Should I use varnish or lacquer for my wood project?


Use this blog post to learn, should you use varnish or lacquer for your upcoming wood project.

Varnish and lacquer are finishing products are used for coating a wooden surface, or sometimes metallic. Their primary purpose is to create a glossy, shiny, and protective finish coat to make the surface look nice as well as withstand scratches, stains, and water damage.

  • Lacquer creates a thick layer than varnish does. Its fast-drying ability as based on solvents, offers versatility in colors as well types of finishes make it a better option for many.

As usual, I put a suggested video of most of the topics I write on. Therefore for this topic, here’s the video I found worth to be watched for anyone confused between these two finishes, as well polyethylene finish is also included in the video by the speaker.

Should I use lacquer or varnish?

As mentioned above, lacquer and varnish both are for the same purpose. Yet there are some differences between how they act for a particular surface.

For finishing kitchen cabinets

Since kitchen cabinets are more prone to get water-damage, plus there are more chances that your cabinets get smoke stains such as nicotine can produce a yellowish stain.

  • Lacquer seems more preferable finish for kitchen cabinets since it creates a thicker coat, more effective in resisting water so it works in humid weather so well. 

  • Varnish, on the other hand, can be an option to count in. Considering the fact varnish also creates a protective coat. However, the less thick coat is what makes it more prone to get water damaged.

Longer interaction with water is not good for a surface coated with varnish.

For Indoor furniture

Indoor furniture is more like how do you want them to look. In simple terms, besides the matter of protection, they are more close to the feel/warmth of your choice. This can be achieved by weather applying varnish or lacquer.

  • So applying lacquer you can achieve a high-gloss, satin finish coat. Different colors are available so you pick one of your choices. Do you want your indoor furniture to have a dark coat? Choose lacquer.

  • Varnish can also achieve your indoor furniture a light transparent feel, a glossy thin layer is what you will get as the end result.

For Outdoor furniture

Outdoor furniture depending upon the condition can either be best finished with varnish or lacquer. For example, if the humidity outside is what is afraid you the most. Lacquer will be your best companion. Or, if it’s too hot outside, the varnish is what got you covered.

  • Lacquer for outdoor furniture is a viable option as long as there is humidity to be concerned about. Because of the thicker layer of coat, which can make surface withstand in high moisture content. 

  • Varnish has the ability to protect UV rays. So high temperature, considering the sunlight rays cannot harm the surface.

While a surface coated with varnish is more prone to get water damage in a moist area because the layer can fade away. Whereas, lacquer’s finish on the other hand is more to get cracked when exposed to sunlight for a longer period. Because of thick coat, which gets crack when gets hot.


The two are used to provide a finish to wooden furniture, but their compositions and methods of manufacture differ.

  • Varnishes are made from resins mixed with thinner or other solvents.
  • Contrary to this, lacquer is produced by dissolving cotton and nitrocellulose in solvents.

Unlike varnish, lacquer can have a tinted finish, whereas any type of varnish you choose is invariably transparent.

The lack of flattening agents in lacquer results in no semi-glossy and even satin finishes, while varnish contains flattening agents, so it produces semi-glossy or even satin finishes.

Lacquer is applied by spraying while the varnish is applied by brush. Due to its quick-drying nature, lacquer is applied mostly by spraying.


The term varnish is used to refer to a finish coat applied mostly on a wooden surface. It lists among the most popular finishes used on wood.

Wikipedia has a great article on varnish. Here is the link to the article what is varnish?.

So it’s worth knowing how this substance is actually made. So we can get to know the benefits, uses, and other crucial information about varnishes.

Generally, the varnish is applied as a finish or topcoat.

When applied on a surface, varnish can create a transparent thin yet highly rough coat, that provides protection from scratches, and other noticeable issues. 

The main benefit that varnish has over lacquer is that its coats are highly resistant to UV. Which means, best for outdoor furniture. 


  • Protection from UV rays- The UV rays of the sun are adequately protected by varnish when used on furniture.
  • Easy to apply- You can apply varnish easily with a bristle brush.
  • Varnish imparts a glossy appearance to wood.
  • Creates a highly protective coat– It also provides a fair degree of resistance to water, spills, and scratches.
  • Available in many finishes– It is an affordable variety of wood finish.


  • Prone to get dust and debris– Varnish is prone to attracting static dust, so it must be applied in a clean environment.
  • Emits some VOC– The product emits organic volatile compounds (VOCs).
  • Takes a longer time to get dried to the touch– Varnish is oil-based so it takes a long time to dry.
  • Require more than one coat- For successful varnishing, you must apply multiple coats.


This is a top-quality finish, but you might wonder where this finish gets its ability from. Originally, lac was a resin obtained from insects in Portugal, hence the name lacquer.

Wikipedia has explained lacquer. Click here to read a detailed article on what is lacquer?

I did some research on it to find out how this product is actually made of, what things it contains, and what uses it has in the industry.

Here are some words that define it better.

Lacquer is one of the types of finishes that can be applied on wood and other surfaces. 

After applying the required number of coats of lacquer, the surface gets covered by a highly reflective thick coat, it’s due to the shellac solution dissolved in alcohol which transforms into a synthetic coating. 

Lacquer can make a surface extremely durable and resistant to damage from water, scratches due to its thick synthetic coat. In terms of durability, it falls a bit short due to the over thickness, which becomes cracked when exposed to heat.

Lacquer has many types, one of the benefits it has is that it can be coated with a spray gun as the solutions are available in spray cans.

Also, the time taken to get completely cured is far less than compared to other finishes, such as varnish. It’s a fast-drying finish due to its solvent-based nature (containing evaporative liquid) commonly used on wooden items that need. 

Quick-drying lacquer is made up of cotton and nitrocellulose. By dissolving nitrocellulose in volatile solvents, as well as other pigments and plasticizers, the product can be made. 

Some pros and cons of the lacquer finish are listed below.


  • Fast-drying- It takes relatively little time for the lacquer to dry.
  • A highly protective coat- The coating creates a tough barrier on top of the wood, making it resistant to chemicals and water.
  • Required one coat- In most cases, only one coat of lacquer is needed. That’s truly a time saving benefit for many.
  • Available in a variety of sheens- Lacquer comes in different sheens, such as ultra-matte and high-gloss.


  • Color may fade out As lacquer ages, it tends to yellow.
  • Not versatile– There are some wood surfaces that are not suitable for lacquer, for example, a newly finished surface.
  • During application, it emits a high amount of VOC-Lacquer emits toxic VOCs, which means it’s not a good choice for people with respiratory issues.
  • Risk of fire- Lacquer is extremely flammable.


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