How to achieve a black lacquer finish

Written by g.d. palmer
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Black lacquer is a beautiful, old-fashioned finish for furniture and other wooden objects that dates back centuries. We see it in Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and Korean furniture and tableware, as well as “Japanned” European furniture from the 18th century onward. Genuine black lacquer comes from the excretions of the Asian lac beetle, and is time consuming and difficult to apply. It takes a master to get a mirror finish from genuine lacquer. A very similar black lacquer finish can be created using modern substitutes, and is much simpler to apply.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Wooden object
  • Dark grey or black primer
  • Sandpaper
  • Gloss black spray paint
  • Gloss clear coat spray paint
  • Tack cloth (optional)

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  1. 1

    Prepare the object. Remove all knobs, exposed hinges and other hardware. Make sure the object is clean and remove all previous finishes.

  2. 2

    Apply primer. Coat the wooden object in dark-coloured primer. Use multiple thin coats, rather than one thick coat. Spray or brush-on primers will both work. Allow the primer to dry completely.

  3. 3

    Sand the primer. Use a fine grit sandpaper to smooth rough areas in the primer and provide tooth to glossy areas. Sand until the whole object has the same texture. Do not remove the primer. Brush away all dust from sanding.

  4. 4

    Apply the black coat. Cover the primer in a thin coat of high quality black spray paint. Cover all areas, including the undersides of the furniture. Immediately add a second coat, while the first is still wet. This provides better adhesion and gives a darker appearance. Allow this coat to dry.

  5. 5

    Add clear coat. Spray a layer of gloss clear coat paint over the entire object. Spray thinly, allow the coat to dry, then follow with additional thin coats until you achieve a smooth glossy layer. This clear coating gives the lacquer finish an illusion of depth, just like real lacquer. Allow the object to dry completely before use.

Tips and warnings

  • Test the technique on scrap material first.
  • Use a tack cloth to remove sawdust before painting.
  • Avoid cheap paints, which may peel or look dull.
  • Handle painted objects with care to avoid fingerprints in the finish.
  • Wear goggles and a chemical respirator when using spray paint.

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