Mastering the Basics: How to Lacquer Furniture Explained

how to lacquer furniture

Welcome to my comprehensive guide on how to lacquer furniture. In this article, I will walk you through the step-by-step process of achieving a beautiful lacquer finish on your wood furniture. Lacquer is a popular choice among woodworkers and furniture enthusiasts due to its quick drying time and durability. By understanding different lacquer techniques and the furniture lacquer process, you’ll be able to transform your furniture pieces into stunning works of art.

There are various types of lacquers available, each with its own advantages and characteristics. From nitrocellulose lacquers to acrylic and catalyzed lacquers, we’ll explore the pros and cons of each option, helping you choose the best lacquer for your project. Additionally, I will provide detailed information on the importance of proper preparation, the application of primer, and the different painting techniques to ensure a flawless finish.

Whether you’re a DIY enthusiast or a professional woodworker, this guide will equip you with the knowledge and techniques needed to successfully lacquer your furniture. Let’s dive in and discover the art of furniture lacquering!

Key Takeaways:

  • There are different types of lacquers available, including nitrocellulose, acrylic, and catalyzed lacquers.
  • Nitrocellulose lacquer is affordable and easy to apply but can yellow with age.
  • Acrylic lacquers provide a clear, water-white finish that doesn’t yellow over time.
  • Catalyzed lacquers offer enhanced water, chemical, and abrasion resistance.
  • Proper preparation, including cleaning and sanding, is crucial for a professional finish.

Understanding Nitrocellulose Lacquers

Nitrocellulose lacquers have been a popular choice for finishing furniture and cabinets since their invention in 1921. This type of lacquer offers several advantages, including affordability, quick drying time, and the ability to provide a protective layer over the wood. However, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of nitrocellulose lacquer before deciding if it’s the right choice for your project.

One of the main benefits of nitrocellulose lacquers is their affordability, making them a cost-effective option for budget-conscious individuals. Additionally, they dry relatively quickly, allowing for faster completion of projects. Nitrocellulose lacquers also offer good adhesion to wood surfaces, creating a durable finish that can withstand regular use.

However, it’s worth noting that nitrocellulose lacquers do have some drawbacks. Over time, they have a tendency to yellow, particularly in areas exposed to sunlight. This can detract from the overall appearance of the furniture. Additionally, nitrocellulose lacquers can shrink as they dry, which may lead to the development of cracks if not applied properly. It’s important to apply nitrocellulose lacquer in thin, even layers to prevent this issue.

In summary, nitrocellulose lacquers are a popular choice for furniture and cabinet finishing due to their affordability and quick drying time. However, they do have some disadvantages, such as yellowing with age and potential shrinkage. By understanding the pros and cons of nitrocellulose lacquer, you can make an informed decision about whether it’s the right option for your project.

Exploring Acrylic Lacquers

Acrylic lacquers are an excellent choice for those seeking a durable and long-lasting finish for their furniture. These lacquers offer several advantages over other types, such as nitrocellulose lacquer. One of the key benefits of acrylic lacquers is their ability to provide a clear, water-white finish that remains unchanged over time. Unlike nitrocellulose lacquer, which can yellow with age, acrylic lacquers maintain their original appearance.

A popular type of acrylic lacquer is CAB-acrylic lacquer, which stands for cellulose acetate butyrate and acrylic resins. This particular formulation dries to a flexible film, offering improved durability in comparison to other lacquers. CAB-acrylic lacquer is widely used in the furniture industry for its excellent water, chemical, and abrasion resistance.

When applying acrylic lacquers, it is best to use spray equipment for an even and smooth finish. Additionally, acrylic lacquers can also be used as a topcoat over colored pigment lacquers to provide added protection and enhance the overall appearance of the furniture.

Advantages of Acrylic Lacquer

Acrylic lacquers offer several advantages that make them a popular choice among furniture manufacturers and DIY enthusiasts alike. Some of the key advantages include:

  • Durability: Acrylic lacquers provide a long-lasting and durable finish, thanks to their chemical composition and flexibility.
  • Color Stability: Unlike nitrocellulose lacquer, acrylic lacquers do not yellow or change color over time, ensuring the furniture maintains its original appearance.
  • Water and Chemical Resistance: Acrylic lacquers offer excellent resistance to water, chemicals, and abrasion, making them ideal for furniture that may be exposed to everyday wear and tear.
  • Easy Application: Acrylic lacquers can be easily applied using spray equipment, allowing for an even and smooth finish.

Table: Comparison of Lacquer Types

Lacquer TypeAdvantagesDisadvantages
Nitrocellulose Lacquer
  • Affordable
  • Quick drying
  • Provides a protective layer
  • Can yellow with age
  • Potential shrinkage and cracking
Acrylic Lacquer
  • Water-white finish
  • Remains unchanged over time
  • Excellent durability
  • Requires spray application
Catalyzed Lacquer
  • Enhanced durability and resistance
  • Pre-catalyzed option offers predictable usage quantity
  • Post-catalyzed option suitable for smaller batches
  • More complex application process
  • May require professional expertise

Unveiling Catalyzed Lacquers

When it comes to achieving a durable and long-lasting lacquer finish on furniture, catalyzed lacquers are a game-changer. These hybrid reactive finishes offer enhanced durability and resistance compared to traditional lacquers. Catalyzed lacquers are chemically cured, rather than solely relying on evaporation, making them more resilient and suitable for various applications.

There are two main types of catalyzed lacquers: pre-catalyzed and post-catalyzed. Pre-catalyzed lacquers are often preferred by large production shops as they come pre-mixed with a precise and predictable quantity of catalyst. This helps ensure consistent results and saves time on measuring and mixing. On the other hand, post-catalyzed lacquers require the addition of a catalyst before application, offering more flexibility for smaller batches and custom projects.

To understand the advantages of catalyzed lacquers, let’s take a closer look at their composition. These lacquers typically contain a combination of nitrocellulose resins and urea resins. This blend provides a more durable and resistant finish compared to nitrocellulose lacquers alone. Catalyzed lacquers offer improved water, chemical, and abrasion resistance, making them ideal for high-traffic areas and pieces that require added protection.

When applying catalyzed lacquers, it is essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. These finishes often require specific mixing ratios and application techniques to ensure optimal performance. Additionally, it is crucial to provide adequate curing time, as catalyzed lacquers may take longer to fully harden compared to traditional lacquers.

The Benefits of Catalyzed Lacquers:

  • Enhanced durability and resistance
  • Chemical curing for added strength
  • Improved water, chemical, and abrasion resistance

The Differences Between Pre-Catalyzed and Post-Catalyzed Lacquers:

Pre-Catalyzed LacquersPost-Catalyzed Lacquers
Pre-mixed with a precise and predictable quantity of catalystRequire the addition of a catalyst before application
Offers consistency and time-saving for large production batchesProvides flexibility for smaller batches and custom projects

Overall, understanding the benefits and differences of catalyzed lacquers allows you to choose the right finish for your furniture projects. Whether you opt for pre-catalyzed or post-catalyzed lacquers, these hybrid reactive finishes deliver superior durability and resistance, ensuring your furniture maintains its beauty and protection for years to come.

The Importance of Proper Preparation

Before diving into the process of lacquering furniture, it is crucial to understand the importance of proper preparation. This step sets the foundation for a successful and long-lasting lacquer finish. By taking the time to clean and sand the furniture, you create a surface that allows the lacquer to adhere properly and achieve a smooth and professional result.

Cleaning the Furniture

Before applying any lacquer, it is essential to thoroughly clean the furniture to remove dirt, grime, and any previous finishes. One effective cleaner to use is Murphy’s Oil Soap, which is gentle yet effective in removing build-up without damaging the wood. Simply dilute the soap according to the instructions and use a clean cloth or sponge to wipe down the furniture. This step not only ensures a clean surface but also removes any oils or residues that could interfere with the adhesion of the lacquer.

Sanding the Furniture

Sanding the furniture is another crucial step in the preparation process. This step helps to remove any glossy finish, smooth out imperfections, and create a surface that allows the lacquer to “grab” onto it. Start by using a medium-grit sandpaper to sand the entire piece, following the direction of the wood grain. Once the glossy finish is gone, switch to a fine-grit sandpaper to achieve a smooth surface. Remember to sand any crevices or hard-to-reach areas to ensure an even application of the lacquer.

1Clean the furniture using Murphy’s Oil Soap
2Sand the furniture with medium-grit sandpaper
3Switch to fine-grit sandpaper for a smooth surface

The proper preparation of furniture before lacquering is vital for achieving a professional and long-lasting finish. By thoroughly cleaning the furniture and sanding it to create a suitable surface, you ensure that the lacquer will adhere properly and provide a smooth and attractive finish. Take the time to complete these preparation steps, and you will be well on your way to transforming your furniture with a flawless lacquer finish.

Applying the Primer

Before applying the lacquer paint, it is important to prepare the furniture properly to ensure a smooth and long-lasting finish. One crucial step in the preparation process is applying a primer. A furniture primer acts as a bonding agent between the surface of the furniture and the lacquer paint, improving adhesion and durability.

There are several types of primers available, each with its own benefits and uses. Some common types of primers include KILZ Primer and oil-based primers. KILZ Primer is known for its excellent stain-blocking properties, making it ideal for covering dark or heavily stained wood. Oil-based primers are also effective at blocking stains and provide a good foundation for the lacquer paint.

Using a primer before applying the lacquer paint is crucial because it helps to seal the surface and prevent the paint from seeping into the wood. It also helps to cover any stains or discolorations in the wood, ensuring a more even and consistent finish. Applying a primer enhances the overall quality of the lacquer finish and helps achieve a more professional result.

The Importance of Using a Primer

“A primer acts as a sealant and bonding agent, ensuring proper adhesion of the lacquer paint and providing a smooth and durable finish.”

By using a primer, you can ensure that the lacquer paint adheres properly to the furniture surface and forms a strong bond. This is especially important when working with porous or uneven surfaces, as the primer helps to fill in any gaps or imperfections, creating a smoother finish. Additionally, the primer helps to prevent the paint from peeling or chipping over time, ensuring the longevity of the lacquer finish.

When selecting a primer, it is important to choose one that is compatible with the chosen lacquer paint. Different types of primers may have different drying times and properties, so it is essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for the best results. By using the appropriate primer, you can enhance the overall finish of your lacquered furniture and achieve a professional and long-lasting result.

Painting the Furniture

Once the furniture is prepped and primed, it’s time to apply the lacquer paint. Interior latex paint in a semi-gloss finish is commonly used for furniture lacquering. Thin coats of paint should be applied, and it is crucial to sand between each coat for a smooth and even finish. Different painting techniques can be used, such as using a small foam roller for larger areas and a brush for hard-to-reach crevices.

Avoid applying thick layers of paint, as this can lead to drips and an uneven finish. Instead, start with a thin coat and gradually build up the layers until the desired coverage is achieved. Sanding between coats not only helps to create a smooth surface but also promotes better adhesion between the layers of paint.

For larger areas, such as the top of a table or the front of a dresser, a small foam roller can be used. This helps to evenly distribute the paint and minimize brush strokes. When working on smaller details or tight spaces, a brush can be more effective in ensuring precise application.

Remember to work in a well-ventilated area and follow the manufacturer’s instructions for drying times and any additional steps, such as sanding or applying a second coat. Patience and attention to detail are key to achieving a professional and smooth lacquer finish.

Sealing and Protecting the Finish

Sealing the lacquered finish is an essential step in the furniture lacquering process. It not only provides added protection to the furniture but also creates a wipeable surface that is easier to clean and maintain. There are different options available for topcoats, each with its own advantages and characteristics.

Advantages of Different Topcoats:

1. Polyurethane: Polyurethane topcoats are popular for their durability and resistance to water, heat, and chemicals. They provide a high-gloss finish and are available in both oil-based and water-based formulas. Water-based polyurethane is preferred for its low odor and easy cleanup. However, oil-based polyurethane tends to provide a richer, amber tone to the finished furniture.

2. Water-Based Topcoats: Water-based topcoats, such as Minwax Polycrylic, offer a clear, non-yellowing finish that is ideal for light-colored furniture. They dry quickly and have low odor, making them convenient for indoor use. Water-based topcoats also provide good resistance to water and household chemicals.

3. Furniture Wax: Furniture wax, like Minwax Finishing Wax, is another option for sealing lacquered furniture. It provides a warm, satin finish and enhances the natural beauty of the wood. Furniture wax is easy to apply and buff, and it offers good protection against moisture and minor scratches.

Table: Comparison of Topcoat Options for Lacquer Furniture

Topcoat OptionAdvantages
PolyurethaneDurable, water and heat resistant, high-gloss finish
Water-Based TopcoatsClear, non-yellowing finish, quick drying, low odor
Furniture WaxWarm, satin finish, enhances natural beauty, easy application

When choosing a topcoat, consider the desired level of gloss, the type of protection needed, and the overall aesthetic you wish to achieve. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for application and allow sufficient curing time before using or touching the furniture.

Note: Before applying any topcoat, it’s recommended to let the lacquered furniture cure for at least 24 hours to ensure the finish has fully hardened and is ready for additional protection.

sealing lacquered furniture

Choosing Between Chalk Paint and Latex Paint

When it comes to painting furniture, you have the option to choose between two popular types of paint: chalk paint and latex paint. Each paint has its own unique characteristics and advantages. Understanding the pros and cons of chalk paint and latex paint can help you make an informed decision for your furniture lacquering project.

Chalk Paint:

Chalk paint offers a distinct matte finish that gives furniture a vintage and rustic look. One of the biggest advantages of chalk paint is that it requires minimal surface preparation. You can apply it directly to furniture without the need for sanding or priming. Chalk paint also has excellent coverage and can be easily distressed to create a weathered look. However, it is worth noting that chalk paint can be more expensive compared to latex paint and may require multiple coats to achieve full opacity.

Latex Paint:

Latex paint offers a wide range of finishes, including gloss, satin, and semi-gloss. This gives you more flexibility in choosing the look and feel you want for your furniture. Latex paint is also readily available and generally less expensive than chalk paint. It is ideal for surfaces that require frequent cleaning, as latex paint is durable and easy to maintain. However, latex paint may not adhere as well to certain surfaces without proper preparation, such as sanding and priming. It is also worth mentioning that latex paint may have a longer drying time compared to chalk paint.

Chalk PaintLatex Paint
Matte, vintage finishWide range of finishes (gloss, satin, semi-gloss)
Minimal surface preparationMay require sanding and priming
Excellent coverageDurable and easy to maintain
Easily distressed for a weathered lookLess expensive
May be more expensiveLonger drying time

Table: Pros and Cons of Chalk Paint and Latex Paint

To choose between chalk paint and latex paint, consider the desired aesthetic, the level of surface preparation you are willing to undertake, and the durability required for the specific piece of furniture. Whether you opt for the vintage charm of chalk paint or the versatility of latex paint, both options can help you achieve a beautiful and personalized finish for your furniture.

Examples of Painted Furniture

Painted furniture can breathe new life into old, worn-out pieces and add a unique touch to any space. Whether you’re a DIY enthusiast or looking for inspiration for your next furniture project, these examples of painted furniture are sure to spark creativity. From vibrant and bold colors to distressed finishes and intricate patterns, there are endless possibilities when it comes to transforming furniture with paint.

“Painting furniture allows you to unleash your creativity and personalize your living space. The before and after transformations of painted furniture can be truly remarkable, showing the power of a fresh coat of paint and a little imagination.”

One popular trend in painted furniture is the use of chalk paint. Chalk paint offers a matte, velvety finish that gives furniture a vintage, shabby-chic look. It can be applied in various ways, from a smooth and even coat to a distressed or weathered effect. Chalk paint also allows for easy customization, as it can be mixed to create unique colors and tones.

Another technique for painted furniture is achieving a high-gloss or lacquer-like finish with latex paint. This sleek and modern look can be achieved by applying multiple thin coats of latex paint and sanding between each coat. The result is a smooth and polished surface that adds a touch of elegance to any piece of furniture.

Whether you prefer a rustic, farmhouse style or a sleek and contemporary look, painted furniture offers endless possibilities for transforming your space. From repurposing old pieces to adding a pop of color to a room, the before and after furniture transformations will inspire you to get creative and make your mark on your home decor.

Tips and Recommendations for Successful Furniture Lacquering

When it comes to lacquering furniture, following a few tips and best practices can help ensure a successful and professional-looking finish. Here are some recommendations to keep in mind:

  1. Apply thin coats: Instead of trying to achieve full coverage with one thick coat, it’s best to apply multiple thin coats of lacquer. This allows for better adhesion, smoother application, and a more even finish.
  2. Sand between coats: Sanding the surface lightly between each coat helps create a smooth and flawless finish. It also promotes better adhesion between layers and minimizes imperfections.
  3. Use the right primer: Choosing the correct primer for your specific lacquer is essential. It ensures proper adhesion, covers any stains or discolorations in the wood, and enhances the overall finish.
  4. Pay attention to drying time: Allow each coat of lacquer to dry fully before applying the next one. Rushing the process can lead to uneven drying, bubbling, or other imperfections.
  5. Consider ventilation: Lacquering furniture often involves using products with strong fumes. Make sure to work in a well-ventilated area or use a respirator mask to protect yourself from potentially harmful chemicals.

To summarize, successful furniture lacquering requires applying thin coats, sanding between coats, using the right primer, allowing proper drying time, and ensuring adequate ventilation. By following these tips and best practices, you can achieve a beautiful and long-lasting finish on your lacquered furniture.

Remember, practice makes perfect, so don’t be discouraged if your first attempt doesn’t turn out exactly as planned. Keep experimenting, refining your technique, and learning from your mistakes. With time and practice, you’ll become more skilled at furniture lacquering and be able to achieve the desired results.


In conclusion, lacquering furniture is a DIY project that allows you to achieve a professional finish and transform the look of your pieces. By understanding the different types of lacquers available – nitrocellulose, acrylic, and catalyzed – you can choose the one that best suits your needs. Proper preparation is crucial, including thorough cleaning and sanding to ensure the lacquer adheres properly.

Applying a primer before painting is essential for good adhesion and coverage, while using the right paint, such as interior latex paint, will give you the desired finish. Sealing the lacquered furniture with a suitable topcoat will provide added protection and create a wipeable surface.

When embarking on a furniture lacquering project, it’s important to follow some tips for success. Apply thin coats of paint, sand between each coat, and use high-quality materials for the best results. Practice on a small area before tackling larger pieces, and allow sufficient curing time before using or touching the furniture.

With the right techniques and materials, you can achieve flawless and long-lasting lacquer finishes that will elevate the overall aesthetic of your furniture. This lacquer furniture guide, along with the provided tips, will help you create stunning pieces that showcase your DIY skills and attention to detail.


What is the best finish for wood furniture?

Lacquer is widely considered the best finish for wood furniture due to its quick drying time and durability.

What are the different types of lacquers available?

There are different types of lacquers available, including nitrocellulose, acrylic, and catalyzed lacquers.

What are the advantages of nitrocellulose lacquer?

Nitrocellulose lacquer is affordable, easy to apply, and provides a protective layer over the wood. However, it can yellow with age and potentially cause cracks.

How does acrylic lacquer compare to nitrocellulose lacquer?

Acrylic lacquers provide a clear, water-white finish that doesn’t yellow over time. They offer improved durability compared to nitrocellulose lacquer.

What are catalyzed lacquers?

Catalyzed lacquers are chemically cured finishes that offer enhanced water, chemical, and abrasion resistance. They contain nitrocellulose resins and urea resins for added durability.

How should I prepare the furniture before lacquering?

Thoroughly clean the furniture with a suitable cleaner and sand the surface to remove the glossy finish.

Do I need to apply a primer before lacquering?

Yes, applying a primer is crucial for ensuring good adhesion of the lacquer and covering any stains or discolorations in the wood.

What types of paint should I use for furniture lacquering?

Interior latex paint in a semi-gloss finish is commonly used for furniture lacquering.

How do I seal and protect the lacquered finish?

There are different options for topcoats, including polyurethane, water-based topcoats, and furniture wax.

Should I choose chalk paint or latex paint for furniture lacquering?

Chalk paint offers a matte, vintage look with less surface preparation, while latex paint offers a variety of finishes and durability options.

Are there any examples of beautifully painted furniture for inspiration?

Yes, there are numerous examples of beautifully painted furniture available, showcasing different techniques, colors, and finishes.

What are some tips for successful furniture lacquering?

Apply thin coats of paint, sand between each coat, use the appropriate primer and topcoat, allow sufficient curing time, and choose high-quality materials. Practice on a small area first.

Source Links


Hey guys, This is Md Muktar Hossain, I have been working on home / office furniture for a long time. I thought I would share things with everyone through a website. If you like my articles, please share them with everyone. Stay well Stay healthy.

Recent Posts