Michael Dresdner

straight talk about wood finishing

Kitchen magic

Q: The kitchen cabinets in my 20 year old house were painted rather than stained. They are a cherry color on what I believe is alder. Over the years some of the paint has chipped away leaving behind part of the original unfinished wood. The cherry paint itself is not a solid color, but varies in color a bit. Can a handy person do a decent patch up job?
A: Absolutely, but it helps to know what you are dealing with, and it’s not paint. It’s called toner, which is clear finish with some color added to it, though not as much color as would be in an opaque paint. Instead of staining the wood, the wood is sealed, then sprayed with layers of semi-transparent color until one gets a uniform tint. Spraying more means darker, more opaque color; less gives lighter, more translucent color.
Because that is such a common method of coloring cabinets and furniture, there are common repair materials available to do touch up. They come in two distinct types; pens and aerosol cans. Touch up pens are essentially felt tip markers made in common furniture finish colors. You use them just as you would a marker, simply coloring in the light areas to match. You can also find aerosol cans of toner or tinting lacquer which you spray on the area to blend in the color. Both are quite easy to use. Just make certain you clean the area, or better yet, the entire cabinet, with a good degreaser first to ensure good adhesion. The cheapest effective cleaner is mineral spirits, also sold under the name paint thinner.