How to Lacquer Wood: Step-by-Step Guide

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Using lacquer to finish your wood piece can provide you a nice clear coat that is durable and attractive. This will ensure your wood piece lasts and always has a nice luster to it. Knowing how to lacquer wood is like fine art. If you apply it too heavily, it will gum and look uneven. Applying it too light will not provide you the true finish you are looking for. Follow this handy guide when you are applying lacquer for the best results.

​How to Lacquer Wood

For a proper lacquer application, you can either use a brush or motorized spray.

Bear in mind that lacquer drys fast! While it might take a few hours to completely cure, it will dry to the touch in a matter of seconds. While this is the primary benefit of using lacquer, it can also be a huge drawback. 

For this reason, most people prefer to spray lacquer. It is very difficult to keep a wet edge when brushing lacquer, but you can achieve consistent results with spraying

Person applying lacquer on wood

What You Need

  • Lacquer
  • Respirator and gloves
  • Spray gun
  • Paintbrush
  • Lacquer thinner
  • Sandpaper
  • Paste wax
  • Water-based sealer
  • Tack-cloth
  • Steel wool
  • Paint thinner 

After getting everything you need, take the following steps to lacquer your wood.

Step One: Prepare Your Wood for Lacquer

Seal Holes and Cracks 

We recommend that you properly seal the wood before starting the lacquer application. For this, you can either use a lacquer-based or water-based filler. Fill the cracks and holes on the wood to obtain an even surface. Make sure the filler doesn’t go above the wood surface to avoid doing additional sanding. 

For the filling, you can either use a sharpened stick, or the tip of a screwdriver to carefully stuff the wood filler into the cracks. Make sure the filler is completely dry before proceeding. 

Sand the Surface

You can sand in different ways depending on the surface and area you want to cover. These are:

  • Spot sanding: Sanding specific areas of the wood 
  • Surface sanding: Sanding the whole surface of the wood

For sport sanding, you can use simple sandpaper with between #120 and #150 grit rating. Make sure not to use too much force if you want to avoid damaging the wood surface. For a whole surface sanding, you can use different types of sandpapers depending on the magnitude of the project. 

For instance, you can start with a #80 then slowly progress to finer grits such as #100, #120, #150, and #180.

Clean the Surface 

Cleaning helps to remove the dust left behind during sanding. You can either dust off the wood surface using a brush or blow the dust off using an air blower if you are working on large projects.

Step Two: Apply the Lacquer 

As we mentioned before, depending on what is more accessible to you, you can either use a brush or motorized spray to apply the lacquer to the wood. Make sure to wear a respirator and gloves when working with lacquer, as it is very toxic and dangerous. 

How to Lacquer Wood Using a Brush 

While applying using a brush, avoid forth and back movements as this will produce an uneven distribution of lacquer. For best results, apply quickly using long strokes. Below are the steps to follow when brushing lacquer. 

Wood table
  1. Create a sealant coat by mixing lacquer with a lacquer thinner in a 50:50 proportion. 
  2. Slowly and evenly apply the sealant by making one stroke at a time. Take care not to apply multiple coats as this might create many uneven brush strokes. 
  3. Wait for about 30 minutes then lightly sand the wood using 320 grit sandpaper.
  4. Wipe off the dust created from sanding using a tack-cloth. 
  5. Dip the brush into the lacquer and let it absorb enough lacquer so you won’t have to refill in the middle of a stroke. 
  6. Apply lacquer on the wood. Ensure the brush always lies on the same side across the wood and avoid back and forth movements. 
  7. Let the first coat dry and do not work on areas that didn’t receive enough lacquer before the coat is completely dry. 
  8. Don’t waste time cleaning the brush between coats. Simply dip it into a thinner lacquer and wipe with a towel. 
  9. Sand the wood with a 320 grit sandpaper after each coat and don’t forget to remove residues with a tack-cloth.

How to Lacquer Wood Using a HVLP Sprayer 

If you are working on a large surface area, we recommend using a HVLP (high volume, low pressure) sprayer as opposed to a paintbrush when applying the lacquer. Here is how to spray lacquer on your wood:

  1. Prepare a 50/50 mixture of your lacquer and the lacquer thinner to create a sealant.
  2. Apply the sealant coat on the wood using a brush then wait for 30 minutes 
  3. Slightly sand the wood using a ball of 0000-grade steel wool.
  4. Adjust the air pressure regulator on your spray gun to 30-PSI.
  5. Fill the spray gun with lacquer and less than 30% thinner.
  6. Carefully apply the lacquer on the wood to create an even coat. While spraying, make sure to work along the surface of the wood as opposed to using circular motions or spraying randomly. 
  7. While it is not possible to entirely prevent oversprays, make sure that you reduce it as much as possible. 
  8. To prevent this, you should ensure that the angle and distance between the sprayer and wood are appropriate. When the sprayer is far away, you will have too many stray sprays while holding it too close will create a clumsy and thick layer.
  9. For a standard sprayer, we recommend holding 6​ to 8 inches from the wood surface
  10. After about 2 hours, wipe the wood surface again using a steel wool
  11. Repeat the steps to apply as many coats as possible then leave the wood for about 2 days to allow for curing. 
  12. After the two days, wipe again with steel wool to remove any dust and residues. 
  13. Next, sand down the wood using wet sandpaper then polish using a 4F pumice.
  14. Finally, clean the surface with either soap and water or paint thinner to give it a shiny finish.
Person brushing lacquer on wood

Dry Time and Prepping for Another Lacquer Coat

​Once you have applied your first coat of lacquer, you need to allow ample time for drying before any additional coats are added just like paint. It will take several hours for the lacquer to dry. Make sure it is not tacky to the touch before you add another layer.

You can also use sandpaper to rough out any areas that are uneven or have rough edges. This will ensure you get another layer of lacquer applied evenly to your wood piece. Make sure to use a very fine sandpaper so as to not damage the lacquer.

You want to use a cloth to wipe away any residue that was created when you sanded the surface of your newly lacquered piece. You now are ready to apply a second, third, or even fourth coat of lacquer.

Note: if you’re looking for a slower drying finisher, consider trying out polyurethane. We compare the two finishers here.

Applying Multiple Lacquer Coats

​To apply another coat of lacquer to your wood project, you simply repeat the steps for applying lacquer either as a spray application or using your paintbrush. Repeat the process until you have the desired look to your lacquer piece that you are trying to achieve.

Depending on how dark you need your wood surface to be, you will need to apply multiple coats of the lacquer to the wood surface of your piece. Keep in mind you want each layer to be smooth and even as you apply it.

Allow plenty of time to dry between coats and make sure to apply in a well-ventilated area to prevent any fumes from overtaking you.

Frequently Asked Questions for Lacquer Application

How Long Should You Wait Between Coats? 

Usually, lacquer takes a few to several hours to dry depending on the weather conditions. If you are working in a hot area, it might take a few minutes or an hour while humid areas might need several hours. If you are unsure if the coat is dry, you can touch it and if it is still sticky, give it more time. 

Wet lacquer, like fresh paint, produces fumes and smells that might be uncomfortable or, to some extent, harmful to your respiratory system. To ensure that the fumes do not overwhelm you, you need to allow sufficient time for the coat to dry before applying another one. 

Also, don’t forget to work in a well-ventilated area and wear a respirator or mask when lacquering wood. 

Person wearing a respirator mask

What is the Preferred Temperature When Lacquering Wood? 

The preferred temperature for lacquering wood is usually below 65 degrees and less than 65% humidity. High temperatures will cause the lacquer to evaporate fast and even dry while you are still applying. This will result in an uneven and unpleasant-looking finish. 

On the other hand, high humidities will slow down the drying time and delay your project. If you can’t find a good temperature to work with, we recommend you postpone the lacquering or work in a  room where the temperature is manually regulated. 

Can you Apply Lacquer Using a Roller?

Yes, you can apply a lacquer using a roller. To do this, find a high-quality sponge roller and use it to softly roll the lacquer on the wood surface. When using a roller, though, make sure to apply thin coats as thick coats will result in a foggy finish. 

Also, make sure to lightly sand between coats just like when using a brush or spray. 

Tips for Lacquering Wood

  • Use a good spray gun to avoid malfunctions while lacquering. 
  • Consider weather conditions on the day you want to lacquer. Ensure the weather is favorable enough for lacquering.
  • Don’t lacquer in dusty places.
  • Avoid direct sunlight; it may cause a blister and ugly finishes.
  • Ensure you are working in a well-ventilated workshop.
  • Always wear a respirator when lacquering to avoid inhaling harmful fumes. 
  • Avoid areas where there are bugs. They love lacquer and will quickly get onto the lacquer as it dries.
  • Make sure the lacquer does not come in contact with oil or silicones as this will affect their effectiveness.

Conclusion

Lacquering wood is a technical procedure that requires plenty of expertise. Given that lacquer dries very fast, it can be frustrating creating an appealing finish. We hope this guide will help you learn how to properly apply lacquer and protect the beauty and durability of your wood.

An expert at home repair, remodel, and DIY projects for nearly 40 years. His first experience came in completely restoring an antique home. Completely redone from the inside out, and restored to its original form, the home is a featured design by renowned Southern California Architect Cliff May, considered to be the father of the California Ranch Home. Now Dennis spends his time on fine woodworking projects and tool comparisons.