Lacquer has been in use for thousands of years in Asia, where it is obtained from the sap of a tree and by dissolving insect bodies in a solvent. The art of applying lacquer to wooden objects has evolved from there into an art form. Modern nitrocellulose lacquer is produced by dissolving cellulose, typically from cotton, into nitric acid with a little sulphuric acid. Most nitrocellulose lacquers dry so fast that they have to be sprayed, but recently paintable lacquers made with solvents that dry more slowly have become available.
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Things you need
- Masking tape
- Paintable lacquer
- Fine bristle paint brush
- Mask for fume protection
- 150- and 220-grit sandpaper
- Lacquer thinner
- #0000 steel wool
- Paste wax
- Polishing rag
Prepare your work area by masking off the edges with masking tape and covering objects that are not to be painted with plastic. Sand the surface to be painted by hand with 150-grit sandpaper and wipe the dust off with a cloth. Lacquer can be painted over anything, but it gives the best results with bare wood.
Shake the can of lacquer well and open it. If you are using semigloss or flat lacquer, give it an extra stir to be sure all the sediment in the bottom is mixed well.
Brush it on with even strokes as you would regular paint. Try to avoid drips, puddling and bare areas.
Sand the first coat with 150-grit sandpaper. The surface will be quite rough and will smooth out as you sand. Sand down any drips. Wipe off the dust with a rag when you are finished sanding.
Apply a second coat of lacquer. When it is dry, sand it with 220-grit paper. Repeat this step as many times as desired. Each successive coat will partially dissolve the one before it, creating a continuous smooth surface. The integrity and beauty of this surface will intensify with each successive coat.
Rub the last coat with fine steel wool and a little paste wax and buff it with a rag for an extra lustrous finish. This step is optional but highly recommended.
Tips and warnings
- Although lacquer dries more quickly than paint, it is still possible to leave unsightly drips. Luckily, lacquer is more forgiving than paint and it is easy to sand these drips down and re-coat them. The next coat will blend the drip in.
- Clean the brush thoroughly with lacquer thinner after each coat.
- The solvent in the lacquer is noxious, as is lacquer thinner, so wear a mask while painting. Don't leave the can of thinner open as the smell, while not totally unpleasant, tends to linger.
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