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Confessions of a first time pre-finisher

April 26, 20146 Comments

When is the right time to pre-finish a project? I don’t know! But with his current project it made complete sense to try it for the first time. And the result? I’m liking it!


Cherry plywood cabinet Scotts cabinet without doors Scotts cabinet with doors

If you’re not familiar with the concept of pre-finishing a project it’s really pretty simple. Unlike when you assemble a project and THEN apply the finish…you apply the finish and THEN assemble.

In this particular situation it means I’m dying all the components of the body and then applying a topcoat of polyurethane first and next I’ll glue it all together before I move on.

Why did I decide to go this route? A couple of reasons really:

First: for this cabinet I have to include a shelf that will have a stainless steel skin applied to it. For the sake of not messing it up somehow (because I’m familiar with my own finishing skills and I know it will happen) by prefinishing I can keep it clean and looking good the entire time.

Second: I don’t know about you, but whenever I have components that are upright (like the sides of this cabinet) when I apply a stain or a topcoat they have a tendency to pool in the corners where interior sides meet shelves or there are drips and sags down the length of the side.

When I apply a finish on a horizontal surface there are far fewer of these issues, especially those sags and drips that seem to go unnoticed until the finish is almost setup and cured. So why not take the time to do a little work ahead of time to get a better result?

One thing I will admit is that it feels like this process is taking a lot longer than it normally does. Therefore, it’s making the entire build process feel like it’s taking two or three times as long. But now that this first part is complete and I’m about to assemble it, I can’t believe how much better the finish looks and especially how much better it feels.

This technique may not work for all of my projects in the future, for a whole list of reasons, but for those where I can take advantage of it I’m absolutely going to do it.

How about you? Have you ever pre-finished a project for a better finish? Or is it something you do all the time? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

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  1. 524 Bathroom cabinet part 3 | Matt's Basement Workshop | May 3, 2014
  1. Rick Adams says:

    I decided after my very first project to pre stain my wood.
    The reason–glue marks, I realized by pre staining I don’t have to be so worried about glue drops or smugges, just wipe them up with a damp sponge or cloth. Any stain that comes off can be touched up before the final finish.

  2. Cal Deobald says:

    I most usually spray finish (often lacquer), so pre-finishing is a frequent tactic.

    I pre-finish cabinet carcasses and drawers that employ simple joinery (dadoes, rabbets, pocket screws). I mask off the glue surfaces so as not to compromise the glue bond, then stain and spray them all lying flat. That way I avoid tight corners, blow-back, and sags and runs. And, as Rick said, glue marks.

    Since dadoes for drawer bottoms are often too small to mask easily, I tend to cut those after finishing. Although scratches in the finish from the router table or table saw surface are obviously a concern with that approach, I have had good success with it. One advantage of this sequence is that you can customize the width of your dado to accommodate the finish on the drawer bottom.

  3. Cal Deobald says:

    I re-read that comment three times before posting and still managed to open with “most usually”?? Ugghh. ;-)

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