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Materials & Finishing

Calgary cabinet finishingHigh up on the list of importance is the choice of cabinetry finish. It can sometimes be a challenging decision as it’s such a personal choice. Do you see your future project as dark, light, mid-tone, wood grain or a solid colour… perhaps a combination of the two? In the design process, the choice of wood and its style of finish go hand in hand. A simple paint finish can be straightforward or a bit more involving if you factor in the type of paint, level of sheen and glazing. These additional details can set the design style further to a distinct look. We hope to make this process a little easier by showing you what choices are available and the options within those choices. We can narrow your preferences down with the aid of stain and paint swatches as well as providing custom samples if that’s what’s required. Perhaps you already have a colour sample that you would like us to match. No problem!

Stained Wood

Each wood has its own distinctive characteristics, though many share similar colours, grain patterns and textures. As cabinetmakers we want to use woods that are stable, straight grained and decorative. In the workshop they should be easy to cut, plane and shape. We call these cabinet grade woods. Mountain Ash Cabinets works primarily in wood species native to North America and Europe. We do source from time to time lumber from other parts of the world as long they’re in compliance from CITES appendices and from certified suppliers.

For most stain grade cabinetry we’ll usually have a combination of both solid wood and veneered wood paneling depending on what type of cabinet component is required. On some types of cabinetry the components are mostly built from veneered wood paneling due to the need for decorative grain patterns which can be made by book matching or slip matching the veneer. When logs from certain wood species are found to have very decorative figuring patterns like fiddleback, quilting and burls, they will be converted to veneer due to their rarity and thus higher value.

When choosing a stained wood finish there a few important things to remember. Initially, your choice of wood species is primarily based on its natural colour before any stain is applied. Generally, the lighter in colour the wood species the more variety of stain colours there are to choose from. Light coloured woods such as maple can be finished from a clear natural to deep ebony. As the wood species gets darker in colour there are fewer stain options available; walnut is a good example. Next in importance is a wood’s grain pattern and figuring. A good stain finish will bring out the depth and richness of a wood’s grain and figuring – it will reveal what lies hidden. A point worth making is that many species of wood have different grain patterns and figuring when sawn at certain angles. A couple of good examples of this are the London plane tree and oak tree. The London plane, when cut at a certain angle, becomes lacewood. Oak can be flat cut, rift cut or quarter cut. These differently sawn angles in the wood can affect a cabinet’s appearance if not given careful attention in the selection process. A case in point would be a cabinet done in an Arts & Craft style using quarter cut white oak as opposed to flat sawn white oak.

For built-in cabinetry like kitchens and bathrooms we use a wipe on stain and a 3 coat pre-catalyzed lacquer process. We do hand shading between coats to get a consistent evenness of colour. These lacquers contain UV inhibitors to help protect the stained wood finishes from fading. We do have an option of water based finishes if desired. Mountain Ash Cabinets have many years of experience with other specialty finishes that are more associated with individual pieces of furniture such as French polishing, linseed oil, beeswax and scrubbed bare wood.

cabinet stain sample

An old reclaimed board of mahogany that has a deep interlocked grain. One half is unfinished; the other half has a clear hand applied finish with no stain.

Paint Grade

There’s certainly more creative scope to cabinetry design with a paint finish. The wide colour palette and the many different affects make a paint finish very versatile. The processes and techniques vary between the familiar to the more obscure. Depending upon the cabinetry design style, a solid base colour can be layered with higher levels of sheen or with additional affects like crackling, glazing and ebonizing. Alternately, there are milk paints made from natural pigments which bring warmth, earthy colorations and a chalky quality to wood. A solid paint colour can help define a design style to both contemporary and traditional. The exact same shade of white in a high gloss will look completely different when compared to a flat white and accordingly, changes our perception; one affect conveys a clean contemporary look while the other is more sympathetic to a traditional design.

For any cabinetry paint finish we need to have the most stable materials as our base, materials that will not be prone to shrinkage, cupping or twisting. We select paint grade woods like soft maple or poplar for panel frames, crowns, columns and mouldings. These wood species provide a good substrate for paint due to their closed grain and durability.  For flat surface components we use premium grade MDF as it’s the most stable and inert material for cabinetry. Our paint finishes are hand sprayed with 3 applied coats: Base coat, top coat and sealer coat. Specialty finishes like glazing and aging are done by hand where a more experienced and subjective eye is required.


One other element for consideration is how a room is lit, or will be lit, in relation to newly installed cabinetry. This applies to both stain grade and paint grade finishes. No matter which room it’s going into, custom cabinetry should appear well presented with the light source enhancing its finish and how it reflects and absorbs onto the cabinetry surface. A thoughtfully placed light will set colour tones, shades, highlights and shadows that help accent the details.

custom cabinetry

A detail from a French provincial inspired kitchen. This is a specialty paint finish of 8 layers comprising of base coats, two paint colours, aging, glazing and final clear coat.