What Is Lacquer Finish? How To Apply A Lacquer Finish

What Is Lacquer Finish? How To Apply A Lacquer Finish

What Is Lacquer Finish?

Lacquer finish is a hard, shiny coating or finish that is commonly used on materials such as wood or metal. It is made from resin and wax derived from trees and has a long history of use. In Asia, lacquerware is created using the sap from Toxicodendron vernicifluum trees or similar species which is then treated, dyed, and dried before being applied in multiple layers to a wooden base.

This results in a smooth and durable surface that is both waterproof and attractive. Asian lacquer can be decorated with various techniques such as painting, inlaying, carving or gilding.

In modern times, lacquer refers to a variety of coatings that are clear or pigmented and dry to form a hard, long-lasting finish. The sheen can range from ultra-matte to high gloss and can be further polished if desired. Lacquer finishes are typically more brittle than oil-based or latex paints and are used on hard and smooth surfaces.

There are two types of lacquer: shellac, which is made from shellac dissolved in alcohol, and synthetic lacquer, which consists of synthetic polymers dissolved in lacquer thinner, a mixture of organic solvents. While synthetic lacquer is more durable traditional shellac finishes are often preferred for their natural ingredients and aesthetic qualities such as French polish. Additionally, shellac finishes are considered food-safe.

How To Apply A Lacquer Finish

Lacquer finishes have a long history of providing woodworking projects with a durable, water-resistant, and clear finish. Today, lacquer is available in both brush-on and spray forms, with the latter being the faster-drying option.

However, brushing lacquer offers more control and a cleaner application. When applying brush-on lacquer, it is crucial to use a high-quality bristle brush and work quickly to apply a thin coat. Additional coats can be added later to even out the finish.

On the other hand, spray-on lacquer can be purchased in aerosol cans or for use in a pneumatic or airless sprayer. The latter is a more cost-effective solution for larger projects.

When using a spray lacquer it is important to work in a well-ventilated area due to the strong odor and flammability of the solvents in the lacquer.

Types Of Lacquer Finish

Lacquer is a type of wood finish that has been in use for thousands of years. It gives the wood a smooth and glossy look and is commonly used on musical instruments, furniture, and other household items. There are several different types of lacquer finishes, each with its own unique characteristics and uses. Here are five of the most common lacquer finishes;

Nitrocellulose Lacquer: This type of lacquer has been popular since the 1920s and was widely used in the automotive industry. It dries to a smooth high-gloss finish and has a reddish-amber tint that gives the wood a beautiful patina as it ages.

However, nitrocellulose lacquer is prone to yellowing and cracking, and does not offer much protection against liquids, chemicals or abrasions.


Acrylic Lacquer: Developed in the 1950s, acrylic lacquer is made with synthetic acrylic polymers and is commonly used on lighter woods like maple, birch, and ash. It dries to a “water-white” finish and is more durable and scratch-resistant than nitrocellulose lacquer.

CAB-Acrylic Lacquers, which contain cellulose acetate butyrate and acrylic resins, are a bit more flexible and less prone to cracking than traditional acrylic lacquers.

Catalyzed Lacquer: This type of lacquer is made with chemicals (usually an acid) that cause the lacquer to dry to a harder and more durable finish than by just evaporation alone. It can be added by the manufacturer (pre-catalyzed) or by the craftsman in their shop (post-catalyzed). Catalyzed lacquers have only gained popularity in recent years but offer increased durability and fewer finishing issues at a similar price point.

Waterborne Lacquer: This type of lacquer is different from other lacquers in its composition and contains fewer hazardous chemicals. It is more environmentally friendly and less toxic to use but is more prone to wear and tear than catalyzed or acrylic lacquers.

Urushiol-Based Lacquer: Urushiol is a chemical found in the resin of the wax tree and lacquer tree in Eastern Asia. The resin has been used as a wood finish for thousands of years and is the basis of Eastern lacquerware.

Urushiol-based lacquers cure through the processes of oxidation and polymerization and are known for their durability and long-lasting beauty.

In conclusion, each type of lacquer finish has its own unique characteristics and uses, and the best type for a particular project will depend on the desired look and level of protection desired.

It is important to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each type of lacquer finish to make an informed decision when selecting a finish for your project.

How Long Does A Lacquer Finish Last?

A lacquer finish can last for many years, depending on the type and storage conditions. Nitrocellulose lacquer has an indefinite shelf life, while other types may have shorter lifespans of up to three years, but still remain viable if properly stored.

In some cases, decades-old lacquers work just as well as new ones, although this is not always the case. Therefore, it is best to consult with experts when determining the expected life of a particular type of lacquer finish.

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