What are kitchen cabinet skins? Are my parents being taken advantage of?
“My parents, who live in Honolulu, are in the middle of remodeling their kitchen. The cabinet company they chose had the cabinets made on the mainland and shipped to O’ahu. My parents decided to go with a factory painted finish and chose a Benjamin Moore color.
So the boxes have arrived and have been installed (minus the door and drawer fronts) but they are not painted. My parents have been told that the painted “skin” is to be applied next and they are waiting for it to arrive from the factory. Apparently, space has been left (1/2 -3/4″?) to accommodated for this layer.
I’ve never heard of this before. I thought that the benefit of having cabinets painted at the factory was to ensure a tough, “baked on” finish. This so called “skin” layer worries me, especially in a climate like Hawaii’s that can be very humid. Is there a danger that the color layer of their cabinets could buckle or bubble? Have you ever heard of paint being applied to cabinets in this fashion? I’m very curious to hear your response. Thank you so much, R.”
Everything is fine – this is a standard practice. Skins (1/8″ – 1/4″) or panels (1/2″ – 3/4″) are finished paneling shipped separately from the cabinets and applied to the sides of the cabinets on the job site. The separate application allows us to make custom adjustments to compensate for crooked walls, floors and ceilings.
If the walls are wavy or lean away or any number of details, the installer can scribe the skins to the walls and potentially hide the gap and the shims which fill the gap (shims are a piece of wood fitted between a crooked wall and the back of a cabinet – much like a lower back pillow between a seat and your back). A pre-finished panel can’t hide this, so then the hollow space between the side of a cabinet and the waving wall either requires a wide scribe trim (which isn’t the best). Once the skins and panels are applied, usually glue or a combination of glue and/or finishing nails, there shouldn’t be an issue.
All skins and paneling is indeed finished with the catalytic or baked-on finishes and I’ve never heard of a finish buckling or bubbling in Hawaii (let’s knock on wood as I have no idea of the cabinet line your parents went with). I have a line which has sends a lot of cabinets to Hawaii and has done so for almost 20 years without problems.
Some cabinet companies offer the option of pre-installing a panel or skin at the factory with a slight over-sizing at the back of the cabinet to allow for scribing. However, it only extends so far and is useless for a project where the walls are out more than 1/4”. In older homes and in earthquake country, I’ve certainly seen walls out more than that. Your mileage may vary.