Classic debate: lacquer vs. polyurethane

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Forum topic by thedudeabides posted 04-11-2010 04:55 AM 36028 views 2 times favorited 81 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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75 posts in 2180 days

04-11-2010 04:55 AM

I remember my old woodshop teacher saying “Ninety percent of amateurs use poly, and 90% of pros use lacquer.” I personally prefer lacquer myself, even though it is a bit temperamental to work with, but this seems like a timeless debate. Are the pros still gravitating to lacquer, or is the field leveling?

81 replies so far

View Pete_Jud's profile


424 posts in 2792 days

#1 posted 04-11-2010 05:47 AM

I am using lacquer for my interior products now, I can get 3 coats on in a day, and it is self healing, The poly that I was using I was only able to get a coat on once a day.

-- Life is to short to own an ugly boat.

View Beginningwoodworker's profile


13347 posts in 2712 days

#2 posted 04-11-2010 05:54 AM

I use poly, because I have never try lacquer.

View cstrang's profile


1801 posts in 2208 days

#3 posted 04-11-2010 06:07 AM

Chalk another one up for lacquer, as Pete_Jud said the drying time is great and I like spraying more than brushing… way faster.

-- A hammer dangling from a wall will bang and sound like work when the wind blows the right way.

View KB1's profile


28 posts in 2193 days

#4 posted 04-11-2010 07:38 AM

I live in Florida, the humidity state. Lacquer fogging can be a problem here. Then there is the VOC / flammability problem. Catalyzed finishes stink to high heaven also. I use almost exclusively a product called Crystalac, available thru Mc It’s waterbased, low voc, recoat in 1 hr, sands easily without loading your paper, and is more resistant to chemicals than lacquer. Try it you’ll like it.

-- KB1KnoB

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 2114 days

#5 posted 04-11-2010 03:01 PM

I used to be a “poly guy” but in the last few months I have been using lacquer more. It dries much faster and I can get 3 coats on in a day. However, it stinks and my workshop is in the basement. I prefer to use lacquer when it is warm enough (and dry enough) to take the piece outside to do the finishing.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Ger21's profile


692 posts in 2170 days

#6 posted 04-11-2010 03:07 PM

Pro’s use lacquer because it’s faster, and time is money. Also, pro’s are more likely to have a spray both, which is almost mandatory to spray lacquer.

There are also catalized lacquers available that ar just as durable as poly, without the yellowing.

-- Gerry,

View bigike's profile


4042 posts in 2328 days

#7 posted 04-11-2010 05:28 PM

i think poly is slower to build and you don’t get the same clear shine as lacquer i have some that you have to brush on (lacquer) but have yet to try it i’ve been going with the arm-a-seal gloss this stuuf works fast building and the shine is clear like glass.

-- Ike, Big Daddies Woodshop,

View thedudeabides's profile


75 posts in 2180 days

#8 posted 04-11-2010 07:30 PM

“Pro’s use lacquer because it’s faster, and time is money. Also, pro’s are more likely to have a spray booth, which is almost mandatory to spray lacquer.”

I guess that’s been at the heart of the debate for me, if they’re just using it to save time. I’ve got a booth and tend to loath putting anything on by brush, but poly can be sprayed just as easily.

Are pros really just using it for time reasons, or are they seeing something in the final product that looks superior to a poly finish?

View SnowyRiver's profile


51451 posts in 2520 days

#9 posted 04-11-2010 07:33 PM

I use poly, but if I am in a hurry, I use Minwax Polycrylic. It’s water based so clean up is easy, it dries just like poly, but in only takes about 2 hours to dry and recoat. It is also milky white when applying so you can see where you have painted it on. I really like it and it seems very hard and looks great. The only thing negative about it is its expensive and it cant be used on floors.

-- Wayne - Plymouth MN

View UnionLabel's profile


661 posts in 2240 days

#10 posted 04-11-2010 08:45 PM

Lacquer, enough said. Lacquer likes to fog during temperature changes, so don’t spray around sunset or sunrise. Spray at high sun. Ventilation eliminates VOC. Once she hardenes, minimum VOC. Humidity causes fogging during drop in temp. changes. Used for years, poly is too slow, at least for me.

-- Methods are many,Principles are few.Methods change often,Principles never do.

View Kailua_Woodman's profile


4 posts in 2019 days

#11 posted 04-14-2010 10:06 PM

In my experience there’s just too much that can go wrong with poly, and the extended drying time only compounds the opportunity for error.

Lacquer is much easier to work with, and (for the record) I actually do most of my spraying outside – in the shade, of course.

I still think that every good woodworker should take the time to learn how to work with BOTH. It really helps to understand the different properties of these materials in terms of preparation, application, and bonding, and that knowledge can apply to other similar materials.

-- SAND, Sand, sand! That's all I ever do is SAND.

View richgreer's profile


4541 posts in 2114 days

#12 posted 04-15-2010 04:54 AM

I think Kailua has got it right. There is a place for both poly and lacquer. Furthermore, there is also a place for hand rubbed, apply with a brush and spray on. It just takes a while to figure out what works best in each situation. I’m still trying to figure that out. Rub on poly (that I apply with a foam brush) is my default option but I am routinely experimenting with other approaches.

-- Rich, Cedar Rapids, IA - I'm a woodworker. I don't create beauty, I reveal it.

View Kent Shepherd's profile

Kent Shepherd

2701 posts in 2326 days

#13 posted 04-15-2010 04:05 PM

I have used lacquer almost exclusively for about 40 years. I realize I only look about 30, LOL, but I started young. I am a professional and it is about time. I have always had a stand alone shop, but I would not spray lacquer if I had a shop in my garage. My gas heater and water heater are in my garage so I have pilot lights going. Laquer (solvent based) is highly flammable and will explode. I knew a painter years ago that died in one of those explosions. You can get high easily without proper ventilation, ( I am saying this in a very negative way—-You do not want to do this!!!!!!!!!!!) and according to anyone who knows me, brain damage as well.

Charles Neil has a thread going now about water based lacquer, which could change all that. I am planning to give it a try. Sounds like Poly is a good choice for hobbiests where time is not so much of an issue. As already stated, you can spray just about any finish.

These theads are great for learning about anything woodworking related. You get a lot of different perspectives which really make your own choices a lot easier. I didn’t have this when I was new at the craft, but I did have several great mentors. The problem was, they all used what I use now which makes it a little harder for me to open up to all the fantastic new products coming out these days. Be open to making changes—-when it’s beneficial to do so.

-- She thought I hung the moon--now she just thinks I did it wrong

View Viktor's profile


450 posts in 2458 days

#14 posted 04-15-2010 07:19 PM

If you care more about end result than time spent finishing, poly is a better option. Poly is a superior finish in almost every way (abrasion, water, chemicals, UV, VOC). The looks? ... Well, its very subjective. I started to use poly a while ago and will never go back to that flammable POISON (lacquer). Lately I was using water based poly, which is even better: you can do three coats in one day.
P.S. Never had problems with brush marks using poly. But again I’m not doing it for living, so I take my time.

View itsmic's profile


1419 posts in 2158 days

#15 posted 04-28-2010 06:46 PM

Hi All I can’t compliment enough the great comments on this site, they cover all the aspects of a question, I recently bought some Min-wax brush on lacquer, and really did not know what I was getting into, tried to use it with some disastrous results, streaks, brush marks, and some globing, don’t get me wrong, nothing against the product, I take full blame for my poor results. I should have turned to Lumber jocks before my purchase, it would have saved me some trouble, and time. I make mostly small decorative boxes, and for my purposes the poly gives a more controllable finish ( I just do a box or two at a time, so setting up for spraying is not practical), I keep the project perfectly level and do just one side at a time, to get a mirror finish after the third coat, yes, time consuming, and the yellow tint of the poly, similar to the tint of natural stain, it brings out the best in some woods. Poly or Lacquer, I say as stated by some, it is dependent on the project, personal requirements, taste, and a number of other factors. Make the research on what your particular needs and tastes are, and then make the choice for each project. Keep working and sharing It’s Mic Woodworker

-- It's Mic Keep working and sharing

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