Specializing in polyester finishing has helped this Long Island company develop a customer base of big names and high-end designers, including major piano manufacturers.
Claudio and Flori Grottoli founded Cavalieri Finishing Co. nearly two decades ago with a mission: to introduce polyester finishing to the United States.
Today, the Amityville, NY, company has a well-earned reputation as a high-quality polyester finisher. The company does about 60 percent of its work for high-end furniture designers in New York.
“Although the high-end furniture business is huge in terms of dollars, it’s a relatively small industry, and finishing is a regional industry,” says Mitch Tobol, Cavalieri’s marketing consultant. “So what happens is very high-end woodworking companies use Cavalieri for their finishing, and word gets around.”
Cavalieri’s other major market is piano finishing. It also does a small amount of work on architectural panels for hotels.
From Sand to Shine
Cavalieri begins by sanding and inspecting wood pieces for scratches. The company uses a Tagliabue automated widebelt sander for large, flat surfaces, while curved parts are sanded by hand on a Vortek downdraft table.
“With polyester, the wood’s surface must be sanded perfectly level in order to achieve the highest quality outcome in the finish,” Flori Grottoli says. A high-gloss finish, for example, will look rippled and uneven if the sanding is not dead-on.
Depending on designer specifications, the wood may be tinted at this stage as well. “We actually have custom-formulated colors for that, but we always match, because a lot of the time, it’s not just the design that they’re after, it’s the color coordination,” Flori Grottoli says.
For other applications, particularly the company’s work on pianos, the company dyes the polyester itself.
Cavalieri applies primer in an open spray booth. The polyester topcoat, however, is sprayed inside a room engineered by the Italian manufacturer Vela.
Throughout the plant, cleanliness is a prime concern, but inside this room, Cavalieri steps it up a notch. The spray booth itself has a waterfall to capture any overspray and negative pressure to push any dust in the air to the edges of the booth. Before entering the booth, Cavalieri’s employees put on anti-static coveralls and wipe their feet on an anti-static cloth. They also wipe parts with an anti-static cloth. The booth, like all rooms on the shop floor, is vented separately and even has its own supplies.
“We’ve even got a mop that says ‘Polishing Room Only’ because you can’t take this mop from here and go into the spray room. Every room has to be an island unto itself,” Flori Grottoli says.
“A good analogy is it’s like a clean room, with temperature control and humidity control,” says Tobol.
Cavalieri applies the finish using a bi-component pump and a Sata spray gun. Polyester finish requires an accelerator and a catalyst to cure, but when those components are mixed, the finish has a short pot life. With Cavalieri’s system, Claudio Grottoli says, “One pump draws the polyester with the accelerator, one pump draws the catalyst, and they’re mixed at the gun. With that kind of system, you don’t have to worry about pot life.”
The polyester fully cures in about 12 hours; then, Cavalieri polishes the pieces using a buffing wheel for small parts or an Agla Galli polisher for large ones. The company begins by sanding up to 1,000 grit, then uses a coarse polishing paste. Two more compounds bring the sheen up. Finally, an Italian-made Capra machine removes any wax residue from the polisher, and the company re-assembles pieces and does any final handwork like hardware refitting.
Cavalieri finishes just about any type of hardwood, veneer or MDF, although dark woods in general need to be handled differently than light ones. “We use different catalysts to be more UV-stable because the lighter woods yellow,” says Claudio Grottoli. “Dark woods tend to be oily, so we need to use a special barrier coat in order to get the polyester to adhere.”
Early on, Cavalieri could not work exclusively in polyester. “In 1984, the only polyester that America had ever seen was on the Italian furniture that was being imported at the time — it was very, very new and it was for the very, very wealthy,” explains Flori Grottoli. For the first few years, the company offered more basic finishes as well.
Flori Grottoli says the company has always encouraged the use of polyester finish whenever possible. “We saw that U.S. designers loved the Italian furniture being imported in the late 80s,” she explains. “We knew that what they liked most was not the design of the furniture but rather the gloss finish. The Italians use very simple designs on their pieces and enrich the look by using exotic woods like crotch mahogany, and by applying a gloss polyester finish to further enhance the beauty of the wood. This sent the American designers flipping.”
Cavalieri’s current work on pianos represents an evolution as well. The company has been finishing pianos since it began, but early on most of its work was restorations. “A client would call me up and say, ‘I have a piano that was my mother’s and I want it in polyester,’” Flori Grottoli says. That work helped the company develop its reputation for polyester work, which led to work finishing new pianos for major manufacturers.
Developing New Markets
A new development along more traditional lines is the company’s proprietary DuroSatin finish. DuroSatin is an off-the-gun finish that Flori Grottoli says is the most scratch-resistant satin finish she has seen; Cavalieri is now marketing the DuroSatin along with its other offerings.
She tells of a concert grand piano at the manufacturer’s factory that Cavalieri finished using its DuroSatin finish. “For six months, the piano sat on a production floor and every morning the floor manager would come in and fling his keys across the lid,” says Flori Grottoli. It survived that treatment without a scratch. “People would see him do that and ask, ‘What’s on that piano?’”
A coda to that story serves as a testament to the finish’s durability. “At that point, the piano was the first prototype for our new finish and we decided to see how the DuroSatin would hold up to a high traffic environment,” says Flori Grottoli. “We decided it was ready for the public at large, and the piano was moved to a retail store in Manhattan.”
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