After a lot of research and exploration, I chose unfinished stain-grade cabinets from The Cabinet Authority (see Adventures in kitchen design # 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5). Here’s what I finally did with them.
First, I explored the colors available in water based and oil based stain. Derek, who manages my local PastimeAce Hardware and has patiently advised on many of my past projects, warned me that the water-based stains hadn’t been terribly popular, and I can see why – they are both too intense and not colorful enough. And, my original idea – a green and a red – look too Christmasy. But that’s where my inner Pitidoe kicks in – if you don’t see what you like on the shelf, why not just mix your own?
After several trips to Pastime and our local Blick art supply, I’m set. I water down the aqua water-based stain with a neutral tint base, and mix my own green stain from “terre” green oil paint and “natural” stain. This gives me two transparent shades – an aqua blue and a mossy green – that showcase the wood grain of the cabinets while complementing the granite counter we’ve chosen.
As a highlight, I explore two of my favorite ingredients – metallic tint powder and acrylic matte medium.
Acrylic matte medium is a miracle ingredient for DIY-ers. You can mix anything with it (as long as it’s in the acrylic family) and it will stick (you can also use it by itself as a glue or adhesive, or a clear coating). I start with one of my favorites, a blue green metallic, but it’s too subtle, so I switch to a bronze, and POP – it’s perfect. SO – the drawer fronts and inset panels of the shaker style doors go aqua. The frames of the doors and the cabinets themselves go green(ish). The tiny ledge between the inset panel of the doors and the frame of the doors goes bronze. Everything will get two coats of water-based polyurethane, but Derek’s made me promise to wait a week before coating oil-based stain with water-based polyurethane, so that’s it for now.
Recipes? I hardly ever use them. My grandmother taught me to cook a chicken by having me go through the spice rack, smelling every one in turn. “Would you want your chicken to smell like that?”, she asked. If yes, take a couple of pinches and add it to the mix. If no, move on. I mix color the same way, but here are my best tips.
- Stick to families – you can mix almost anything acrylic – stain, paint, matte medium – with almost anything else acrylic, but not with oil. This includes adding water to a latex paint to get more of a transparent wash effect. Similarly, you can mix almost anything with an oil base together and use mineral spirits to water it down if necessary.
- Stir frequently – if, for example, you’re using oil paint to tint an oil-based stain, stir often to make sure the paint is being suspended relatively consistently in the stain, and not gathering at the bottom of the container.
- Thin if you want a transparent color – this may mean adding more of a neutral base, or just adding water or mineral spirits.
- Test before you use – I bought an extra cabinet door to use for testing, so that I’d be experimenting on the same wood as the cabinets. I used it to test initial mixes, and once I’d found what I liked, I used it to match the remixes.
- Be patient – the old rule used to be that you could put oil over water but not water over oil. According to Derek, that’s no longer true – and that’s a good thing, since the water-based polyurethanes are easier to use and much faster drying than the oils. BUT – you have to wait several days, ideally a week, before putting water based over oil based. For those of us who are patience-challenged, this can be tough – but if I can do it, you can too.