When it comes to finishing wood, most woodworkers typically have to decide whether to use polyurethane or lacquer. Inexperienced ones will use whatever they can easily access, but it is important to note that these finishes are suitable for different applications as they differ in various aspects.
Understanding these two finish options’ different characteristics should make it easy to figure out when to use either.
Lacquer vs. Polyurethane
1. Best Uses: Lacquer Works Best for Quick Simple Projects
Given the difference in these finishes’ composition, they will be ideal for different uses. Lacquer works best for quick, simple projects where you want to give the workpiece almost instant protection without waiting for ages for the product to dry. It is excellent for making wooden surfaces water-resistant and less susceptible to dust.
On the other hand, polyurethane is the preferred choice by many woodworkers when it comes to protecting hardwood floors. The finish you get with polyurethane will not scratch easily as it is super tough once dry, meaning it can handle the abuse that comes with heavy traffic on the hardwood floor.
2. How to Apply: Bristle Brush vs. Sprayer Application
When it comes to application, lacquer typically gives you an easier time. Since it has a thinner consistency, you can quickly apply it with a spray gun. Using a sprayer also allows you to get a more even and neat-looking coat. Besides spraying, lacquer can also be brushed or even rolled onto the surface, making its application more flexible.
Polyurethane will give you a more challenging time when it comes to application, and this is more so if you are new to the job. This wood finish has a thicker consistency that makes it harder to apply, and hence the only option is often using a bristle brush. The problem with bristle brush application is that it can leave brush marks when not done correctly.
If you add a thinner to polyurethane, you can spray it if you want as the thickness reduces significantly. However, this often affects the quality of the finish you get.
3. Curing Time: Lacquer Cures Much Faster
When finishing your wooden surfaces with lacquer, you can get the job completed much faster than polyurethane, as it takes little time to dry. Depending on the type of lacquer you are using and the surface size, it will take between 5 and 30 minutes to cure enough for you to apple the next coat. Also, lacquer should dry completely in under one hour.
The drying time is between 8 and 24 hours with polyurethane, meaning you will have to wait much longer before applying the second coat. Also, sanding is often required before another coat, which means your projects take even longer. What’s more, this finish can take several days to cure completely.
4. Types: Both are Available in Water-Based Options
With both lacquer and polyurethane, you get many options to choose from, and so they can work for various applications. Lacquer comes in three types; water-based, acrylic nitrocellulose. The water-based type is odorless and less toxic, acrylic is more resistant to yellowing, and nitrocellulose offers superior evaporative properties.
Polyurethane typically comes in either water-based or oil-based options. Water-based types are less toxic and odorless, and many users love that it does not have the yellowing tint. Oil-based polyurethane is the most durable but takes much longer to dry.
Both lacquer and polyurethane can help protect your wooden workpieces, but they come in handy for different situations. Lacquer is easy to apply and dries much faster, making it the most ideal for quick and simple projects. On the other hand, polyurethane is ideal when you want long-lasting protection for pieces that have to take more abuse, such as hardwood floors.
- What’s the Difference Between Polyurethane, Varnish, Shellac and Lacquer? – HGTV
- Is Varnish or Polyurethane the Right Finish for You? – Bob Vila
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