One of the first assessments we make here at our on site shop at Wood Finisher’s Source decides which type of finish we’re going to apply. Many people outside of the refinishing world are unaware of their finish options since it’s not something you really think about every day. Each option has its pros and cons so we’ll share the gist of it.
The term “lacquer” is commonly used in association with all types of furniture finishes, but specifically when differentiating finishes it is nitrocellulose lacquer. Lacquer can be dyed to any color and any sheen from matte to high gloss. It is the easiest to use and most commonly used finish on furniture. For the simplest application a pre catalyzed lacquer (one that does not require a catalyst) is ready to apply out of the can. Lacquer has the ability to bond with itself, so in the event of a finishing mistake it is the most forgiving of any finish. It provides a durable finish (not invincible or water resistant) and typically multiple coats need to be applied to build up the thickness of a finish. It is commonly used on all furniture except furniture that comes in contact with water or high traffic areas (bar tops, restaurant tables, bathroom furniture, outdoor furniture etc.) Minimal water contact may be wiped off but excessive water will damage and result in peeling. Rings easily develop when glasses are placed on lacquer finishes without a coaster. Specifically formulated for antique furniture, Mohawk’s Buffcote Series contains unique waxes which produce a hand rubbed effect while maintaining leveling. With proper application and care a lacquer finish can last the lifetime of your furniture.
Conversion varnish is simply explained as a tougher, semi water resistant finish. It’s substantially more durable than lacquer but no finish is indestructible. Conversion varnish is commonly used by professionals but rarely by hobbyists. It’s a finish ideal for bathroom cabinets and other areas where lacquer may not be tough enough. Conversion varnish contains a much higher rate of solid than lacquer so a much thicker finish can be attained with fewer coats. Although companies such as Mohawk offer a pre-catalyzed conversion varnish, many conversion varnishes still require a catalyst to create the finish. This means that any leftover varnish will probably be disposed of because it has a short pot life once catalyzed.
Polyurethane is defined as “a synthetic resin in which the polymer units are linked by urethane groups, used chiefly as constituents of paints, varnishes, adhesives, and foams.” Put simple, it’s a really thick, water resistant, extremely durable finish. The finish is in fact so thick that you can see it. (Take a look at the bar top of a Chili’s next time you’re there) The plus side to polyurethane finishes is that it is extremely tough. It’s most commonly used commercially on restaurant tables and bar tops but at home it is useful for outdoor furniture, bathroom furniture, and kitchen tables. Polyurethane is the go-to finish whenever the furniture is going to be exposed to the worst conditions. Remember, no finish is waterproof; polyurethane is only water resistant, but it’s capable of a thick, durable finish. The downside to polyurethane is the thick, plastic look it gives the furniture because of its extremely high amount of solids, but there are scenarios with no comparable substitute.
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