What’s The Difference Between Varnish And Lacquer?

varnishing an oak internal door

Varnish and lacquer are two substances that are pretty similar in a lot of ways, so it’s not surprising that even seasoned DIY enthusiasts sometimes get them mixed up. They’re both intended to provide wood surfaces like oak internal doors with shiny, glossy finishes, and these finishes are typically very hard and durable. In this week’s blog we’ve outlined a couple of the basic facts so you can easily tell them apart, and key factors that influence their suitability for certain jobs.

Why Use Varnish?

Though there are lots of similarities between varnish and lacquer, lots of the major differences between them are a result of their different chemical makeups. Don’t worry, we’re not going to detail the periodic table, here – all you need to know is that varnish consists of a resin, a drying oil, and a thinner or solvent. Mixed together, these ingredients create a clear, hard solution, which gives wood products a glossy finish while at the same time forming a thin but tough protective film around them. Again, we don’t want to get too technical, but the main reason why this coating is so tough is because it’s got a high ratio of solids, as opposed to more liquid-based finishes. A further great bonus is that it provides natural protection against UV light, too, stopping the wood’s colour from fading in strong sunlight. What’s not to like about that?

pre finished oak internal door

Another aspect that lots of people like about varnish is that’s almost colourless, which means it can be applied over an existing wood stain to bring out its natural grain and shine. It’s for this reason that it’s usually used for a top coat or finish, and it’s sometimes necessary to apply several layers at once. Unlike lacquer, varnish is generally painted on.

Let’s Give You The Lowdown On Lacquer

Unlike varnish, lacquer is a type of solvent based product. It’s this makeup that allows to provide a particularly intense gloss finish – it contains a solution of shellac in alcohol, which produces a resilient synthetic coating. Lacquer is thinner than varnish and other finishes, so it’s applied via a sprayer and is quicker drying as a result. This finish is even tougher than the one that varnish produces, being resistant to acid, alkali, water and casual bumps and knocks – which covers most types of punishment an internal door could face in a busy family household!

pre finished oak internal door

Although it’s more hard-wearing than varnish, that doesn’t mean that lacquer is invincible, and it can become scratched and start to discolour after a number of years, so it’s a good plan to keep an eye on it, especially if the lacquered door is in a high-traffic area. If you notice it start to become faded (which won’t be for quite a while if you’re thinking about one of our own internal doors), all it takes is a quick spray of fresh lacquer and you’re all back up to speed again. You can probably see the attraction that lacquer offers already! Finally while varnishes give doors a semi-gloss or satin sheen finish, lacquers give you access to quite a wide range of different shades and sheen levels, so you’ve got more freedom of choice in terms of the colour of your internal door.

If you don’t feel like lacquering your door yourself, we’re way ahead of you at Savoy Timber. All doors in our range of pre-finished doors have been factory-lacquered, with up to 6 coats of paint applied. This way, the consistency of the lacquer is absolute all the way through, so you won’t find any brush marks or imperfections. Sound good? Why not pop into any one of our DIY stores in Blackpool, Wigan or Preston and see what’s on display?