Change Wood Finishes

Working with Vendors to Change Wood Finishes

by Paul Pagel

The relationship between the wood finisher and the coating supplier is critical to successfully change finishes or finishing processes. This is especially true when converting conventional nitrocellulose (NC) sealers and topcoats to low-VOC (volatile organic compound) or water-borne finishes.

Set and Communicate Criteria

Finishers need to know the criteria for their finishes and which characteristics and processes are variable. When looking for new coatings, finishers must communicate criteria and variables to vendors. Also, the success or failure of products being tested needs to be measurable.

Appearance, costs, durability and manufacturing constraints may all factor into selecting a suitable coating. Examples include:

  • Stain, gloss and color. Is the finish available in a gloss acceptable to your customers?
  • Costs. Are raw materials, labor, waste and equipment all accounted for?
  • Durability. What degree of marring or scratching and contact with various elements (including: solvents, coffee, heat and water) must coatings be able to withstand?
  • Drying time. How dependent are assembly and shipping schedules on dry times?
  • Climate. How will conditions like temperature and humidity affect coatings in storage or in application areas?
  • Sanding. Courser sanding results in greater absorbed moisture and increased grain raise. Can a finer grit be used to make alternative coatings more workable?

Comparing Finishing Costs

Many companies neglect to evaluate the cost of finishes beyond their prices per gallon. The total cost of finishes needs to be compared.

The solids content of low VOC and water-borne coatings is usually higher than that of NC lacquers. Low solids means less material is needed to obtain the same dry film thickness on the items being finished. Because coverage increases you should compare the total cost of the coating per part or per square foot. Labor costs should also be factored in, such as time saved from applying two coats instead of three.

Industry Example

Northshore Wood Products in Duluth, Minnesota, successfully switched to a waterbased finishing system after two years of testing coatings. Several vendors worked with Northshore, but one supplier worked closely with them on-site and at the vendor’s coatings lab

This vendor was able to formulate stains, sealers and lacquers as water-borne coatings to provide Northshore with high quality, environmentally sound coatings that meet their needs.

This article was originally published in the 1997 Winter issue of the Source.