lacquer being sprayed onto a piece of decorative wood

Lacquer

Originally contributed by Jeff Butler • last updated 3/17/2021

Whether you’re looking for a way to protect your latest woodworking project or you just need to refinish an old oak table, you’re probably going to want to apply a high quality lacquer. These durable finishes have been used for centuries, creating both protective and decorative barriers over a variety of woodworking projects. However, modern versions differ greatly from their origins and have applications far beyond protecting wood.

Definition

The term lacquer commonly refers to a liquid material that can be brushed, rolled, and sprayed like paint over surfaces. It is commonly applied to surfaces made from materials such as wood or metal to create a decorative and/or protective layer. These protective layers come in a range of organic resins and/or synthetic polymers. And solvents, such as alcohols, are used as thinners and drying agents. These help create an appropriate consistency so the liquid can be easily applied. Specially formulated versions, such as nitrocellulose, are used in a range of common woodworking projects, like furniture and guitar making. 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 they are distinct from polyurethanes, varnishes, and shellacs.

What Is Lacquer Used For?

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 them apart, and in some cases, atop the others:

  • The biggest difference between lacquers and other finishing coat materials is that they 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. They can appear cloudy if they are applied in areas that are cooler and high in moisture. They can also appear distorted and unsightly if surfaces aren’t prepared properly.
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