By Karl

Lacquer is an All-Around Excellent Finish but Not Typical for Antiques

Lacquer is known as an excellent finish for wood furniture because it dries very quickly, it provides a finish with excellent depth and richness, it is strong, and it can be shined relatively easily. However, lacquer was not developed into a synthetic or “modern” form until the beginning to mid 1900s.

While lacquer can be used as a finish on most types of wood furniture, if you are looking for a true and authentic finish for a piece of antique furniture, lacquer may not be your first choice. Because antique furniture is usually classified as anything that is more than 100 years old, using lacquer, which was not fully developed in a synthetic form until a period of time between 1920 and 1950, would not produce a replica finish that the piece originally had.

Types of Lacquer

The three most common types of lacquer are:

  1. Nitrocellulose Lacquer
  2. Acrylic Modified Lacquer (also known as “CAB Acrylic”)
  3. Catalyzed Lacquer


Nitrocellulose lacquer is the most common type of lacquer. It is generally the least expensive type of lacquer that can be found. While this type does provide a finish that is resistant to water and moisture, it can be easily damaged by heat and chemicals. It also scratches easily and has a tendency to yellow over time. It is inexpensive and it does not produce a durable result which is why it is not highly recommended. Most varieties of this type of lacquer must be applied by spray, but some can be applied with a brush or a cotton cloth. Nitrocellulose lacquer produces a sheen that ranges from matte to full gloss.

Acrylic Modified Lacquer is also known as “CAB Acrylic.” This type of lacquer is very difficult to apply. It is also the most expensive type of lacquer. CAB acrylic was popular in the 1950s and 1960s as a clear coating used on cars. Unlike nitrocellulose lacquer, CAB acrylic does not yellow over time. It must be applied with a spray and it produces a sheen that ranges from satin to full gloss.

Catalyzed lacquer comes in two varieties: the type that is pre-mixed by the manufacturer and the type that must be self-mixed before application. This type of lacquer is harder and more resistant to water than nitrocellulose. This is the most common type of lacquer used on furniture. Catalyzed lacquers vary in price depending on the specific formula. This type must be applied with a spray and it produces a sheen that ranges from matte to full gloss.

Positives and Negatives Associated With Lacquer

Lacquer produces a beautiful finish that looks similar to French polishing but it is also very difficult to use. Following are some of the most common positives and negatives associated with lacquer:


  • Lacquer provides a water resistant finish.
  • The finish resembles French polishing without all of the work.
  • It is inexpensive.



  • It dries very quickly which makes it difficult to apply.
  • Using a brush to apply lacquer can result in brush marks.
  • Lacquer smells bad.
  • It cannot be used over other types of finishes or stains.
  • It damages easily.

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