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Hi all!!

been woodworking for a while now but am about to produce more finer work. Just bought some olive ash planks with the most richest of colours in the heart and aim to turn them into coffee tables. Am looking for a highly finished, highly glossed and durable finish. Advice please as I was veering towards lacquer but learnt it isn’t as resilient as polyurethane
 

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David
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Welcome to the forum! Millions of dining tables have been finished in lacquer so it's a bit tougher than you may realize. I had a refinishing and restoration business in the mid 80's to early 90's and we probably finished a couple of hundred dining tables, conference tables, and end tables in Nitrocellulose lacquer. Nobody ever complained it wasn't tough enough.
 

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I think the better option here is lacquer. It is far easier to apply and takes a shorter time to dry also it has more options while Polyurethane only comes as water or oil based. check more on lacquer here
 

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You can do a really nice finish with lacquer and do it quickly since it dries very fast. A lot depends on the project which is better though. Polyurethane is a harder finish that is resistant to both water and solvents. I mean you could spill nail polish remover on polyurethane and it would give you time to wipe it off and wouldn't leave a mark. On lacquer if you attempted to wipe it off it would take the finish off almost down to the bare wood. Then if you use polyurethane on light colored wood the finish yellows with age and looks bad. All oil based finishes yellow with age. The most common kind of lacquer is a type known as nitrocellulose which is made from cotton and it yellows too with age. There are different kinds of lacquer though. There is a type known as butyrate or cab acrylic lacquer which will remain clear. Then there is a type known as pre-catalyzed & fully catalyzed lacquer which will yellow but takes much longer before it does.
 

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Lacquer has been around and improved over a period of 100 years. It was pretty much then only finish that furniture manufacturers used in the last hundred years. As testament, look at mom's and grandma's old kitchen. I don't know any commercial woodworkers or cabinet shops that don't use it.

Here is how a table top will be finished with lacquer (actually pre-cat lacquer is now king):
Spray first coat with a vinyl sealer for extra water proofing or just go ahead with the pre-cat lacquer.
Wait 10 minutes and spray next coat with pre-cat lacquer.
Wait 10 minutes and spray final coat of pre-cat.
Clean guns.
Call it a day. Tomorrow, you can wrap it, transport it and put it into light service.
 

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Am I correct in that cat lacquer is similar to the same stuff I used to paint cars with? It always has a catylizer (sp) and hardener and thinner? Yeah..it'll dry fast for sure. I've seen cars driven away the same day they're painted..within an hour or so..
 

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very similar - BUT, the lacquer is pre-catalyzed at the factory and has a 6 month shelf life.
so you need to plan your projects accordingly and check the expiration date at the time of purchase.
 

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Am I correct in that cat lacquer is similar to the same stuff I used to paint cars with? It always has a catylizer (sp) and hardener and thinner? Yeah..it'll dry fast for sure. I've seen cars driven away the same day they're painted..within an hour or so..
Sort of. The stuff youre used to is referred to as post-cat lacquer, adding of the catalyst is done post-sale by the customer. The reaction is usually a lot faster, which is why it dries faster. Pre-cat lacquer is the stuff woodworkers are going to be more familiar with, the catalyst is added either by the manufacturer or the paint store, and the lacquer contains a solvent blend that blocks the catalyzation from taking place in the can, so the reaction is a lot slower

Same stuff, different reaction speeds. As a rough analogy, picture 5 minute epoxy vs 24 hour epoxy
 

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Hi all!!

been woodworking for a while now but am about to produce more finer work. Just bought some olive ash planks with the most richest of colours in the heart and aim to turn them into coffee tables. Am looking for a highly finished, highly glossed and durable finish. Advice please as I was veering towards lacquer but learnt it isn’t as resilient as polyurethane
If you are in a limited shop and are going to venture into spraying I would take a serious look at some of the waterbornes that are out there. Not sure what is available on your side of the pond but ML Campbell, Lenmar, Target Coatings, General Finishes all make excellent durable waterbornes. Todays finishes meet or exceed the durability of solvent based finishes and are used by everyone from Luthiers to auto finishers. If you have been spraying solvents there is a learning curve, but safer for your shop and health.
 

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When I was buying Gemini lacquer, the seller mixed the catalyst at time of purchase and put a label on top of the can showing the mixing date and I had 1 year to use it. Now I am using Amarium and it is mixed at the factory with the date stamped on top of the can and have 6 months to use it in.
If you are fairly active in your shop you can use a gallon in 6 months. You can color it or tint it. Keep in mind that lacquer is probably the most versatile of all finishes. I always buy it in gloss and also keep a flattening agent handy. I can use the lacquer as Gloss the way I buy it or add the flattening agent to change it to a semi-gloss all the way down to a dead flat finish. Dead flat is more or less an equivalent to an oil finish. It even feels like an oil finish but it is a hard lacquer finish.
If the ambient conditions has a higher than recommended Humidity, you can add a Retarder that slightly slows down the drying time so the finish doesn't blush. Slowing down the drying time usually means instead of around 10 minutes, it might take 12 or 13 minutes.
It's always very humid in Houston/Galveston area so I add the Retarder when I open the one gallon can and be done with it.
 

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Before you dive in keep in mind lacquer is very toxic stuff. Proper protection and ventilation is vital. I don’t know your shop set up, a spray booth or spraying outside are things to consider.

Along with BColl, the synthetic water based “lacquers” are definitely worth looking into, and are almost identical in results, some actually more durable than real lacquer. I am only familiar with Target Coatings. Personally I’ve had excellent results using the high built lacquer product on both a dining table and kitchen. It dries fast, and is solvent based (melt in) like lacquer, but has longer cure time, up to a week.

Also, clean up, solvent disposal, PPE etc, non-issues.

I recommend trying them on some test pieces before you commit.
 

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Well, I have little to no personal experience using lacquers. The reason is because of so many lacquered cabinets and tables where the finish has water-spotted. I have had to strip the finish off of a few, I have 're-faced' one kitchen with veneer and satin polyurethane, and I have returned to a couple of houses where I built cabinets and their painter finished my cabs with lacquer, and have seen the water damage on the cabinets, within 1-2 years. It's just not acceptable for expensive woodwork to have finish failures.
A couple years ago, one of my friends who is also a cabinetmaker with decades of experience, and a believer in lacquer, had to strip an entire kitchen cabinet job of its lacquer finish because it began water spotting immediately. I had to do that on a restaurant cabinet many years ago for the same reason. I talked with the manufacturers of the lacquer and asked what I did wrong. After explaining to them my procedures, temperatures, humidity, they said I'd done everything right. Then they paid for me to remove the cabinet, get it stripped and refinished with polyurethane. Three coats of poly have now held up well on that cabinet for over 20 years.
So, while I don't know the differences between types of lacquers, I'm just putting out my experiences with the product. Many people who use lacquer disagree with me, but every kitchen cabinet job I've seen that had water spotting in the sink area was sprayed with lacquer. That's my 2 cents worth on the subject.
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Well, I have little to no personal experience using lacquers. The reason is because of so many lacquered cabinets and tables where the finish has water-spotted. I have had to strip the finish off of a few, I have 're-faced' one kitchen with veneer and satin polyurethane, and I have returned to a couple of houses where I built cabinets and their painter finished my cabs with lacquer, and have seen the water damage on the cabinets, within 1-2 years. It's just not acceptable for expensive woodwork to have finish failures.
A couple years ago, one of my friends who is also a cabinetmaker with decades of experience, and a believer in lacquer, had to strip an entire kitchen cabinet job of its lacquer finish because it began water spotting immediately. I had to do that on a restaurant cabinet many years ago for the same reason. I talked with the manufacturers of the lacquer and asked what I did wrong. After explaining to them my procedures, temperatures, humidity, they said I'd done everything right. Then they paid for me to remove the cabinet, get it stripped and refinished with polyurethane. Three coats of poly have now held up well on that cabinet for over 20 years.
So, while I don't know the differences between types of lacquers, I'm just putting out my experiences with the product. Many people who use lacquer disagree with me, but every kitchen cabinet job I've seen that had water spotting in the sink area was sprayed with lacquer. That's my 2 cents worth on the subject.
That’s really interesting. So would a polyurethane finish give a highly polished look? Like you said, expensive furniture needs a proper finish, and with the olive ash I’ve got needs nothing but the best finish bringing out its rich colours
 

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With expensive furniture the finish is highly polished but very thin. With poly you could make it highly polished but I don't think it would look as well as thick as poly gets.
 

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I could be wrong but I seriously doubt standard nitrocellulose lacquer is used in kitchen cabinets.

The waterborne lacquer products such as EM7000HBL are extremely durable, yet they act just like lacquer when applying.
 

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The American Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association (AKCMA) recommends Pre-Cat the last time I looked at it.
Nitrocellulose Lacquer has been forbidden by them for many years now.
But what is really interesting is that our experiences differ so drastically. I have never seen white spots on the old nitrocellulose lacquer. Not on my mothers old table and not on my grandmothers old table nor on any tables that I built before 2010.
I have seen water spots on shellac though.
 

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I could be wrong but I seriously doubt standard nitrocellulose lacquer is used in kitchen cabinets.

The waterborne lacquer products such as EM7000HBL are extremely durable, yet they act just like lacquer when applying.
Nitro was used in kitchens for a long time. There was just too many complaints about the finish failing on the cabinet face and doors below the sinks. I've been out of the cabinet business long enough now I would hate to speculate on what is normally used now.
 
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