How Many Coats of Lacquer to Apply on Wood?

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Using a few coats of lacquer might leave a lackluster finish, while excessive coats can hide the wood’s natural beauty. If you find it hard to determine how many coats of lacquer on wood you should apply, you’re on the right page. 

In this guide, I will provide guidance to help you achieve a stunning finish on wood without overthinking.

What is Lacquer and What are its Uses?

Lacquer is a clear or colored coating applied to surfaces to give them a glossy and protective finish. It is a widely-used wood finish found on upscale furniture and dining sets. It dries quickly, remains clear over time, and is water-resistant. 

These properties make it a popular wood finish and low maintenance. Lacquer is typically made of nitrocellulose, solvents, and resins, offering various finishes from glossy to matte. It’s derived from wood pulp and lacquer tree sap. 

While similar to shellac, lacquer is more durable and long-lasting. Lacquer has many uses and is commonly used in the following applications:

painting furniture with lacquer

The Number of Lacquer Coats on Wood: Contributing Factors

The number of lacquer coats required for a wood surface depends on several factors, including the type of finish, lacquer thinning, temperature, and environmental changes. 

Acrylic lacquer

Understanding these factors can help determine the optimal number of coats needed for your next woodworking project.

Type of Finish

The primary techniques for lacquer application are brushing and spraying. Now, I’ve tried both, and let me tell you, spraying usually gets you that smooth, even finish that’s tough to achieve with a brush.

To avoid issues such as white spots, dripping, and sagging, additional spray coats are required as they are applied in thin layers.

Generally, 6-9 spray lacquer coats are equivalent to 3-4 brush because it has thicker coats, but spraying offers a faster drying time and a smoother outcome. Spray cans typically demand more applications than cans.

spray painting chair with purple lacquer paint

Moreover, for instance, a glossy finish may require more coats than a satin finish. So remember, different types of finishes require a different number of how many lacquer coats.

Lacquer Thinning

When you thin lacquer before spraying, it creates thinner, more transparent coats, reducing mistakes like blotches and streaks. The magic ratio I swear by is 1:1—this will make your coating go on much smoother.

You’ll need about ten thinned coats for the desired result, as they’re thinner than standard layers. Lacquer burns itself, creating a thin layer even after multiple coats are applied. 

My advice? Do a little test run. Grab a scrap piece of wood and try applying a thinned layer of lacquer. It’ll help you gauge how many coats you’ll need for the perfect finish.

mixing lacquer paint

Knowing how many coats of lacquer on wood should you apply also depends on the amount of the thinning agent. The thinner the lacquer, the more coats are needed to achieve the desired finish. 

Temperature and Environmental Changes

Environmental changes and temperature can impact the quantity of the layers of lacquer. needed on a woodworking project. In colder temperatures or high humidity, lacquer may take longer to dry and cure, potentially requiring fewer coats to achieve the desired finish. 

Conversely, in warmer and drier conditions, lacquer dries more quickly, possibly leading to additional necessary coats. I suggest considering the environment when applying lacquer and adjusting the quantity of coats accordingly for an optimal finish.

When to Stop

Knowing when to stop applying lacquer coats is crucial to achieving the desired finish of the final coat. Applying too few coats can result in an insufficient protective layer while applying too many coats can lead to a cloudy or hazy appearance.

How Many Coats of Water-Based Lacquer to Use on Wood

The number of coats of water-based lacquer to use on wood depends on the specific product being used and the type of finish desired. 

wood with lacquer finish

As a general guideline, water-based lacquer usually requires 3-4 coats for a non-yellowing, protective, and smooth finish. It helps minimize wood flaws. Also, the drying process of water-based lacquer is quicker compared to that of oil-based lacquer.

How Many Coats of Oil-Based Lacquer to Use on Wood

Due to their thicker consistency, oil-based lacquers usually demand a lower number of coats compared to water-based lacquers. Typically, a clear lacquer finish requires 2-3 coats of oil-based lacquer as a general rule of thumb.

I love it for its durability, but there’s a catch; it can start to yellow over time. You’ll want to keep an eye on that and maybe give it some TLC now and then to prevent any wood discoloration. Use mineral spirits to clean it, and apply thinner coats than with water-based lacquer due to its slow drying time and higher VOC content.

Types of Lacquer to Use on Wood

Nitrocellulose lacquer

Is it Okay to Apply One Coat of Lacquer?

As much as I’d love to tell you that one coat of lacquer will cut it, in most cases, it just won’t. I’ve found that a single coat wears down easily and is unable to resist scratches, stains, and other damage. 

I recommend applying multiple coats of lacquer to achieve a more durable and long-lasting finish. But determining how many lacquer coats on wood are required will still depend on the specific type of lacquer being used and your desired outcome. 

However, as a general guideline, I’d say aim for at least two to three coats for a clear finish. Additional coats may be needed for a colored finish.

See Also: Using Lacquer Primer for Wood

Actual Number of Coats of Popular Lacquer Products

Different lacquer products may require a varying number of lacquer layers, and it can be challenging to determine the exact number required. Additionally, the waiting time between coats may differ depending on the product. 

lacquer paints and thinner

Below is a table of popular lacquer products with the number of coats, waiting time, and best for:

Lacquer ProductsInterval Time Between CoatsAmount of CoatsIdeal For
PlastiKote Clear Lacquer60 minutes3 coatsCabinets, outdoor furniture, trims
Deft Lacquer Sanding Sealer Spray60 minutes4 coatsPaneling, high-end furniture, cabinets
Rust-Oleum Lacquer Spray20 minutes2 – 3 coatsPaneling, cabinets, furniture
Deft Interior Clear Wood Finish30 minutes5 coatsFurniture
Minwax Gloss Brushing Lacquer Spray30 minutes3 coatsTrims, furniture, cabinets
Rust-Oleum Watco Lacquer Finish30 – 60 minutes5 coatsPaneling, furniture, cabinets, doors
Deft Interior Clear Wood Finish30 – 60 minutes5 coatsCabinets, wood furniture, paneling

Advantages of Applying Multiple Coats Of Lacquer

spraying lacquer on tabletop
  1. Improved Durability: Multiple coats of lacquer provide better protection for the wood surface, making it more resistant to wear and tear, scratches, and other forms of damage.
  2. Enhances Appearance: More lacquer coats can improve the appearance of the wood surface, providing a smooth and glossy lacquer finish. 
  3. Better Coverage: Multiple lacquer coatings provide better coverage and fill in gaps, knots, and other imperfections in the wood surface, giving a more uniform finish.
  4. Increased Thickness: Multiple coats of lacquer increase the thickness of the protective layer on the wood grain, which makes it more resistant to damage.
  5. Uniform Drying: Several coats of wood lacquer allows each layer to dry uniformly, avoiding any unevenness or blotchiness of lacquer finishes that can occur with a single coat.

Number of Lacquer Coats on Different Surfaces

Furniture

When brushing wood lacquer onto furniture, I usually suggest about 3 to 5 coats of lacquer. But if you’re going with a sprayer, aim for 6 to 8 coats for a solid, polished finish.

spraying lacquer to dining table

From experience, let each coat dry for about an hour, then give it a light sanding. The extra effort pays off, believe me.

Cabinets

Cabinets are often located in damp areas like bathrooms and kitchens. To play it safe, I usually go for about 3 coats. If your cabinet doors have a lot of imperfections or if you’re dealing with a certain type of wood, you might need more. For a nice satin finish, 2 to 3 coats usually do the trick.

Just make sure that lacquer is applied to all surfaces to prevent water from causing internal wood rot. 

Wood Floors

To improve the finish of wood floors, I generally recommend 2 to 3 lacquer coats after using a sealer or primer. If a primer is applied, two layers are enough. you’re skipping the primer, then aim for at least three coats to get a solid, durable finish.

Plastic

To avoid sagging or runs, it’s important to begin with a medium or light coat when applying lacquer to plastic. Usually, 3 or 2 coats of lacquer are sufficient for most purposes, while a high-gloss finish may require four to five coats. 

toy figurine painted with Tamiya surface primer

Metal

To achieve a strong finish, I recommend applying around 6-10 thin lacquer coats on metal. If the metal is subjected to high levels of wear and tear, additional coats may be required.

Do You Need to Sand Between Coats? How Long Should I Wait Between Coats of Lacquer?

In my experience, a light sanding between lacquer layers ensures an even and smooth surface. The waiting time between coats of lacquer depends on the specific product and environmental conditions, such as temperature and humidity. 

Generally, wait for the first coat to dry completely before applying the next coat. Usually, in a humid environment, it can take 1 to 2 hours.

How Many Coats of Lacquer Should You Spray?

To achieve an optimal finish with lacquer, I would recommend spraying between 6-9 coats. However, you can apply up to 10 coats if necessary, as sprayed coats dry faster than brushed coats. 

finishing wood with lacquer spray

How Many Coats of Lacquer Should You Brush?

To achieve the best results, it is advisable to apply three to five coats of brush on wood, as they are thicker and need a longer period to dry.

Lacquer vs Polyurethane: What is the Difference?

To put it simply, lacquer and polyurethane are two different types of finishes with different properties.  

When applied, lacquer penetrates the wood, while polyurethane forms a plastic shell around it. Both coatings dry to form a hard layer and are known for their durability, but lacquer offers better heat protection than polyurethane.

using paint roller to apply polyurethane

Lacquer [1] has a lower viscosity and is ideally applied using a spray gun with high volume but low pressure. In contrast, polyurethane is more susceptible to damage from high temperatures caused by hot objects. 

How to Apply Lacquer Properly: Useful Tips

More About Lacquer Here:

Conclusion

It’s crucial to know how many coats of lacquer on the wood are required to achieve a beautiful, durable finish. While it may be tempting to apply just one or two coats, it’s best to apply at least 3 or 5 coats to provide optimal protection and shine.

By following my tips above, you can ensure that your final product is not only visually stunning but also long-lasting.

robert headshot

Robert Johnson is a passionate furniture maker & carpenter, sought after for his knowledge on the craft.
You’ve probably seen his down-to-earth wisdom in USA Today, Bobvila, Family Handyman, and The Spruce, where he has shared commentary and guidance on various woodworking topics.

Robert is the brain behind Sawinery, where he aims to share tips, tricks, and a passion for all things carpentry.

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