How to use nitrocellulose lacquer

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Nitrocellulose lacquer is made from cotton treated with nitric and sulphuric acids. It turns into an acidic pulp and is strained to make a resin. The resin is then mixed with quick-drying solvents to produce the lacquer. Nitrocellulose lacquer is the most widely used wood finish because it's cheap and because it combines well with the natural grain of the wood. Nitrocellulose lacquer was used at one time to coat guitars, but it has been banned because of its flammable properties. It's also used in fireworks as a binder and water-resistant fuse coating and in ping-pong balls.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

Things you need

  • Wood panel
  • Gloss lacquer paint
  • Sanding sealer
  • Lacquer thinner
  • Sealer thinner
  • Lacquer sheen
  • No. 00 steel wool

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  1. 1

    Make a test panel before applying nitrocellulose lacquer on wood projects to see how it adheres to the wood and colours it. Adding more coats will affect the final colour of the finish.

  2. 2

    Thin out the sanding sealer to no more than 20 per cent. Apply the first coat of sealer onto the wood. Make sure that it is wet enough to adhere to the wood. This is very important because the lack of adhesion in the first coat can lead to the delamination of the lacquer. Sand the wood to remove rough sections on the coating using a number 00 steel wool.

  3. 3

    Apply a second coat of the sealer to even out the base in preparation for the build-up coats. This step is especially important with soft woods. Sand the rough areas again. Glazing may be applied in this step to enhance the colour texture.

  4. 4

    Thin out the lacquer to not more than 20 per cent of its original consistency. Apply a coat of the gloss lacquer. Continue adding gloss lacquer coats until you've achieved the finish you like. Sand the rough areas.

  5. 5

    Apply the sheen that you would like your lacquer finish to achieve. Sheen types can be satin, gloss or semigloss.

  6. 6

    Duplicate the steps on your actual wood project when the final finish of the test panel is what you wanted to achieve.

Tips and warnings

  • To make a premium finish for woods that are dark or medium toned, treat the wood with a two-step wood bleach depending on how light you want the wood to be before you apply the lacquer.
  • Use vinyl sanding sealer to give the wood resistance to moisture.
  • PreCat sealers and lacquer offer better durability.
  • Adding lacquer to the sanding sealant or lacquer paint improves the finish colour.
  • Nitrocellulose lacquer is a flammable material. Be cautious when handling and storing it.
  • Neoprene stains nitrocellulose lacquer. Some guitars have nitrocellulose lacquer finish and some guitar stands have rubber bumpers made of neoprene. To prevent the neoprene from bleeding into the guitar finish, cover the rubber bumpers with a silk or cotton cloth.
  • Ultraviolet light bleaches items that have a nitrocellulose lacquer finish.
  • Lacquer-finished woods turn yellow over time. This is evident in light-coloured woods.

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