Business, Finishing Taking Control

Ways to Take Control of the Finish Department

Identifying Finish Room Problems

While there is the rare occasion that there is a problem with a can of finish, it happens a lot less often than you think. I have to say that most of the problems that you will encounter are people problems. Spray guns and sanders don’t make mistakes, people with spray guns and sanders make mistakes.

Start by asking “Where in the finishing chain do the problems come from”? Was the problem created in the finish room, or did the piece arrive there with the problem already in place? Improper moisture content, mismatched wood color, and sanding irregularities are elements that are usually out of the finisher’s control but yet the finisher must correct them. You have to ask, how often are the bottlenecks in the finish room caused by people up the line from the finishers? Remember the system chain theory? If your finishing department spends an abnormal amount of time prepping parts before they finish them, then you should look at the department that performed the work on the material before it went to finishing. Finishers get blamed for taking time to fix other people’s mistakes.

After you figure out where in the finishing chain the problem originated you have to figure out what the weak links that caused were. Usually, the culprit is a process problem. Process Problems usually show up as color inconsistency, orange peel, or adhesion issues. They are usually application dependant and can often be traced back to insufficiently trained personnel. Yes, it might be an equipment setting or an application technique that is causing the problem, but it is something that the finisher has the most control over. The exception, of course, is when management is requiring the finisher to do something in a way that might be causing the problem, such as not providing enough heat in cold weather for finishes to cure or allowing enough time for stains and finishes to dry properly.

When analyzing the cause of a problem it can get frustrating when we “think” that we are doing everything the same as we always have and all of a sudden the process doesn’t work. This is the point that we have to look at not only the procedural elements but also the human and environmental elements. Many events influence the finishing process and there are many variables in each of these events. Every physical, chemical, procedural and environmental element in the system affects the outcome. Sometimes the changes are obvious, sometimes they are not. Did the temperature change or did someone different spray the job; things that may seem insignificant to you may be the real problem source.

I like to tell people that they will be most successful at analyzing a finishing problem if they “think like paint”. Stated another way…if I were a finish, what would make me do that? Most finishing problems can be broken down into a few simple causes and if you have a thorough understanding of finishing fundamentals then you will have the ability to logically deduce why something happened.

The best solution to any problem is to prevent it before it happens. Education and training are the best way to do this. That’s why you are here. I find that many finishers simply know the “how”, but not the “basics of why”. The ‘why’ is the key to success.

Develop Your Finishing Team and Game Plan

Some companies let their finishers be the sole authority in their finishing system. While I have the greatest respect for finishers I do have to remind you of People Fact #3: Humans are creatures of habit. We feel comfortable with what we know and mistrust new things. We are resistant to change. I believe in the Team approach.

Develop and review your finishing system as a team

  1. You will get insights and a perspective that you might not have even thought about. Having people see their job through another person’s eyes can have a real impact.
  2. Everyone who works on a piece, from architect through cabinetmaker will have a hand in determining the ultimate success of the finish.
  3. Experiment. Try new products and techniques. You could find that there are better ways to use what you already have.
  4. Develop written operating standards and procedures.
  5. Have predefined sanding, finishing, and maintenance schedules. This helps eliminate surprises and makes sure everyone knows what is expected of them. It also helps in the time estimating function
  6. Share responsibilities The “it’s not my job” attitude simply does not make it.
  7. Have a brief team meeting at the beginning of the job to discuss the project and get people’s input and ideas. This will not only help with problem-solving but will get everyone on the same page from the very beginning.
  8. One of the added benefits of following these procedures will be realized when it comes time to train any new people in the shop. You have a lot of the important information written down and there is a team of people to go to for support. Also if you lose a member of the team, the knowledge base stays behind.

Design Cabinetry with an Eye Towards Finishing

Consider the finishing process when you build your cabinets. Leave off cabinet backs to reduce overspray. Assemblies that can be sprayed flat rather than standing up will be easier to finish. Leave off hardware to avoid having to mask it. Finishing face frames first and then attaching them to the cases with pocket screws will eliminate having to mask off melamine or pre-finished interiors.

Select your pieces of wood for color. Cabinetmakers need to understand that it is easier to select wood that is naturally close in color than it is to try and make it that way with stains and toners. While it is true that wood is a natural product, the greater the difference in color the more work it is going to take to correct it. Stains have their limits. No stain is going to blend in 2 kinds of wood that are on opposite ends of the color spectrum when they are placed right next to each other.


Scheduling can affect the logistics of optimal workflow. For a cabinetmaker, it might not make a lot of difference if they are cutting wood for this job or for that. You have to remember that there are no fences or jigs in finishing, it is all hand technique. This is very evident especially when it comes to applying color, as in stains, glazes, toners, and paints. When you are in a groove and then you have to switch gears to something else sometimes it is hard to get back in that same color mode again. As a result, the already difficult job of attaining color consistency gets even harder. Something else to consider is that all parts should be complete when the finishing process begins. If someone forgets to make a part and it is only discovered at the end of the finishing stage you will have to repeat an entire finishing sequence for just one part. This is very expensive.

A fair amount of equipment clean-up might be required when changing over from one job to the next. Flip-flopping back and forth between jobs will increase the amount of time and solvents used.

Scheduling and estimating can go hand in hand. If the estimated cost/time is understated then there will not be enough time allowed in the schedule to do the required work. The best-case scenario is that you miss your delivery date. The worst-case scenario is that the finishing department, and others, have to put in overtime to meet the due date. This situation exacerbates the whole unprofitability issue because not only was not enough charged for the job in the first place, but now you are paying overtime wages which further increases your losses.

Happiness is a positive cash flow, but good scheduling has to be based on realistic timelines. In the finish room, you have to account for the fact that chemical reactions are taking place. Solvents need to evaporate, finishes need to cross-link and dry. Coatings companies spend millions of dollars researching and developing their high-performance products. You are paying for that performance. If you don’t allow enough time for the chemistry to take place then not only are you are not getting everything you paid for, but you setting up conditions that could lead to future finish failure. A simple example is not allowing a stain enough time to dry. This could promote adhesion problems which could lead to finish failure 3 to 6 months later.

You also have to remember that the lower the temperature the longer these chemical processes take. Remember that a 12-degree change in temperature will change your dry time by a factor of 2. Accommodating this fact will save you significant amounts of money and grief.