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How To: Paint Furniture with Lacquer

By Alchemy Fine Living on Mar 20, 2013

How do you paint furniture using lacquer? Until recently I didn’t have the answer to that question, but then a client approached me about making her bed look just like the one in the image above.

Notice the black lacquer paint and gold leaf accents. Since this would be my first time working with lacquer, I did a ton of research on how to apply it and how to achieve that perfect, shiny finish we all want.

I have to say that working with lacquer is much more difficult and time-consuming than working with acrylic (what I normally use). For one thing, lacquer is less forgiving; small imperfections really stand out. If you are not extremely patient or are unwilling to spend several days working on perfecting the finish, I wouldn’t recommend attempting a lacquer finish.

That being said, below are the steps that I followed to transform this antique bed:

1. The bed was natural wood. It was dry and had an open grain. The first step was to seal the wood. I applied two coats of shellac using my spray gun. Between each coat I sanded well with 320-grit sandpaper. Shellac will shrink, so you do not want to apply subsequent layers too quickly. The consequence of doing that is cracks in your finish. Be sure to read the label and follow the suggested dry times.

2. To ensure the shellac had thoroughly dried, I waited a day before applying a tinted bonding primer. This primer will stick to anything, including metal and glass. Once dry, sand again using 320-grit sandpaper. Again, follow the instructions on the can—dry times between coats can be as short as 30 minutes or as long as six hours, depending on the product and the brand.

3. I waited a few days before coming back and applying two coats of lacquer. I used Luster Lac by Valspar wood. It can be purchased at Dunn Edwards or Frazee Paints. With lacquer it is important to remember that less is more. You do not want to get it on too thick. Sand between each coat using 320-grit sandpaper.

4. The following day I applied another two coats of lacquer.

5. A few days later I used 0000 steel wool to hand-buff the finish. The steel wool will remove any over-spray, peeling, or any other imperfections. This step was one of the most tedious and time-consuming, but it is very important to achieve a perfect, smooth finish.

6. I used tack cloth to remove all of the debris from the steel wool before moving on to the next step.

7. I used paste wax to polish the finish. I took a cheese cloth and folded it over so that it was doubled, then placed a big scoop of paste wax on the cloth and wrapped it up. Using this method, the wax is easy to apply in an even, thin layer. Just enough squeezes out through the cloth. I used a circular motion to rub the wax across the surface. I waited about 15 minutes, as recommended by the manufacturer, then used a clean, lint-free cloth to buff the wax to a lustrous shine.

8. Last I used gold leaf in a squeezable tube to highlight the bed's details. The gold leaf was applied with a small craft brush and buffed with a rag after it had dried.

Here is how the bed turned out...

List of products used:
Zinsser Bulls Eye Shellac (traditional finish and sealer)
Zinsser Bulls Eye 1-2-3 (primer for all surfaces; tinted dark gray)
Valspar Luster Lac (professional lacquer)
Minwax (paste finishing wax)

Supplies needed:
320-grit sandpaper
0000 steel wool
Tack cloth
Clean, lint-free rags
Cheese cloth

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