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Furniture Tips and Tricks
George Utley firstname.lastname@example.org
This column begins a series on individual types of finishes. Since lacquer is the preferred finish throughout the furniture industry, thats where well start. Lets begin by understanding a little about the nature of the beast.
Lacquer is unlike varnish, polyurethane or paint in one important respect: when it dries, its still the same material you had in the can, without the solvents that made it liquid. All the others change chemically as they dry...ordinary lacquer doesnt. This is important to know because the solvents in the second coat of a lacquer finish will dissolve the first coat...the third coat will affect the previous two, and so on. The more coats you apply, the easier it is to wind up with a mess, and the longer the drying time between coats. This is true whether youre using a brush-on or spray application. When working in a commercial shop I have taken many pieces with minor scratches and dings and "repaired" them simply by spraying lacquer thinner over the entire piece and then letting it dry. The lacquer thinner dissolved the finish, but did not remove it, letting the scratches be filled in with the now wet (and flowing) finish. This technique is often used by furniture refinishers (with a steady hand) who run up on an "alligatored" or "crackled" lacquer finish. They apply the lacquer thinner to the affected areas with a brush, and let the thinner take care of the marred look. Sometimes an overcoat of new finish is required to complete the job, sometimes not. The same technique, incidentally, can also be used on shellac.
Its a little more difficult to apply, but I suggest the average homeowner use brush-on lacquer unless dealing with a piece (a wicker chair) that just has too many cracks and crevices to get into. Most brush-on lacquers (for home use) dont require a separate sealer coat. If youre dealing with an open grain wood you want dead smooth, such as oak or walnut, you may want to use a filler before you do anything else, but thats another column. If you want, you can use the brush-on for broad flat areas and use an aerosol for details (carvings, turned legs, etc.) as long as you use the same brand. There are differences between brand chemical compositions...dont ask for trouble. In addition, youll get a heavier coat (more protection) with a brush than a spray.
Lacquer can be applied over raw wood, shellac, or a sealer made specifically as an undercoat for lacquer. Lacquer will not adhere to any polyurethane or varnish. It will adhere to some paints, but the determining factors are endless...youll have to tackle that one by trial and error. Read the label on the product youre considering to find out whether you need a separate sealer.
Lacquer is generally used as a clear finish over wood (stained or otherwise) where the grain and color of the wood is meant to show. If you want to hide defects, lacquer isnt your best choice as a finish, unless you plan to conceal the defect firstt . There are several products on the market that incorporate a stain in the lacquer (brush on). Being a traditionalist (old fogey, if you will) I dont suggest their use except in the lighter shades. As the stain and finish are applied together, its very easy to leave streaks in the color, no matter how much you fuss with it. The lighter shades are prone to the same fault, but its less noticeable. I strongly suggest staining a piece and applying a finish over that. Its much easier to control the color and the finish since you dont have to worry about but one thing at a time.
Lacquer is easy to apply, dries quickly, and isnt too messy cleaning up. On the other hand its not as durable as varnish or polyurethane. Again, consider what abuse the piece is going to take before you decide on a finish. Next time well take a look at the do-it-yourselfers old standby, varnish. Feel free to drop a line with any furniture repair related question to me at the Enterprise.
George Utley has about 20 years experience in furniture
George Utley email@example.com