lacquer being sprayed onto a piece of decorative wood


Originally contributed by Jeff Butler • last updated 2/18/2021

Lacquers have been used for centuries to create protective and decorative barriers for a variety of woodworking projects. However, modern lacquers differ greatly from their origins and have applications far beyond protecting wood.


The term lacquer commonly refers to a liquid material that is spread like paint over surfaces, such as wood or metal, to create a decorative and/or protective layer. Lacquers come in a range of organic resins and/or synthetic polymers. And solvents, such as alcohols, are used as lacquer thinner and drying agents. Specially formulated lacquers, such as nitrocellulose lacquer, are used in a range of common woodworking projects, like furniture and guitar making. Lacquer finishes are available in a variety of sheens from flat to high gloss and are known for their durability, appearance, and quick drying times. The term lacquer is sometimes used in a general way to describe any type of finishing coat, but lacquers are distinct from polyurethanes, varnishes, and shellacs.

What Are The Pros And Cons Of Lacquer?

Lacquers are often confused with and compared to other finishing coat materials, such as polyurethanes, varnishes, and shellacs. However, there are some key differences that set lacquers apart, and in some cases, atop the others:

  • The biggest difference between lacquers and other finishing coat materials is that lacquers don’t typically involve a curing process. Instead, the resin or polymer is dried as the solvent evaporates, allowing for faster drying times and the ability to repair light surface damage.
  • Despite lacquers being fairly user-friendly, they have a tendency to be tricky to apply in certain conditions. Lacquers can appear cloudy if they are applied in areas that are cooler and high in moisture. Lacquers can also appear distorted and unsightly if surfaces aren’t prepared properly.