Lacquer Vs Polyurethane: Which Should You Use

Making the right choice will decide if the project leads to completion successfully. There are many wood finishes available in the market but these lacquer and polyurethane are the most popular wood finishes and these are mostly used by the amateur and seasoned woodworkers. Both of these wood finishes do the same work but these typically differ in their behavior. These both lacquer and polyurethane are easy to apply and easily wood finishes and these both have some advantages and disadvantages with themselves. Read the following below and note the pros and cons for both to choose the best and suitable for your tasks.


If your project needs a transparent and clear finish then you can consider these lacquer. Some woodworkers may get confused about using lacquer or polyurethane. But both are different from each other in their behavior and application. These lacquer are resin-based and it is an oil solution and these lacquer dry quickly when it comes to contact with the surrounding air. But lacquer is not the only type and some lacquer have pigment which gives a darker finish. There are three types of lacquer in similar categories which are acrylic, nitrocellulose and water-based. The water-based lacquer is less toxic and gives more durability compared to other finishes. Acrylic lacquer gives you transparent and clear but this solution has a yellowish problem just like other finishes. And nitrocellulose is treated with cellulose with nitric acid and solvent and it is stronger than shellacs and varnishes. You can apply these nitrocellulose for multiple coat layers but the result will be thin and protective compared to other finishes. When lacquer comes to contact with the surrounding air it forms a strong bond and gives better life. The lacquer comes in the container in the ready condition and we don’t need to mix it up with something and it makes it easy to apply and some wood workers use spray guns straight from the can to apply. Because it comes in a thinner finish so it is the easiest wood finish to apply. The lacquer gives a hard finish and these lacquer highly resistant get damaged from water and heat and both alkalis and acids. And if you coat for multiple layers then it dissolves into an original one and provides a thin layer so making multiple layers does not make any difference and is cost effective. Even one layer of lacquer coat can withstand and give a long lasting life.


Lacquer comes even thinner than polyurethane and it is easier to apply compared to other wood finishes. If you feel it is hard to coat with brushes then this allows you to coat the lacquer with the spray gun straight at the first hand from the can.

The polyurethane takes 3 – 4 days to dry completely and the lacquer takes only an hour to dry completely. If you want to complete the wood finish for your project in less than an hour then you should prefer lacquer. It dries quickly and easily in less than hours if you don’t want to wait for any days.

These lacquer can withstand the climate tolerance because of mixing with some of the chemicals solvent with it. There are only a few solvents that can mix up with other solvents. But lacquer allows one to add these solvents to compensate with weather conditions.

If you give the multiple layers of coating these lacquer will come to its original coat as it dissolves and comes to a single coat. So giving multiple coats is pointless and it is easy to repair. Unlike polyurethane it will absorb into the wood and form a strong bond formation and give long life as it is easy to remove. So the lacquer is easy to repair.


When the lacquer has low solid content it will result in the helpless film building. And these lacquer have more durability and if the scratch from any sharp object will explore the wood. And any moisture and dirt will get into the scratches then the area of wood will seem to turn wood gray.

High VOC content is harmful to the surrounding environment and most of these lacquer have higher VOC content than polyurethane so using lacquer is harmful to the environment than using polyurethane.


Polyurethane is the famous wood finish and it is available easily in the nearby store. The professional wood workers will always prefer these polyurethane. The polyurethane is the plastic as its name and these are in the form of liquid. There are two types of polyurethane: water-based and oil-based polyurethane. The water-based polyurethane dries faster compared to oil-based polyurethane but it does not dry faster than lacquer. And these water-based polyurethane is easy to clean with water and non-toxic and does not harm the surrounding environment. This produces some bubbles and it makes the surface too rough and does not fulfill a smooth leveled surface. These polyurethane get damaged highly by heat and chemicals. The oil-based polyurethane dries slowly but it is easier to apply. And it is hard to clean and it is less harmful to the surrounding environment or contains less toxic compounds. But these give you a smooth and leveled surface. The polyurethane is a polymer and it is protective and gives more durability. This polyurethane does not penetrate deeper than the lacquer and it is best resistant with scratches, heat, chemicals and it even holds out against sea water or salt water.


The polyurethane takes 3 – 4 days to dry but it can withstand in all situations and gives more durability.

This polyurethane is a plastic in the forms of liquid and once it dries forms a permanent coat and gives long life. And it is protective from other scratches, heat and chemicals.

Most of the house flooring wood finishes with this polyurethane and using finishes other than polyurethane is rare. If you choose the correct polyurethane for your projects then it gives long life and is more durable and protective.

The lacquer provides a clean and transparent finish and these polyurethane provide highlighting and beautiful appearance for your projects.


These polyurethane takes 3 – 4 days to dry completely but lacquer takes only an hour to dry.

You do not make it perfectly if you’re doing this for the first time so mistakes will happen. In order to repair this some solvent should be added and between coating sanding is important if it is not properly done then the polyurethane bond formation will not be a strong one. So you needed to brush on polyurethane.

And the coating polyurethane takes a long time compared to lacquer and you can prefer a spray gun straight from a can.


Other than these two finishes are in the market but these two finishes provide more durability and are easy to apply. Both have some pros and some cons so choosing the right one is your decision. If you’re looking for quick dry and more durable then we say to consider lacquer then if you have time but you need more protection and more durability then we say polyurethane to consider. But both give great finish and provide better experience with it. Lacquer provides a clean and transparent finish and polyurethane provides a highlighting appearance. And polyurethane is good for working with house flooring and lacquer gives quicker dry time. And overall both are great.


I'm a woodworker. I love working with wood, and I love the way it feels to shape it and make something beautiful from it. I've been doing this for years, and I'm always learning new techniques and ways to improve my skills. I started out as a carpenter, but eventually moved on to woodworking because I found that I could do more creative things with wood than with other materials. I've also found that it's a more satisfying way to work, because the results are so tangible. I've taught classes in woodworking, and have written articles on the subject. I'm always looking for new ways to share my love of the craft with others.

Latest Posts