People often use the terms “varnish” and “lacquer” interchangeably, but there’s a very wide difference between the two. They’re two different materials used for distinct things. Learn more about the differences between varnish and lacquer here.
Made of a mixture of resin, drying oil, and thinner, varnish is a clear solution that’s applied to wood to achieve a glossy finish. It creates a protective film around the wood, which protects it from scratches, dents, and other small blemishes that typically occur through regular wear and tear. Varnish is typically a clear substance, which makes it a popular option for applying over wood stain—or even over natural wood—to enhance the shine and finish. Varnish is designed to protect the wood and give it a bit of extra shine.
Made of a mixture of plasticizers, pigments, shellac, and alcohol, lacquer is a solvent-based product that creates a synthetic coating, which results in a very high-gloss surface. It’s primarily used to make wood appear much shinier and glossier. Available in shades ranging from clear to colored, lacquer can be paired with stained wood or even applied alone onto the wood.
Main difference in usage
Both varnish and lacquer can add a shiny and glossy finish to furniture, but they aren’t used in the same way. Another main difference between varnish and lacquer is the level of protection and versatility. For semi-gloss or satin sheen finishes, a professional furniture crafter would typically use a varnish. On the other hand, lacquer is more versatile; it can be used to create high-gloss as well as matte finishes while providing a protective layer. The decision ultimately depends on the desired look, the function of the furniture, and its location. For example, furniture such as handcrafted bedroom furniture may see much more use than a guest room dresser, so it may require more of a protective layer.