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A Step-by-Step Guide on How to Lacquer Wood

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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

Preparing Your Wood for Lacquer

Prior to starting the lacquer process, you need to prep your wood surface for the actual lacquer application.

Start with sandpaper to smooth your wood piece and remove any imperfections that show on the surface. This will also help to remove any lacquer or any other finish that was used on your wood project previously.

You will need to also seal the wood before you can add any lacquer to it. Be sure to wipe down the entire piece after you have sanded it before you begin applying lacquer to the surface.

This is the first step, and a very important step, to getting your piece ready for a lacquer application.

Applying Your First Lacquer Coat

​Now, you are ready to begin applying a single coat of lacquer to your ​wood ​project. You will want to use a chip brush for applying the lacquer.

Use even strokes to cover the piece. This will be your base coat and will require a solid even coat that is not too thick or too light. Coverage should be to the entire surface without any missing areas. The same method is to be done when staining plywood.

When you apply the lacquer use long strokes in a quick fashion. This will help you get an even coat on the first try. Do not use a back and forth motion as this will cause the lacquer to splatter and cover unevenly. 

Join the wet edge of every stroke you make with the next stroke. This will prevent any areas from having an uneven edge that shows through all the layers of your lacquer.

Applying lacquer on a log how to lacquer wood

Spraying Lacquer

​You also have the option to spray lacquer on your wood piece, especially if it is a large surface area that needs coverage. Understanding how to spray lacquer will allow you to add the finish quickly and evenly every time.

​Use an HLVP Sprayer

You will need a top quality HVLP sprayer gun for the application. This uses an air pressure system that requires an open, well-ventilated area for coating your wood project.

You will need to mix the lacquer with thinner to use in the HVLP sprayer. Simply create a mixture that has a smooth consistency that will spray through the sprayer gun with ease.

Similar to using a ​dust mask​​​ for wood working projects, you will need to use a respirator mask as you apply the lacquer to protect your breathing as you work.

Sprayer Distance

The distance you hold the sprayer at from the wood is critical. Too far away and the lacquer spreads in the air and doesn’t cover your wood piece. Also, holding your sprayer too close will create a thick layer of lacquer that drips and runs as you work.

For an HVLP Spray Gun you should typically hold the spray gun 6​”-8″ from ​wood surface.

​Spray in Lengthwise Motion

Once you have found your sweet spot to cover your wood piece with lacquer, you will need work in a lengthwise motion. Move your sprayer along the surface of the wood piece, overlapping the lacquer on each pass.

Do not use circular motions or a random spray pattern as this will create an uneven texture to your lacquered finish.

Preferred Temperature

You also need to keep in mind the temperature you are spraying your lacquer in. ​If at all possible, you don’t want the temperature to be above 65 degrees or the humidity to be above 65%.

Following this temperature requirement will provide you the best results as you spray your lacquer on the surface of your wood piece.

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.

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.

Shiny hardwood floors after being lacquered

​Finishing Your Lacquer Application

After you have finished applying the multiple coats of lacquer to your wood piece, you will need to use steel wool and a pumice stone to complete the lacquer application. This will provide a nice shine to your wood project and make your lacquer finish as smooth as possible. If you want to prolong the life of your project, you can also consider laminating your wood.

​You can also apply a quick coat of paint thinner on top of the lacquer to remove any oils that are on the surface of your piece. This will also help to clean the chip brushes you have used when completed.


​You now know exactly how to lacquer wood. This handy guide offers you everything you need to know about applying lacquer to any wood surface you are working with. You will have that shine and luster that really will bring your wood piece to life. Plus, it will allow your wood project to last for many years without worry about damage to the 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.