product which would be more durable is a conversion varnish. If the existing finish does anything other than dissolve than no lacquer product should be used. If it has a varnish type finish the finish will wrinkle up and lift as if you put paint and varnish remover on it. To topcoat over that you could use polyurethane. Some of these products are available in water based. I wouldn’t recommend water based products for a recoat.
 

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Old School
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My guess it isn't lacquer, and possibly not a film finish. I'm thinking that a film finish wouldn't be subjective to a fingernail as you described. Could you show a picture with more of a perspective. IOW not as much of a close up. I would like to see more of the cabinetwork, and where the scratches appear.









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Discussion Starter #7
Here are the pictures. I really appreciate the feedback.

The flash does make these look a little worse than I thought they looked...and they could use a cleaning. But it is what it is.



Close up of the previous picture where the worst is above the drawer here.


Here's one of the bad scratches.
 

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Here are the pictures. I really appreciate the feedback.

The flash does make these look a little worse than I thought they looked...and they could use a cleaning. But it is what it is.



Close up of the previous picture where the worst is above the drawer here.


Here's one of the bad scratches.
It still looks like a film finish to me. If you don't want to get involved in recoating the cabinets you can help the marks with touch up markers and old english scratch cover for dark wood. The scratches would still be there, just darkened.
 

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Discussion Starter #9
It still looks like a film finish to me. If you don't want to get involved in recoating the cabinets you can help the marks with touch up markers and old english scratch cover for dark wood. The scratches would still be there, just darkened.
I don't mind recoating the cabinets at all. However, I want that new top coat to be HARD as a rock.
 

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Rick Mosher
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I'm not sure about the finish but that is a great example of stain blotchiness. :blink:

I am not sure what your budget is but I think I would replace the doors and drawer fronts with new ones and strip and refinish the face frames and finished ends. There are many companies where you can buy replacement doors and drawer fronts if you can't make them yourself. As far as a "rock hard" finish, anything you put over a soft finish will only ever be as good as the original finish.
 

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I don't mind recoating the cabinets at all. However, I want that new top coat to be HARD as a rock.
If the scratches are the only problem and not the blotchiness that Rick pointed out then I would find out if the finish is compatible with lacquer thinner. The next step would be to thoroughly clean the cabinets. Over time the cabinets either have been cleaned with furniture polish or have cooking oils on the surface or both. I use a product called Krud Kutter Gloss Off. It's available at Sherwin Williams and I believe Walmart. Thoroughly wash the cabinets down with that frequently changing rags. If the cabinets are perceived to be extra oily you might go over it twice. Then where the scratches are, wet the scratches with lacquer thinner. The finish at the scratch is frayed and wetting it will melt it back together. Care must be taken not to rub the spot as the thinner can strip the finish and make a light spot. Often I put lacquer thinner in a sprayer and apply it with that so I don't even touch the finish. After you do this the white scratches should pretty much go away. If not it may be necessary to go over it with a dye to color it in before proceeding. The finish on the cabinets will then need a scuff sanding with 220 grit sandpaper or I sometimes use a extra fine Glit sanding pad. Then with a clean dry cloth wipe off the sanding dust and blow the rest off with compressed air. Now the cabinets are ready to mask off and recoat. A better lacquer than what you had would be a catalyzed lacquer. If you're looking for a hard as a rock finish then I would recommend a conversion varnish. Each can be obtained at Sherwin Williams in most states. Sometimes you have to special order it as most stores only stock house paint. A lot depends on if contractors in your area routinely use the product.

A word of caution, these products are flamable and you need to take extra care working in the house with them. Don't turn the lights on and off. If the lights are on, leave them on. The spark in the switch can ignite it. You could put window fans in the other side of the house blowing in so the fumes exit out of the kitchen outside. I use a fan to exhaust the fumes but it is a spray booth fan with an exposion proof motor. I would not recommend using a box fan to exhaust paint fumes. You might just have to work smaller areas at a time so not to build up too much fumes.
 

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Wax

What ever you end up doing be sure to give it a good coat of Finishing wax. Only after it is totally cured. The contractor should have treated the wood so tha the rails an styles wood have matched. If these are fairly new I would press him to restore them.
 

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Discussion Starter #13
I'm not sure about the finish but that is a great example of stain blotchiness. :blink:

I am not sure what your budget is but I think I would replace the doors and drawer fronts with new ones and strip and refinish the face frames and finished ends. There are many companies where you can buy replacement doors and drawer fronts if you can't make them yourself. As far as a "rock hard" finish, anything you put over a soft finish will only ever be as good as the original finish.
Well...okay. Thanks, I guess. Not really an option for me. I guess I know what you mean by 'blotchiness', but I'm not sure if that comment was really warranted. I kind of like the inconsistency of the color, personally.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
What ever you end up doing be sure to give it a good coat of Finishing wax. Only after it is totally cured. The contractor should have treated the wood so tha the rails an styles wood have matched. If these are fairly new I would press him to restore them.
They're almost 3 years old and there's no way he would restore them at this point.
 

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Well, I can't find lacquer retarder anywhere. I have two places left to looking...one is a builder supply house (like Lowe's except more for contractors) and another is a specialty paint shop. We'll see.

I bought some things at Lowe's today...Old English scratch cover, mineral spirits, and steel wool 0000. I just tried the Old English on the scratches in my original picture. It lessened them, but it didn't cover them up at all. Once that dries, I may try it again to see if I get any more cover on it. After that, I'm going to try the mineral spirits and steel wool.

Last resort (and probably the long term solution) is to hire out someone to strip the top coat off of the cabinets, touch up the stain and then put a new HARD top coat on. I'm really afraid of how much that's going to cost. Likely north of $3k...ugh. I'd like to kick my builder in the arse...
 

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Well, I can't find lacquer retarder anywhere. I have two places left to looking...one is a builder supply house (like Lowe's except more for contractors) and another is a specialty paint shop. We'll see.

I bought some things at Lowe's today...Old English scratch cover, mineral spirits, and steel wool 0000. I just tried the Old English on the scratches in my original picture. It lessened them, but it didn't cover them up at all. Once that dries, I may try it again to see if I get any more cover on it. After that, I'm going to try the mineral spirits and steel wool.

Last resort (and probably the long term solution) is to hire out someone to strip the top coat off of the cabinets, touch up the stain and then put a new HARD top coat on. I'm really afraid of how much that's going to cost. Likely north of $3k...ugh. I'd like to kick my builder in the arse...
You might try Sherwin Williams for the retarder thinner. If they don't stock it I bet they can special order some if it's legal in your state.

I still think you could wet the scratch with lacquer thinner and it would melt it away. Just find some out of the way place to test it first.

As far as touching up the finish, as dark as the woodwork is you could use a sharpie on the stubborn spots. Sometimes you have to rub it with your finger to blend it as you mark it.

Refinishing work runs different prices in different parts of the country but it shouldn't cost anywhere near $3k to fix. I think the most I've ever charged to completely refinish a kitchen is about $1800.00. With a helper it only takes two days. It can be stripped, sanded and stained in one day and masked off and finished the next day.
 

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Discussion Starter #17 (Edited)
You might try Sherwin Williams for the retarder thinner. If they don't stock it I bet they can special order some if it's legal in your state.

I still think you could wet the scratch with lacquer thinner and it would melt it away. Just find some out of the way place to test it first.

As far as touching up the finish, as dark as the woodwork is you could use a sharpie on the stubborn spots. Sometimes you have to rub it with your finger to blend it as you mark it.

Refinishing work runs different prices in different parts of the country but it shouldn't cost anywhere near $3k to fix. I think the most I've ever charged to completely refinish a kitchen is about $1800.00. With a helper it only takes two days. It can be stripped, sanded and stained in one day and masked off and finished the next day.
$1800? You're hired!! If you're near me, I'm quite serious. I have a lot of cabinets...

I'll try Sherwin Williams for the retarder. I didn't see any when I was in there, but I'll ask. I did see some lacquer thinner in Lowe's when I was in there getting the mineral spirits today. I'll try that next.

Oddly, this scratch below pretty much dissappeared when I used the Old English on it. I can still see it when the light hits it at just the right angle, but 99% of the angles I looked at it at...gone.





Guess I'll just keep trying different things until I hit on something. At least until I can find someone I trust to know what they're doing refinish my cabinets.



UPDATE: This Old English scratch cover stuff seems to be taking care of a lot of the issues. Granted, the scratches are still there...you just can't see them. I may be able to live with this and just using the Old English to touch up. For the more stubborn stuff, I can use a bit of the lacquer thinner that Steve suggested.

We'll see if I'm as optimistic after I clean and go over all of the cabinets with this stuff.
 
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