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How to Do Chinese Lacquer

Updated April 17, 2017

Chinese lacquer is a finishing process for furniture that uses different stains and techniques to produce a look that seems much deeper and older than it really is. If done correctly, a Chinese lacquered piece that was done a week ago could look decades old. There are many steps and plenty of drying time when doing Chinese lacquer but the end result is a polished piece that is worth all the work and wait time.

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  1. Tape down a dropcloth all around the area where you will be working. The primers and lacquers you will be using can stain or discolour your floors if spilt.

  2. Remove all nails or other items from the piece of furniture to be lacquered, if applicable. If you are using an unfinished piece, you can skip this step.

  3. Cover any areas that are not going to be lacquered with masking tape.

  4. Remove the existing finish (if applicable) using either a liquid sander or sandpaper. If using liquid sander, refer to the instructions on the packaging. If using sandpaper, sand in the direction of the wood grain in long, even strokes.

  5. Remove any sanding debris and dust thoroughly from the furniture. A tack cloth is great for this because no liquids are necessary.

  6. Use the paintbrush to spread a layer of the white primer all over the piece. Make sure the coat is even on all parts, then allow to dry. Refer to the primer packaging for information about how long this should take.

  7. Use a paintbrush to spread a layer of the base colour all over the piece. Make sure it is a thick, even coat. If the surface is large enough, use a paint roller or mini roller instead, which will help ensure a nice, even coat.

  8. In the bucket, combine one to one and one-half tubes (depending on the size of what you are lacquering) of black universal tinter with half a tube of raw umber universal tinter and 1 qt. of satin or semigloss oil-based varnish. Stir to combine thoroughly using a wooden paint stirrer. You can usually get these free when you buy the varnish and tinters at a hardware counter.

  9. Add one-quarter cup white spirit to the tinter/varnish concoction and stir thoroughly again.

  10. Dip a rag in white spirit and spread a thin layer over the surface. This will help the glaze mixture spread quickly and evenly. If what you are painting has an inside (such as a cabinet), do the inside first, then do the outside surfaces in the same manner.

  11. Apply the glaze mixture starting from the outside edges and pull the glaze using a clean rag toward the centre. This will create a lighter effect in the middle with a darker effect on the edges.

  12. Brush lightly over the still-wet surface using a clean paintbrush to create a feathering effect. This helps blend the glaze better. Keep doing this until you like the look of the surface. Take the same paintbrush and begin at one edge and brush one long stroke to the opposite edge. Do this for the entire surface. Allow to dry, and your lacquering will be complete.

  13. Tip

    The white primer you choose should not only be high quality, but also a fast-drying, oil-based primer. You want it to dry fast because there are a lot of steps, and a slow-drying primer will slow things down. Oil-based primer is best because you will be using an oil-based lacquer. Water-based primers and lacquers are fine to use as well, but the polished sheen may be affected if you use them. After drying, if you find that you would like a darker finish, you can apply more of the glaze mixture in the exact same manner. Do the same process over again and allow to dry completely.


    The glaze mixture will begin to separate rather quickly, so be sure to mix thoroughly several times throughout the application process to avoid separation.

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Things You'll Need

  • Dropcloth
  • Masking tape
  • Putty knife
  • Liquid sander or sandpaper (180 or 220 grit)
  • Tack cloth
  • White primer
  • Paintbrushes
  • Paint roller or mini roller
  • Black universal tinter
  • Raw umbra universal tinter
  • 2.5 gallon bucket
  • Disposable gloves
  • 1 quart satin or semigloss oil-based varnish
  • Wooden paint stirrer

About the Author

Melissa Martinez has been a freelance writer and copy editor since 2003. She specializes in Web content and has been published in the "Houston Chronicle" and is now the section editor for a minor league sports news wire. She attended Seattle University.

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