7 Simple Steps: How To Lacquer Wood (Apply and Remove)

how to lacquer wood

Do you have a piece of wood whose beauty you would like to show off? You can apply a lacquer finish. This is a fast drying finish, thinner than shellac, and highly durable. Given its thinness, it must be applied in many coats to make it look great.


Applying lacquer can be challenging especially to novices who have never done it. Before I learnt how to lacquer wood, it used to give me a hard time. However, once you get the handle of it, you will find the process swift and enjoyable.


Lacquer offers versatility; it is available in satin, high-gloss and matte finishes. It can be offered in clear color or it may be offered in many satin finishes.


Ergo, it will meet the taste of anyone. The finish is dust-free drying, which does not provide an application problem as you will note when applying.

Since lacquer dries fast, in most cases it dries instantly, it may be a daunting task applying it for the first time. This is why I developed this tutorial, to help you get over the hurdles I faced lacquering wood for the first time.


Before we jump to the steps, it is important for you to know which lacquer to use and which method to follow to get the job done. For amateurs, brushing is not recommended as it may lead to uneven application; use a motorized spray gun or an aerosol can.


Though use of aerosol cans may be expensive, they come in handy when you are doing a small lacquering task at home. Again, you need to know that most lacquer fumes are not only toxic but can also be explosive.


To this end, they are not encouraged for amateur refinishing. In this guide, we will be explaining the use of a spray gun in applying lacquer finish.

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Lacquer Vs. Polyurethane

Polyurethane is a polymer and thus acts as a coating for wood while lacquer, being thin, forms a bond with the wood. This makes lacquer more long lasting than Polyurethane. The two are relatively easy to apply.

Polyurethane will take longer to completely cure and achieve hardness unlike lacquer which cures instantly.

What Will You Need For This Tutorial?

You will need:

  • Lacquer
  • Lacquer thinner
  • Lacquer based or water based wood filler
  • Lacquer based or water based sealer
  • Spray gun
  • 0000-grade and 000-grade steel wool
  • Pain brush (fine bristles)
  • Sand paper (with different grit between #80 and #400)
  • Paste wax
  • Alcohol
  • Protective gear (gloves and respirator)

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Lacquering Basics

When you are lacquering wood, there are some rules that you need to observe. First off, ensure that you have a good spray gun; this will make the process easy.


Consider the prevailing weather on the day you need to lacquer; the air should not be too humid or very low in humidity and the temperature should be relatively high.

When lacquering, avoid dusty places at all costs and avoid days when there are lots of bugs as they love lacquer and will make the finish bumpy.


When lacquering avoid direct sunlight as it will cause the lacquer finish to blister and come out ugly. Avoid silicone and oils too as they will affect the final appearance of your lacquer finish; your hands should be clean and confirm to ensure that the sandpaper and steel wool used does not have added substances on it.


Finally, make sure your workshop is well ventilated or do it outside.

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Other Requirements

Note that, while you can use lacquer on most woods, you cannot use it on rosewood and mahogany as these woods have oil which will bleed through the surface. You can use the finish on a lacquer-base, water stains, non-grain-raising base and lacquer-base fillers.


It cannot be used on top of other finishes, over oil-based stains or on top of many other fillers, as the solvents in it will dissolve these substances (fillers and other finishes). You can use thin lacquer, shellac or lacquer-base sanding as a sealer.

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Step By Step Lacquer Application

1. Fill Holes And Cracks

how to lacquer wood 2019

Choose a water-based or lacquer based filler to fill any holes and large cracks that may be on the surface of the wood. When doing so, do not smear the filler on top of the crack or hole as this will call for additional sanding to remove.


You can use the tip of a screwdriver of sharpen a stick and use it to carefully pack the wood filler into the crack or hole. You should mound the filler slightly as it will shrink when it dries. Allow the filler to dry before moving to the next step.

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2. Spot Sanding

how to lacquer wood 2019

Spot sanding refers to the use of sandpaper or a power sander to remove marks on specific places on the wood. This is normally done when marks have been noticed on the wood. For sport sanding, use sandpapers with a grit of between #120 and #150.


This grit is coarse enough to remove the marks but not enough to damage the surface of the wood. When spot sanding, always follow the wood grains.


Hand sanding works better for amateurs. One can control how much dent they want to leave on the wood, as removing a mark on the wood may eat into the wood more than you anticipated. Power sanders are fast and relatively more efficient when used in the right way.


However, if not used right, they can leave permanent sanding marks that will bring out an ugly look on the wood. Use power sander for large project, only if you know how to use them, and hand sanding for small home projects.

Related: Polycrylic Vs Polyurethane

3. Surface Sanding

how to lacquer wood 2019

After you have removed marks on the wood, you will need to sand the surface of the wood to even it out for finish acceptance.


If it’s a large project, use a power sander; hand sanding is recommended for any other project. Surface sanding is important even in instances where spot sanding is not necessary.

Sand your wood surface using coarse sandpaper grit as you progress to finer grits. You can start with #80, #100, #120, #150 and #180. Sanding finer than #180 is not recommended; with lacquer finish, very fine sanding will reduce acceptance.


It imperative to note that you will be required to apply a number of coats; after the first few coats, lacquer will create its own surface and sanding fineness may not matter.


You should flat sand the surface of your wood following the grains and using over-lapping strokes.


If it is possible, the surface to be sanded should be placed horizontally. Irrespective of the inclination, ensure that the surface is evenly sanded.

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4. Cleaning

Lacquer Vs Polyurethane

After the surface has been sanded evenly, the surface needs to be cleaned of dust. Use a brush to dust off the surface to leave it smooth.


For large projects, you can blow the dust off. Ensure that the brush you are using is dry as water spotting may result from a wet brush.


Do a visual inspection to ensure that the wood is ready for the lacquer finishing. If the wood is smooth enough and the surface is even, the finishing process can start.


If you leave the wood for 24 hours without finishing, you may have to re-sand the surface.

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5. Apply Sanding Sealer

how to lacquer wood

Apply sanding sealer with a brush. Again, only choose water based or lacquer based sealer. When you apply the sealer with a brush, the sealer fluid will flood the wood surface and it will penetrate the wood instead of drying like a spray would.


Apply sealer when the wood is still on lathe. If the wood was not evenly sanded, you may be required to apply more than one coat to achieve the desired results. Apply sealer until the surface looks even.

In this step, to minimize the appearance of brush strokes, use a fine artist brush and thin the sealer, using a lacquer thinner, up to 30 percent.


Inspect to see whether the surface is even and ready to be sprayed with lacquer. If there are still pits on the wood, apply another coat of sealer and leave the wood to cure for at least 48 hours.


Do final sanding after the wood has cured using sandpaper grit #320 and later #400. You need to sand until all the surface has a dull sealer coating which is even. Leave the wood to cure

Related: Polyurethane vs Polycrylic


6. Apply Lacquer

how to remove lacquer from wood

Thin your lacquer 50 percent and load your spray gun. First test the finish on a separate piece of wood before you apply it on your piece of furniture .


If the thinness is okay and the lacquer is drying just fine, apply it evenly on your wood holding the gun upright 18-inches away from the wood’s surface.


Spray the top edge of the surface and then spray horizontally in strips, top to bottom and side to side ensuring that the patterns overlap perfectly leaving no trace of spray strips. Apply a thin coat only.


To achieve a good finish, lacquer needs to be applied in many thin coats.

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7. Dry and Recoathow to apply lacquer to wood

Lacquer will be dry in less than half an hour. However, you need to allow it time to cure, at least 48 hours. After curing, lightly smoothen the surface of the wood with 000-grade steel wool and clean it thoroughly with a tack cloth.


Apply a second coat of lacquer and let it cure for at least 48 hours. Smoothen the surface, again, with the steel wool and apply a third thin coat.


The surface may develop runs and sags if the coats applied are thick and uneven. For an even finish, apply very thin coats and allow enough curing time.


After the last coat, let the lacquer dry completely for at least 48 hours and then buff it with 0000-grade steel wool. Clean the surface with a tack cloth. To make the surface glossy, apply paste wax and buff it for a fine gloss.

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Removing Lacquer

Now that you know how to lacquer wood, let us see how to remove lacquer from wood in a few simple steps. Removing lacquer is easier than applying and anyone can do it. You will only need a scraper, steel wool, alcohol and lacquer thinner and a paint brush.

1. Create the Mixture

Mix alcohol (ethanol) with a lacquer thinner in equal parts. This should be done in a well-ventilated room as the fumes produced are not safe for you. In fact, you should have your respirator on when working.

2. Spread Mixture on Wood

Using a paint brush spread the mixture that you have just created on the surface of the wood whose lacquer finish you need to remove. You can apply the mixture on small parts of the wood and remove the finish in bits. Allow the mixture only one minute to dissolve the lacquer but do not let it dry.

3. Scrap the Lacquer off

Using a scraper and a steel wool, scrap the surface of the wood until there are no traces of lacquer left. This is the grueling part of the process and it will take time. Remove the lacquer section by section. You can use a scouring pad in instances where the steel wool is not available.

While you scrap the lacquer, the large part of it, will come out. Go back and remove the traces of lacquer that remain. You can use a sponge soaked with the alcohol-thinner mixture to remove all traces of lacquer.

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Did you have fun following this tutorial? You should have because learning a new thing is always fun. I specifically hold this tutorial to heart because I had trouble lacquering wood or even applying any other finish for the longest time.

Applying finishes on wood is easy if you can get past the first steps; sanding and cleaning. If you follow the guide step by step as outlined, you will be glad of the results.

What do you think of this tutorial? Have you ever lacquered wood? Let us know in the comments section and we will be grateful.

1 thought on “7 Simple Steps: How To Lacquer Wood (Apply and Remove)”

  1. Thanks for explaining that the lacquer needs to be given enough time to cool if we want the finished product to have smooth layers. My husband and I want to find a professional furniture service to restore the old dining room set we just got in a storage unit auction in our city. Asking about curing time should help us find a knowledgeable furniture restoration service, so I’m glad I read your article and got the idea!

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