How to Mix & Spray Lacquer

Apply lacquer with a spray gun for best results.
Apply lacquer with a spray gun for best results. (Image: Jupiterimages/ Images)

Cabinets, trim, doors and other displays of woodwork in your home may all be coated with lacquer. Carpenters prize this wood-finishing product for its ease of application, durability and fast drying time. Most of today's lacquer is precatalized, which means that you don't need to add anything to it at all; it's ready to spray right out of the container. But if the lacquer isn't drying fast or leaves bubbles, it's OK to mix it with lacquer thinner.

Things You'll Need

  • Spray gun, 1-quart capacity
  • Lacquer thinner
  • 180-grit sandpaper

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Fill a 1-quart lacquer spray gun two-thirds full of lacquer. Hold the gun 8 inches from the vertical surface of a piece of scrap wood. Spray a short burst of lacquer. The pattern should be about 6 inches in width. If the pattern is less than 6 inches, turn the biggest knob on the end of the gun counterclockwise one-half turn and spray. Test again and adjust as needed. If the pattern is wider than 6 inches, turn the knob one-half turn clockwise. Spray and adjust as needed until the pattern is correct.

Spray another band of lacquer onto a horizontal piece of wood. Move the gun parallel with the grain to spray a 6-inch-wide pattern about 18 inches long. If the lacquer is still wet after 10 minutes or you see bubbles that won't pop, mix 1 cup of lacquer thinner into the quart container.

Hold the gun 8 inches from your project. Tilt the gun 15 degrees. Pull the trigger and sweep the gun across the wood parallel with the grain. Immediately spray another band of lacquer coming from the opposite direction to overlap the first pattern by 1 inch. Continue on in this manner, spraying overlapping bands of lacquer until the wood is consistently wet with lacquer. Allow the lacquer to dry. It should take no longer than about 15 minutes, but it's fine to wait up to 30 minutes or longer.

Sand the lacquer smooth by hand with a folded piece of 180-grit sandpaper to remove any rough or scratchy particles. The wood should have a white powder on the surface when you're finished. This is lacquer dust. Don't wipe it off. It aids in curing subsequent coats.

Fill the quart container with straight lacquer. Repeat Step 3. Spray two more coats of lacquer for a deeper gloss. You only need to sand after the first coat.

Tips & Warnings

  • Spray guns can have different tips. Paint tips spray too heavy, and stain tips spray too light. Check the tip before using it. If you're in doubt, spray a test pattern. A paint tip will spray excessive lacquer that runs and drips. A stain tip will constrict the lacquer to a light mist. If you experience either of these problems, replace the tip with a lacquer tip. Always use precatalyzed lacquer for best results.
  • If you get white blotches or spots on lacquer, it may be caused from water in the line. Blow air through the line until all the water is gone. If you still get white blotches, it may be because the room is too cool. Lacquer works best at room temperature.
  • Wear a respirator and eye protection when handling or spraying lacquer.
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