Lacquer Wood Finish, a More Robust Application

Lacquer finish is a clear or colored varnish that cure and dries by solvent evaporation process. It produces a hard, durable finish, in any sheen level from ultra matte to high gloss that can be further polished as required. The term lacquer comes from the Portuguese word lac, a type of resin excreted from certain insects. However, in modern usage, lac-based varnishes are referred to as shellac, while lacquer reiter to other polymers dissolved in volatile organic compounds, such as nitrocellulose. While both lacquer and shellac are traditional finishes, lacquer is more durable than shellac.

Quick drying solvent-based lacquers that contain nitrocellulose, a resin obtained from the nitration of cotton and other cellululic materials, were developed in early 1920s, and widely used in the automotive industry for 30 years. Prior to their advents, mass produced automotive finishes were limited in color, with Japan Black being the fastest drying and most popular. General Motors Oakland automobile brand automobile was the first to introduce one of the new fast drying nitrocellulose lacquers, a bright blue produced by DuPont under their Duco tradename.

These lacquers are also used on wooden items, furniture, and musical instruments. The preferred method of applying quick-drying lacquers is by spraying. Nitrocellulose lacquers produce a very hard yet flexible, durable finish that can be polished to a high sheen. Disadvantages of these lacquers include the hazardous nature of the solvent, which is flammable, and toxic not to mention the handling hazards of nitrocellulose in the lacquer manufacturing process. Lacquer grade of soluble nitrocellulose is closely related to the more highly nitrated form that is used to make explosives.

Lacquer can be applied with either a brush or as a spray. When applying with a brush, use a brush with high quality natural bristle and add thin coats to your piece without over brushing. Be certain to work quickly and add additional coats to even out the finish as needed.

If you choose to spray on lacquer, you can use either aerosol cans or pneumatic spray. For larger jobs, aerosol cans will be a much more expensive choice, but for small projects, quite affordable. Because of the strong odor and flammability factor of the solvents in lacquer, be sure to work in a well ventilated area.