How do you paint furniture using lacquer?? Until just recently I didn’t have the answer to that question. I was asked to paint an antique bed with a black lacquer paint and gold leaf accents. The photograph to the left is the inspiration I was given. My client wanted her bed to look just like the designer bed in this photo. Since it was 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 that is desired.
I have to say that working with lacquer is much more difficult and time consuming than working with acrylic paints, which is what I normally use. It is also less forgiving than acrylic paint, so 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 the antique bed shown below.
How to apply lacquer to wood furniture:
  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 sand paper. Shellac will shrink, so you do not want to apply subsequent layers too quickly. The consequence will be 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 until the following day to apply a tinted bonding primer. This primer will stick to anything including metal and glass. Once dry sand again using 320 grit sand paper. Again, follow the instructions on the can, dry times can be as short as 30 minutes between coats and as long as 6 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 to thick. Sand between each coat using 320 grit sand paper.
  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, orange peel, or other imperfections in the finish. 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 it was doubled, then I placed a big scoop of paste wax on it and wrapped it up. The wax is easy to apply in an even thin layer using this method, 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, and then I 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 details of this bed. 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 to create a black lacquer finish:
Klean Strip. Easy liquid sander deglosser.
Zinsser  Bulls Eye Shellac. Traditional finish and sealer.
Zinsser Cover Stain. Oil Base. Interior & Exterior. Primer Bond Coat. Tinted dark grey.
Valspar Luster Lac professional lacquer.
Minwax. Paste finishing wax.
Supplies needed to create a black lacquer finish:
320 grit sand paper
0000 steel wool
Tack cloth
Clean, lint free rags
Cheese cloth


23 Responses to How to paint furniture with lacquer

  1. Denise says:

    Deana, this is absolutely stunning! What a great job! I haven’t tried working with lacquer paint other than from a spray can. Great tutorial which I’ll be referring back to in the near future. Thanks

  2. Bridget says:

    You did a wonderful job. This is absolutely breathtaking!! I started to lacquer a piece once, and stopped. Like you said, it takes time and patience.

  3. This is fab! I have been recently checking into details on lac finishes. Your project is amazing and the tutorial is super helpful. Loving your blog & style!

  4. Holly says:

    This is stunning! You did an amazing job. I’ve not attempted any lacquered projects yet as I’ve heard that it’s difficult to work with. Found you through Miss Mustard Seed!

  5. That is amazing! You’ve got more patience than me but boy it sure payed off! She had better be happy with your efforts! It’s gorgeous!

  6. melissa says:

    Absolutely gorgeous!! I just found you via MMS. I have been thinking of buying a spray gun as I am painting pieces more frequently. Could you share the brand you use?

  7. Deana says:

    I actually wrote an article all about spray guns and the one I use. I hope you find it helpful

  8. Shelly says:

    Fabulous. Do you use a spray gun.

  9. Deana says:

    Yes. I have a Husky HVLP gun.

  10. Suz says:

    AWESOME– really a stunner! You do such nice work! I don’t think I’d have the nerve to try lacquer but MAYBE one day. And if I do, I now know the reading on your blog to catch me up to speed.

    That is one CLASSY bed!!

    Stopping by via: Miss Mustard Seed’s linky party
    Happy Easter!
    Smiles, Suz @ MaytagNMom
    My Project For This Week’s Linky Parties

  11. Susan says:

    Wow! A lot of work but the end result is certainly gorgeous!

  12. Sandia Mauch says:

    Absolutely Fabulous! I have a question, please. In the written instruction, the gold leaf was applied last. But in the video, it had already been applied before the paste wax. Did you finish the bed completely (lacquer and gold leaf) before applying the paste wax?

  13. Deana says:

    Sandia, I applied some of the gold leaf before the paste wax and finished it after. There’s no real reason for having done that and the order in which you do it will not affect the final result. I did not put any paste wax on the gold leaf areas, just on the black lacquer.

  14. Can you suggest a brand of spray gun to use? Do you think this method work to amateur painters?

  15. Deana says:

    Hi Kataskevi, If you visit this link I have written an article all about the spray gun that I use. I wouldn’t recommend lacquer paint for a beginner, it is a very difficult product to work with.

  16. Haylie says:

    Your piece turned out beautiful. I paint vintage furniture as well and I also received a custom order for a lacquered piece. I have much experience with acrylic paint and polyurethane to bring a piece up to a high shine. However, this particular customer insisted on lacquer and I felt confident I could figure it out. It has turned out to be a be a bit harder than I anticipated. I am curious if you used a lacquer thinner to apply your lacquer? I am experiencing a rough finish when spraying on my lacquer and I read that I needed to thin the lacquer anywhere from 30-50% with lacquer thinner and maybe a retardant as well. Did the Valspar you used require this for application and cleaning your gun? Thank you for your time, your tutorial was very helpful.

  17. Deana says:

    Haylie, The product was very thin right out of the can, so I didn’t need to thin it. I did use lacquer thinner to clean the gun. The Valspar lacquer did require a ton of sanding between coats and a super, super fine grit sanding to polish it to a smooth shine for the final finish.

  18. scott says:

    what sheen lacquer did you use?

  19. Deana says:

    It was high gloss

  20. Murray says:

    Hi Deana,
    Great job and great website! I live in the UK and am having trouble finding suppliers of Black Lacquer – Valspar or otherwise. Do you know of any brands available in the UK?

  21. Deana says:

    Sorry, Murray, I don’t know any suppliers outside the States

  22. Christina says:

    Hi Deana. I also paint vintage furniture and I have a custom order for lacquer. I have always used water based paint so this is new to me. Can I ask why did you use wax? Will the final product be just as glossy as using a coat of clear high gloss lacquer?

  23. Deana says:

    I have never used a clear lacquer, so I’m not sure how that works. I used wax on the recommendation of the people at the paint store and because in my research that is what I had read about. The wax is buffed to a very high sheen. I would assume that a clear coat would work just as well. It would probably be less work too.

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