Hand Brushing Lacquer Disaster

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Forum topic by marysavings posted 10-16-2015 12:57 AM 2412 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2 posts in 948 days

10-16-2015 12:57 AM

Topic tags/keywords: kitchen table table dining table lacquer brushing lacquer pre-catylized lacquer repair lacquer finish lacquer finish sanding lacquer top coat topcoat lacquer topcoat lacquer top coat spray lacquer spraying lacquer spray gun sander finishing sanding traditional question

Hi! I am a stay-at-home mom, completely inexperienced with finishing, but financially unable to purchase new furniture at this time.

I bought a beautiful, large dining room claw foot table with a leaf for $100 a few years ago. At that time, the top finish and stain had been rubbed off from use and cleaning chemicals to bare wood over much of the table top surface. the legs and chairs are in acceptable condition. The finish on the leaf was not as badly damaged, but also had scratches and such.

A couple of months ago, I sanded down to the wood on the table top and leaf.

I then worked to match the stain closely and stained the top and leaf. I LOVED the way the stained top looked.

Then I made a poor decision from lack of experience and knowledge.

After spending a lot of hours researching, I read somewhere that lacquer would be the strongest top coat. I didn’t realize there were ‘different’ lacquers and purchase MinWax clear coat brushing lacquer from Walmart. I applied a first coat of 50/50 lacquer and lacquer thinner, then started coats just slightly thinned every 2 hours (sometimes overnight depending on my schedule). I put a total of 4 coats on the table top, disliking the result more and more as I went, but hoping it would get better.

I had some blushing and read to sand that out, so I did. Anyways, the end result was a very very lumpy topcoat with obvious brushstrokes and un-even appearance. some areas looked more opaque and milky than clear. From some angles and in low light, the table looks fair, but when the sun or light shines on it or at other angles, it looks uneven and milky in areas.

I have been trying to find out how best to repair this without adding too much cost to the project.

I have already sanded with 100 grit paper to remove ‘most’ of the hand brush lacquer.

I do not know if the lacquer and thinner damaged the stain job, but in low light, before I started sanding, the stain job looked fine. The finish of course is very milky and cloudy now, with lots of scratching in the lacquer from the sanding.

I purchased an inexpensive sprayer and have borrowed an air compressor.

My plan is: Sand with 220, then with 320 grit to get everything smoothed down and level.
Blow off and wipe down all dust.

Purchase from Sherwin-Williams a gallon of pre-catylized lacquer and their recommended thinner.

Spray pre-catylized lacquer over the remaining sanded out finish. (I will practice on some scrap wood first to get the hang of the sprayer and thinning needs).

Please let me know your advice regarding my plan. Thank you so much for any help that anyone can provide! I have high hopes for a beautiful table top when this is “finished”. :)

9 replies so far

View sawdust703's profile


270 posts in 1414 days

#1 posted 10-16-2015 03:19 AM

Well ma’am, first of all, welcome to the forum, & my apologies for your turn of events. There are a number of ways to fix your situation. First, most of us learn the hard way that brush on lacquer is a joke. Its for small projects, IMO, because most of us don’t have the ability to stroke a brush fast enough, or smooth enough to get the look lacquer is supposed to have. Lacquer melds into itself to improve the look of each coat. It dries to fast to put on with a brush. From my experience. The smoother & cleaner the surface to be lacquered is to begin with, will make the process much easier. Next, were I you, now that you borrowed a sprayer, I’d skip the Sherwin Williams breed of lacquer, and find yourself some Deft or Watco lacquer. DO NOT SHAKE THE CAN! Stir it slowly when you pop it open. Before you pour lacquer in your sprayer, i’d wipe your surface down one more time to make sure its clean. Put the lacquer in the spray cup, & make sure you’re spraying product on a piece of scrap. Begin spraying your work piece top to bottom, side to side, keeping about 6” or so between the sprayer & your work piece. Lacquer is thin, & will run, so once you begin to spray, get with it! Don’t try to put 5 or 6 coats on in one coat. Put on light coats, allow it dry, sand with 220 grit, & then 400 grit, wipe it clean, spray on another coat. Repeat. Once you start getting the look you’re after, you can polish & smooth it with 400 or 600 grit paper. That’s the way I go about it. No doubt there’ll be more opinions jump on board. Enjoy your venture.

-- Sawdust703

View HerbC's profile


1754 posts in 2853 days

#2 posted 10-16-2015 04:34 AM

Lacquer blushing is due to the lacquer drying to fast and trapping moisture from the air during the drying process.

If you have any blushing when spraying the lacquer, get some lacquer retarder and use it to slow down the lacquer which will get rid of the blushing. You simply spray the “retarded” lacquer over the top the blushing lacquer and the blush goes away…

Good luck with your project.


-- Herb, Florida - Here's why I close most messages with "Be Careful!"

View rg33's profile


83 posts in 1996 days

#3 posted 10-16-2015 06:24 AM

You said you sanded the top with 100 grit…First thing you have to do at this point is sand it using 220 to get a smoother finish (no need to go further to 320). I dont know where that leaves you with the stain, but I would re-stain to get a uniform color throughout. Now here comes the options. You said you bought a cheap sprayer and are borrowing an air compressor. The thing is they have to be sized right for each other, otherwise you will again be disappointed. if your sprayer is high pressure low volume, these are very inefficient and you will lose a ton of finish on “overspray”. If your sprayer is high volume (HVLP), the compressor you borrowed better have a huge tank to keep up.
My recommendation, is instead to go with a “wipe on poly”. These types of finishes are very forgiving for first timers. You basically pour some of the stuff on a clean lint free rag and wipe it on. About the only downside is that for your table, you’ll have to be patient and apply a lot of coats, say 4-5. The general procedure is wipe on, let dry a few hours, then very carefully with fine sandpaper knock down the rough spots (this is very light, DONT OVER SAND), remove dust, and repeat.

View Tennessee's profile


2872 posts in 2508 days

#4 posted 10-16-2015 12:08 PM

Both the spray and the wipe on have their benefits, and both have possible problems.

I’d personally go with spray, having a lot of experience with refinishing. (I ran my own refinishing shop for 12 years)
I think that if you sand down lightly until you can tell by feel and look that the finish is level, you at that point will want to look and see if you believe you need to apply another coat of stain. If there is still lacquer on there, the stain will obviously not stick, so I am advocating taking off the brushing lacquer by sanding it down while trying to leave some stain. (Sorry) Sanding up to about 220 should do it.

At that point, spraying is a good option since it gives you the best chance of laying down a level coat, one coat at a time.
As far as the High-Pressure Low Volume sprayer, the only real problem is the overspray, since the lacquer comes out at a much higher rate of speed, but not a lot of lacquer. So it tends to bounce off the wood, and will leave a haze around the sprayed area, which has to be resprayed immediately until you reach the edge of the table so you have what we call a full “wet” coat. You know a wet coat the first time you see it – it looks like a smooth but totally wet layer of finish on the wood, with no haze, no dull areas.

The High Volume, Low Pressure sprayer is the opposite. You get much slower moving spray, and it is a lot more lacquer. It tends to not bounce around as much, and a wet coat is much easier to achieve without worrying much about that haze around the edge. You can, however, put on too much too quickly, so if at all possible, spray it with the tabletop horizontal, not vertical to help avoid runs.

You can ask whom you borrowed the equipment from on what kind of sprayer you have.

And to be honest, I think spraying is better than the wipe on coat since you still can get some lining and rag marks with wipe-on. It is a little easier than brushing since you are putting on less per coat, but still has possible problems with a large area. And for large areas, like tabletops, you need a bit of experience with getting a good even coat over 4-5 coats of wipe-on.

That’s why I like the spray.

Sorry about your problems, and welcome to the best place for help!

-- Tsunami Guitars and Custom Woodworking, Cleveland, TN

View WoodNSawdust's profile


1417 posts in 1170 days

#5 posted 10-16-2015 12:58 PM

Your final pass at sanding should be in the same direction as the wood’s grain to make any sanding scratches less noticeable.

Spraying is the best way to apply lacquer. You will get better results with a HVLP (high volume low pressure) spray system or a conversion spray gun (converts the high pressure from an air compressor to the low pressure). If you are using a conversion system make sure that the air compressor can keep up. If the pressure changes too drastically then you will get an uneven finish. Practice with a piece of cardboard in the same orientation as the table top. Keep the spray gun parallel to the surface and equal distance from it. Do not swing your arm in an arc as this will change the amount of finish and the width of the strip of finish applied. I normally thin NC lacquer 10 to 15% with lacquer thinner to get a better finish. Overlap each pass by about 20%.

After 3 or 4 coats I then wet sand the surface to remove any imperfections. I will use warm water with a drop or two of liquid dish soap. I use somewhere between 400 and 800 grit wet/dry sandpaper. After sanding then I will use a super absorbent bath towel to wipe the surface. Then let it dry for a couple of hours.

After you get the depth of finish you are looking for you can rub out the finish with either 0000 steel wool (use the kind without soap) or woven plastic pads (available at finish supply stores). You can get a very “deep” finish (what I call the Ethan Allen look) by rubbing out to 12000 grit. I use automotive finish polishes although others prefer the older rotten stone and pumice stone powers.

I would suggest practicing on cardboard till you get the spray technique down pat and then move to a piece of plywood and practice till you can get the finish you want.

Good Luck

-- "I love it when a plan comes together" John "Hannibal" Smith

View marysavings's profile


2 posts in 948 days

#6 posted 10-16-2015 10:35 PM

Thank you all so much for your advice. I appreciate the input each of you gave. I feel like I have a much better handle on how to proceed now. The sprayer I bought is a 20 oz. High Volume, Low Pressure gravity feed spray gun.

The air compressor is a 5 hp 20 gallon.

I will continue with sanding at 220 and hope for the best on the condition of the stain. If necessary, I’ll re-stain.

I’m still not certain on which lacquer to purchase. The lacquers I can find at Home Depot and Lowes are all brushing lacquers.

Here in SW Missouri, Sherwin Williams is the only local store that has a pre-catalyzed lacquer, which I “think” will have the strongest durability against moisture resistance for a kitchen table.

Is there a reason pre-catalyzed would not be a good choice for me to use?

I plan to choose and purchase the lacquer tomorrow.

Thank you again for sharing your expertise!

View johnstoneb's profile


2910 posts in 2167 days

#7 posted 10-16-2015 10:40 PM

You can spray a brushing lacquer you just need to thin it. I would go with Deft.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View Dark_Lightning's profile


3159 posts in 3103 days

#8 posted 10-17-2015 02:13 AM

Sanding from a 100 grit should be done with 150 grit and then 220. You don’t want to make a big jump from 100 to 220, you will be sanding a long time. The amount of sanding between grits will actually be less, this way. I spray lacquer (and shellac), regardless of the manufacturer’s directions, because they dry so fast, as has been mentioned. Not spraying is a requirement levied by the state pollution people. In all cases, you need to make sure that you have adequate ventilation, and in the case of a catalyzed lacquer, respiratory protection. Lacquer and shellac can get you sick, if you inhale enough fumes. Catalyzed lacquer can kill you in the same circumstances, due to the different hardening characteristics. Don’t let that put you off from using catalyzed lacquer. You just need to be prepared for proper usage.

-- Random Orbital Nailer

View TMH's profile


40 posts in 2654 days

#9 posted 10-28-2015 05:02 AM


Here is my $.02 on top of all the good advice you have gotten. You might be better off in the long run to start over with bare wood by stripping the table with stripper. I believe sanding is going to get you close to this point anyway. Plus, fresh lacquer is going to gum your sandpaper. Strip it, sand with the grain to 320 using a block or pad then re-apply the stain. This will get you back to “loving” the stained surface again.

Refinishing with a spray gun takes practice. Since you have the material, consider talking with Auto Body shops in the area to see what they would charge to just spray. I spent 10 yrs in this field in 70’s and 80’s spraying lacquer and we sprayed many things besides cars. Or, ask around for people that do this on the side, preferably an older guy who has sprayed lacquer. And yes, I spray brushing lacquer all the time with a HVLP gun, it sprays great thinned 2 parts paint to 1 part thinner. (I am one of the Older Guys)

If you do decide to spray, Practice, practice, but only after searching YouTube for instructional videos. Then the good advice you have gotten above will make more sense.

Welcome to Lumberjocks, Good Luck!


-- Theo's Grandpa Woodworking

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