Rub-through cabinet finish technique?

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Forum topic by Somann posted 02-18-2016 10:27 PM 1540 views 0 times favorited 10 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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15 posts in 870 days

02-18-2016 10:27 PM

Does anyone generally know how to create a rub through finish. Building a new cabinet, plan to be painted with an off-white color, but what to have a rubbed through affect on the corners and edges to simulate wear. Sounds simple but I have a feeling there are tricks and things others have learned that might help. I want the rubbed through areas to not just be raw wood, but stained. Not sure if I stain the door first, then paint and rub through the paint to expose just the stain? My thought was rub through to bare wood, then hit those areas with stain, hoping the stain only takes on the raw wood, and not the paint around it. I don’t need any in depth instructions, just an order of operations so to speak if anyone has a method that has worked for them.

10 replies so far

View conifur's profile


955 posts in 1180 days

#1 posted 02-18-2016 10:40 PM

One way is to put on your base layer, then after that dries, your top layer and as it starts to dry, dry brush through to your base layer/color.

-- Knowledge and experience equals Wisdom, Michael Frankowski

View joek30296's profile


53 posts in 2895 days

#2 posted 02-19-2016 06:40 PM

Do a fine finish and try NOT to rub through. You’ll rub through for sure! LOL

-- "There are two theories to arguing with a woman....neither of them work"

View HornedWoodwork's profile


222 posts in 1243 days

#3 posted 02-19-2016 07:13 PM

In general paint stays pretty soft and pliable for a while after it is dry. This is not ideal for a rub through as the sanding heats up the paint and turns it into a gooey mess pretty quickly. The trick with any rub through is CONTROL. It looks like chaos, it’s actually pretty precise work. To that end I recommend that you let the paint dry fully before you rub through (think days or weeks, not hours). You can expedite by placing it in a warm dry environment and circulating air constantly.

Also before you paint, Clean the areas you expect to rub through with mineral spirits, this will replace some of the water (not much) in the surface of the wood, if you paint it (quickly now tempus fugit) right after, that lack of hydration at the surface will be preserved, hold the paint better to the surface, and allow you a remove the paint gradually as you distress the surface.

Of course you could just hang the doors in my house and let my kids knock out the distressing in a weekend.

-- Talent, brilliance, and humility are my virtues.

View builtinbkyn's profile


2383 posts in 969 days

#4 posted 02-19-2016 08:09 PM

It’s also called a distressed finish. Plenty of how to’s on the net. I just did this on my bench. I used primer that was thinned a bit. Let it dry then sanded and reapplied and sanded again. Then finished with a top coat of clear that was tinted with the primer.

I’ll probably give it a few more coats of the tinted clear … ah maybe not, but it would probably look better.

-- Bill, Yo! Brooklyn & Steel City :)

View OggieOglethorpe's profile


1276 posts in 2139 days

#5 posted 02-19-2016 08:18 PM

General Finishes Milk Paint is fantastic for this type of finish. Far better than big box or paint store latexes…

The GF product dries hard far faster than latex, making the rub not gummy and a lot more “realistic”.

Yes… I know it’s not real milk paint.

View OSU55's profile


1703 posts in 2018 days

#6 posted 02-20-2016 02:33 AM

Paint 1st, then stain or dye. Don’t use latex paint – you want something that dries hard and can be sanded off. Lacquer is perfect for this – dries hard and quick. Look up glazing – that’s essentially what you want to do. Can use paint, stain, or dye for the glazing. It’s pretty easy to do, especially compared to a “show room” perfect finish. You can mix some wb and ob, just test to make sure the specific products are compatible.

View jbay's profile


2349 posts in 928 days

#7 posted 02-20-2016 04:02 AM

I use lacquer. If I want stain to show through underneath I will put a couple of coats of clear on over the stain and top coat with lacquer paint. This way when I sand through the painted top coat I don’t remove any of the stain.
Also, sometimes instead of sanding I will use a rag with lacquer thinner to remove the top coat.
Here is one I did a long time ago

View MNgary's profile


301 posts in 2446 days

#8 posted 02-20-2016 05:33 AM

In tymes of olde—stain, shellac, paint, and use will reveal. That is, the piece was originally stained and sealed. Later it was scuffed with sandpaper and painted (but not with today’s super hard and stain/wear resistant paints). After years of use, some wear occurred to reveal the original finish. So stain, seal, sand, and leave it at that after a coat of paste wax

-- I dream of a world where a duck can cross the road and no one asks why.

View TheTurtleCarpenter's profile


1051 posts in 1095 days

#9 posted 02-20-2016 06:11 AM

Paint, distress, use glazes or stains then clear coat. Or paint, distress, then clear in which the Clear as in oil base or lacquer that will give the raw areas an amber tone. The main thing is to do samples first and find out what the end result will look like. Jbay is right in the fact of staining and sealing first to help from rubbing thru the stain. If you happen to rub thru a spot, just touch it up . Small paint stores like Sherwin Williams usually have staff that have experience from working with contractors and home owners. And Google is your friend also.!


-- "Tying shoelaces was way harder than learning to Whistle"

View Somann's profile


15 posts in 870 days

#10 posted 02-22-2016 09:26 PM

Thanks for all the helpful info. I think lots of testing will be an order before I take it to the cabinet.

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