Lacquer vs others as a final top coat

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Forum topic by yuri posted 01-13-2014 09:37 PM 954 views 0 times favorited 6 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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136 posts in 3023 days

01-13-2014 09:37 PM

I did some projects and of course finished them with some top coat. So far I used only wipe on or brush on methods. I worked with shellac, oils, polyurethanes (oil based and variety of water based). I have understanding of them with their pros and cons. The only thing is left is lacquer. I just can not grasp it’s specific why it is so widely used and mainly what makes it so good.
Let say oil based polys. I like that it makes wood look “wet” and warm, good protection against abrasion and chemicals, levels pretty good to get even surface. Cons, slow to cure, odor, ...
Lacquers are water clear, solvent are lighting fast to dry, so it is good for commercial use to speed up production. But water based polys have similar qualities and from what I gathered frequently more durable. Besides a lot of modern lacquers are water based, what makes them even closer to WB finishes from production point of view.
Now, would like to understand what else makes lacquer finishes still attractive? Let’s discuss is.
I am not in position to blame lacquers, just want to understand what I missed not using it.

6 replies so far

View PurpLev's profile


8523 posts in 3068 days

#1 posted 01-13-2014 09:43 PM

lacquer is oil based:
  • it sprays thin
  • dries fast
  • layers are burnt in to the layers underneath making imperfections clearing themselves with the next coat
  • can be buffed to a high sheen – easier than poly.
  • provides decent amount of protection (much more than shellac, albeit not as good as poly)

it it simply an efficient finish.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View yuri's profile


136 posts in 3023 days

#2 posted 01-13-2014 09:53 PM

You mean solvent based, not oil.
I agree with you on that, it makes it attractive for fast efficient finish. But what about water based lacquers?

View rrww's profile


263 posts in 1533 days

#3 posted 01-13-2014 10:40 PM

Same reasons with a “water base” lacquer – except no worries about explosions or EPA regulations if your a commercial shop.

View JAAune's profile


1614 posts in 1737 days

#4 posted 01-13-2014 11:03 PM

I’ve never actually seen a water-based lacquer that is really a lacquer product. Most of them are acrylic-based finishes that have been labeled as lacquers for marketing purposes. Sometimes they have limited burn in capabilities but not to the same extent as a real lacquer.

Don’t put too much stock in the names manufacturers put on finishes. They’re for marketing and not for education of the customer. Take “tung-oil finish” for example. Many of those products are just thinned polyurethane.

A true lacquer is an evaporating finish that hardens as the solvent flashes off. The cured product will soften when exposed to the original solvent. So putting lacquer thinner (or acetone-based fingernail polish remover) on a lacquered surface will soften the finish. This is handy for doing repairs. They are also easily modified for different environmental conditions via the addition of specialized solvents and retarders.

Water-based “lacquers” obviously cannot be permitted to soften when exposed to water. It’s unlikely anyone would accidentally splash lacquer thinner on their coffee table but they probably will get water on it at some point.

I really like solvent lacquers for their versatility, ease of use and repairable qualities. Water-based “lacquers” seldom have those qualities. If I were going to give up the ease of repair that solvent lacquers offer I’d probably just switch to using conversion varnish instead of messing with the water “lacquers”.

-- See my work at and

View keninblaine's profile


130 posts in 1022 days

#5 posted 01-15-2014 04:31 AM

Further to Yuri’s questions, what is the best way to apply a solvent based lacquer? Most stores seem to carry only brushable in one-quart cans, or aerosol spray cans (Watco, Deft). Are there any other choices, such as a liquid version that can be sprayed with a HVLP gun? Is there any major difference between Watco and Deft spray lacquers?

-- Ken, Blaine Washington

View JAAune's profile


1614 posts in 1737 days

#6 posted 01-15-2014 06:19 AM

The only experience with Deft and Watco for me comes from using aerosol cans for minor touch up work. For that, I’ve not noticed any difference between them. Since I haven’t used them extensively my knowledge about them is too limited to give reliable comparisons between the two.

Assuming there are no space, equipment or safety limitations, the best method for applying lacquer is by spraying. Most lacquers are specifically designed for spray systems. The products seen in the big box stores are actually the exceptions because those are marketed towards homeowners and hobby woodworkers who are unlikely to have a safe setup for spraying solvent finishes. You need ventilation to exhaust the fumes and whatever system used to accomplish this needs to be explosion proof.

The best lacquers are sold by commercial suppliers including but not limited to Sherwin Williams, Mohawk and ML Campbell. Their lacquer products are marketed to professionals and generally have to be applied with a spray gun since they tack too quickly for brushing.

The product I’ve been using is Sherwin Williams CAB acrylic precat lacquer. The CAB acyrlic won’t yellow as much as old-fashioned nitrocellulose lacquer. Precat means it gets catalyzed before use and has a 6 month shelf life once catalyzed. The catalyst makes the finish more durable so it is strong enough to withstand most household applications. I wouldn’t use it in a bathroom or a kitchen because steam and grease take a heavy toll on the finish but it holds up just fine on a dining room table.

Precat lacquers are repairable like the old nitro lacquers. Any scratch can be repaired by either applying solvent or additional lacquer or by buffing it out.

-- See my work at and

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