How to Lacquer Cabinets

Larry Simmons

Lacquer is a fast-drying finish that gives cabinets a glossy shine while creating a protective coating. Due to its fast-drying nature, lacquer is more difficult to work with than such finishes as polyurethane or shellac. It is sprayed on in multiple thin coats and any application mistakes have to be dealt with immediately. A lacquer finish takes some time and effort, but it brings out the natural beauty of the wood grain and color that other coatings conceal.

After removing handles and other metal hardware these cabinets are ready for the lacquer application.
  1. Remove all hardware on the cabinet using a screwdriver, including handles and hinges. Set the cabinet doors onto a flat work surface covered with newspaper, and place the hardware aside for later reattachment.

  2. Place masking paper over adjacent surfaces to protect against overspray. Secure the paper in place with masking tape. Mask off any surfaces of the cabinet you don't wish to cover with the lacquer.

  3. Spray a light layer of sanding sealer onto cabinet surfaces. These generally include cabinet boxes and doors, both inside and out. Use an air spray gun to cover the cabinet parts with an evenly wet layer without saturating the wood and causing the sealer to drip. Work from the top of the cabinet toward the bottom, spraying in a back and forth motion and overlapping rows by about 20 percent. Allow the sealer two hours to dry. Sand lightly with #00 steel wool to remove any imperfections from the coating.

  4. Wipe sanding residue away with a tack cloth then spray on a second layer of the sealer to even out the coating. Wait an additional two hours, then sand any roughness from the surface with #0000 steel wool. Wipe away sanding residue with the tack cloth again. The tack cloth is treated so that it has a tacky surface that removes dust and particles more efficiently.

  5. Apply a thin layer of gloss lacquer to the cabinet parts. Use the same application process for the lacquer as you did for the sanding sealer. Allow the lacquer to cure for 48 hours, sand it with #0000 steel wool. Repeat this process until you have applied three layers of lacquer. These three coats serve as a build coat of lacquer, creating a solid foundation coat of lacquer beneath the polished coat.

  6. Sand the third layer of lacquer build coat with fine grit sandpaper to remove any nibs or rough areas from the cabinet surfaces. Wipe the surface clean of sanding residue with the tack cloth.

  7. Spray a final layer of lacquer onto the cabinet in the actual sheen you want to display on the cabinet face. Due to sanding, earlier coats of lacquer will appear dull. This allows you to choose a final sheen from satin to semi-gloss to gloss. Allow the lacquer to dry 48 hours then buff the surface lightly with #0000 steel wool. Wipe the surface down with a tack cloth then apply a paste wax to the cabinet with a clean soft cloth. Use a cabinetmaker's wax created for use specifically on wood cabinets for best results. Allow the wax to dry to a haze then buff to a gloss using a buffing cloth. Reattach the hardware to the cabinets, then reattach the cabinet doors to the cabinets.

Check out this related video from Homesteady on Youtube.