What to Use on Chinese Lacquered Furniture

Updated November 21, 2016

When considering what to use on Chinese lacquered furniture, it is vital to protect the finish from further damage caused by abrasive cleaners or faulty finish products that will mar the beautiful sheen of traditional Chinese furniture. It is also important to establish whether the furniture is actually lacquer and not a faux finish with paint and polyurethane or shellac over top, since many products may react differently with these base materials.

General Cleaning

Lacquer may create a hard surface, but it dents and scratches easily and can be very brittle. Newer lacquer materials are more durable than older types, but each finish requires extreme care when cleaning to preserve the appearance and quality of the lacquer finish.

Before using any product on the furniture, always test the product in an inconspicuous spot. Never soak the furniture or expose the lacquer to large amounts of water, because water can weaken the finish. Regularly dust the surface with a clean, dry cloth. If you must dampen the cloth, do so lightly, and immediately follow up with a dry cloth.

For tough spots, use a solvent-based cleaner and immediately wipe off the solution with a clean cloth. Maintain the lacquer shine with a liquid wax or polish.

Removing Scratches

Make sure that the scratch is small and relatively manageable, and not an actual gouge in the finish, which requires the help of a professional to correctly match and hide the imperfection. Lighting is an important factor to consider when repairing a scratch in the finish. Use daylight light bulbs that mimic the natural light cast by the sun for accurate colour matching. Place additional incandescent lighting at an angle ahead of the work area so you can see the scratch and its depth. When working with products, practice first to familiarise yourself with the product, because much of furniture repair involves basic artistic skill.

The easiest way to repair minor scratches in black lacquered furniture is to apply a small amount of denatured alcohol or lacquer thinner to the area around the scratch. The solvent will slowly soften the finish, allowing it to seep into the crack. Allow the finish to harden and buff out the area with paste wax.

You can also use lacquer burn-in sticks. Using a heat knife, remove a portion of the stick, place the substance in front of the scratch, and pull it toward the scratch, filling the damaged area. Remove the excess material with a lubricant designed for burn sticks, then buff out with a polishing wax.

Refinishing Furniture

The first step to refinishing Chinese lacquered furniture is to remove the existing finish with chemicals, heat guns or sandpaper, taking care not to damage the wood surface underneath. Always follow the manufacturer's directions when using any material to avoid personal and property damage.

Once the finish is removed, sand the surface to a smooth finish and apply a grain filler to conceal the grain lines, which will be augmented due to the high sheen of the lacquer finish. Then seal the wood with a sealer approved for lacquer applications. Lacquer is best applied by spraying it onto the wood instead of brushing it on. You will need to apply several coats, sanding between each coat for a quality finish. Polish the final coat with paste wax and bring out the shine with 0000 steel wool.

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