Lacquers and urethanes both make excellent choices as wood finishes. But there are a few distinctions between the two that are important to recognize before making a choice.
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Lacquer, a resin-based solution, is nearly always sprayed on and requires expensive spray equipment. Urethanes, which are crystalline compounds, can be brushed on or wiped on. Lacquers are used extensively in the commercial furniture business.
Lacquer dries to a clear finish in as little as 15 minutes, and begins to dry as soon as it is exposed to air. Urethanes dry much more slowly, relying on evaporation of the liquid base.
Coats and Sanding
Each coat of lacquer bonds to the previous coat, so no sanding is necessary between coats. Each coat of urethane stands alone as a separate layer and a light sanding is required between coats.
The bonding properties of lacquer make repairs easy should the finish become damaged. Urethanes are nearly impossible to repair.
Urethanes offer one of the toughest, most durable finishes available, protecting the wood from moisture, water and heat. Lacquer also offers a tough finish, but it does not quite match the durability and protective properties of urethanes.