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How to Apply a Lacquer Finish to Wood

Lacquer is often used to finish fine woodworking projects because it has clarity, depth and a quick dry time.

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  • Difficulty

    Moderate

Highlights:

Step 1: Prep the Wood Surfaces

Use an orbital sander with progressively finer grades of sandpaper to remove all scratches from the surface of the wood. Use 220-grit sandpaper for the final pass to ensure a smooth finish (Image 1).

Wipe the surface with a tack cloth to remove all dust particles.

Set up a tent to prevent dust from settling on the finish as it dries (Image 2).

Step 2: Spray the Lacquer onto the Wood Surfaces

Lacquer should be applied with a spray gun. You can rent a professional HVLP (high volume, low pressure) system like the one shown here, which is powered by a turbine that supplies a steady flow of warm air at low pressure. The air mixes with the lacquer in the can and creates a very even, controllable spray.

Before spraying, mask off any joints on the work pieces that will be glued. Glue doesn't bond well to wood finishes like lacquer, varnish or polyurethane, so the areas where glued will be applied must be protected.

Fill the spray gun with 20 percent thinner and 80 percent lacquer. Apply a wet coat of lacquer to the work pieces, but not so much that the lacquer runs. Be careful to avoid overspray.

Allow the lacquer to dry for several minutes, then lightly hand sand the surfaces with 400-grit sandpaper.

Spray on two more coats of thinned lacquer, allowing a few minutes of dry time between each coat, and lightly hand sand with 400-grit sandpaper between coats.

lacquer should be applied with a spray gun

Step 3: Buff the Wood Surfaces

Let the last coat dry for a few hours, then buff the sprayed surface, first by hand with fine gauge synthetic steel wool, followed by a cloth buffing pad on the orbital sander. Be careful not to overdo it and remove the lacquer.

Wipe away dust with a dry cloth and allow the pieces to dry for a few hours in a dust free environment.

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