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A Painter's Review of Sher-Wood Hi-Bild Precat Lacquer for Cabinets

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Matt is a professional painter who owns and operates his own painting business, specializing in interior and exterior house painting.

This is the Sher-Wood Hi-Bild lacquer and Primer Surfacer I use on cabinets.

This is the Sher-Wood Hi-Bild lacquer and Primer Surfacer I use on cabinets.

Using Sher-Wood Hi-Bild Lacquer for Cabinet Painting

I used the pigmented Sher-Wood Hi-Bild precat lacquer and the matching Primer Surfacer for a cabinet painting project for the first time, and I wanted to share my experience spraying these two products. I had previously always used water-based enamel to paint cabinets, but as I started taking on more projects, I wanted to upgrade to something more durable.

Compared to pre-catalyzed lacquer, water-based enamel lacks the hardness and stain resistance for long-term durability on cabinets in a busy home. Enamel works fine on cabinets that don't take much abuse, but in a high-traffic kitchen with frequent cooking and spill clean-ups, enamel really isn't the best option.

Product Availability and Mixing

The pre-catalyzed Hi-Bild lacquer is available in an extra white base and a deep base, but the deep base is hard to find in stock, so color mixing is limited to white and other light colors. The lacquer looks very similar to paint when dry, but the finish comes out a lot smoother and more professional looking than the enamel I used before.

The downside to using this product is the ordering process. Most paint stores stock trim and door enamel all the time. You can drive down to the paint store and pick up what you need for your project, but the Sherwood lacquer, an industrial coating from Sherwin Williams, isn't regularly stocked. For my project, I had to order the material in advance for mixing, and this product can only be tinted using a special color mixing machine that is only available at one Sherwin Williams store location in my area.

What the cabinets looked like before I applied the product.

What the cabinets looked like before I applied the product.

Prepping the Cabinets for the Primer Surfacer

I prepped and sprayed the oak cabinets for this project with two coats each of the lacquer-based primer surfacer and Hi-Bild, both from the Sher-Wood product line at Sherwin Williams. I won't get too much into the preparation process, but I do have in-depth articles on cabinet painting prep and lacquer painting prep if you're interested in learning more about that process.

My preparation process for lacquering these oak cabinets was pretty much the same as my process for painting oak cabinets. After removing the doors and labeling them for installation, I cleaned everything with a pre-paint cleaner and rinsed. I sanded the doors and frames with my orbital sander and filled the oak grain with Aqua Coat grain filler. The gaps between the cabinets and walls were caulked. Everything was masked for spraying.

A cabinet door I sprayed with Sher-Wood Hi-Bild lacquer.

A cabinet door I sprayed with Sher-Wood Hi-Bild lacquer.

Spraying the Primer Surfacer and Hi-Bild

Using a sprayer is the only realistic way to apply the pre-cat primer and top coats. Don't try to brush and roll your cabinets with either one. The lacquer dries way too fast to be brushed on successfully. The finish won't turn out good. Use either an airless sprayer or an HVLP set-up.

After the cabinets were prepped and ready for spraying, I sprayed the doors and drawer fronts with two coats of the Sher-Wood Primer Surfacer after mixing in the required catalyst. I soon realized how fast this stuff dries. The doors were dry to the touch only 30 minutes after spraying, which I absolutely love. The water-based enamel I used in the past took at least four hours to dry enough for a re-coat.

Mixing the catalyst

You must catalyze the primer and the Hi-Bild lacquer for either one to cure and harden properly. The catalyst is an acid that makes the lacquer dry hard and more chemical resistant. Pre-catalyzed, or pre-cat, means the store normally adds the catalyst for you in advance.

I added the catalyst myself instead of having my Sherwin Williams store do it for me. Adding the exact amount of catalyst is critical. Following the specs, I added four ounces of the catalyst into the gallon of primer and three ounces to the gallon of Hi-Bild. The total shelf life is three months after catalyzing.

Spraying performance

I had first tried spraying the primer with my Graco 9.5 HVLP Pro Comp sprayer, but I couldn't spray the lacquer on heavy enough for it to level nice before it started to dry, so I used my Graco GX19 Finish Pro airless sprayer, along with my rotating spray rack, to spray all of the cabinet doors. I masked the kitchen and sprayed the frames last.

My Graco GX19 sprayer worked really well for spraying the primer and top coats. Pigmented lacquer seems to level out the best when sprayed at a higher pressure. The material must be applied fast and heavy enough to level out before it starts drying. The drying starts literally only a few minutes after spraying it on. I set the pressure to 1,900 PSI and used a 310 fine finish spray tip from Graco, specifically a green FFLP tip. These spray tips reduce over-spray and work great for fine finish spraying.

The finish

The finish looks and feels harder and smoother than paint. The lacquer won't mar after thirty minutes to one hour of drying. The room temperature was in the upper 60s. The leveling is far better than paint too when sprayed right. There is no orange peel texture. I used the "low gloss finish," which was actually very shiny on the cabinet doors, but not too shiny. I noticed during installation that oil from my fingerprints wiped right off the surface without any problems. I feel a lot more comfortable using this product on cabinets than paint.

The fumes

The biggest con of spraying lacquer is the intense smell. It's really bad. You definitely have to wear a painting respirator and ventilate your spray area with box fans. The smell does linger for a few days after drying. I highly recommend spraying the doors outside and store them in a garage for drying instead of inside the house.

How the oak cabinets looked after I sprayed them with Sherwin Williams Hi-Bild lacquer.

How the oak cabinets looked after I sprayed them with Sherwin Williams Hi-Bild lacquer.

Is Sher-Wood Hi-Bild Pre-Cat Lacquer Good for Cabinet Painting?

For those who are going to use a sprayer, painting cabinets with lacquer is a more durable alternative to using water-based enamel. I've used Pro Industrial water-based alkyd enamel and Emerald urethane enamel with very good results, but neither one dries as hard and chemical resistant as the Hi-Bild lacquer. There is a reason why cabinet makers don't use paint on cabinets.

The Sherwood primer and pigmented lacquer is milky thin and sprays really nice with an airless sprayer and a fine finish spray tip. Your cabinets will have that factory-like finish on them. I have only used an airless sprayer to spray this product, but I'm sure the right HVLP set-up would be fine too. You must be cautious of runs when vertically spraying cabinet frames because the lacquer will drip if you spray it on too heavy.

The disadvantage, aside from the nasty smell, is this product usually needs special ordering. You can't just visit your local Sherwin Williams store and grab a couple gallons. I was able to receive my order in less than one week, so it wasn't a big deal though, but with material shortages, it can take longer. Contact your local Sherwin Williams store and see if they stock either of these products.

I've learned that white pigmented lacquer can yellow, similar to oil-based enamel, but this particular Sherwood lacquer contains a UV absorber to reduce and hopefully eliminate yellowing. I have no idea how effective the UV absorber is, but the product is formulated to reduce discoloration from yellowing.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Matt G.