How To – Reclaiming Old Furniture with a Distressed Black Lacquer Finish

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    Black lacquer finishes on contemporary furniture designs never really seem to go out of style and the reason for this is that many of the design features harken back to centuries old Japanese styles and finishes.

    Black Lacquer finish on high quality furniture is a time consuming process that can take weeks to complete. First the furniture is sanded as perfectly flat as possible then layer after layer of lacquer is applied, allowed to dry then sanded and a new layer applied.

    Fortunately with modern tools you can approximate the same finish in just a couple days.. or even a single day if you are refinishing a single piece.

    Selecting the Furniture to Refinish

    Selection of the proper piece of furniture is important when going for a modern black lacquer style.

    The piece should be modern with few decorative features. The materials should be real wood and not particle board with a laminate surface. At the very least it should be a wood vernier that can be sanded and accept the lacquer.

    Hardwoods without grain work best so a poplar would be better then a oak.

    The piece can be used or found in the trash it doesn’t matter.. and there is no real reason to pay extra for new furniture if you can get it secondhand.

    Preparing your furniture for a Black Lacquer Finish

    Before you start prepping your piece for its new finish you want to make any repairs that are needed.

    If you have reclaimed a used piece you can begin by filling any holes or gouges in the surface that will effect the final finish and repair any joints that may need to be reglued or set sturdy with a screw.

    After the piece is in good working condition you can begin by sanding the surface of the piece to remove any previous top coats.

    Once the surface is completely smooth you want to wipe it down with lacquer thinner to remove any grease.

    Priming the Surface of the piece

    You want to use an automotive or metal type primer that is not latex based.

    This is the point where you decide whether you will have a completely black finish or a distressed finish.

    Your selection of primer color either black, light gray or dark gray can be exposed through your top black finish by sanding the edges after your black coat is applied.

    For this reason if you desire a distressed finish you want to go with a dark gray or light gray. You could also select a colored primer such as red but you will need to test the color before you make your selection.

    Apply two full coats of primer surfacer (not sealer) to every area that will receive black lacquer. Let the primer dry overnight for best results or at least 4 hrs.

    Sand the primer with 400 or 600 grit automotive grade black wet sand paper and water.

    Once the surface is smooth you will want to dry and remove any remaining dust.

    If you were preparing your table or chair on plastic tarp you should change it out before you begin the painting. You do not want dust in your finish.


    Top Coat and Final Finish

    Your top color coat should be an enamel based paint. Even though you are trying to simulate an antique or modern black lacquer finish you do not want to deal with putting on dozens of coats of paint to get the same results that enamel will provide.

    Enamel in a spray can will work well but you should stick to a better automotive grade color and not a $1 to $3 utility grade paint. Engine enamel is great it is my favorite paint in a spray can but you can use an exterior automotive paint too.

    For your final finish you can sand the top coat with a 800 grit wetsand paper after it has dried for a full day… two or more is better.

    If you want a distressed look then you can wear through the black into your primer on the edges or corners of the leg. I suggest you do not get too aggressive.

    For your final surface preparation you can use a pour on urethane or epoxy that will give you full protection and a food grade surface or you can go with a poly urethane spray that is available in gloss and flats.

    If I desired a flat finish I would probably use a gloss urethane and then sand the surface with 1000 grit wet sand paper.

    Final Note

    Remember you don’t need to spend a lot to get great results. Painted finishes are great to reclaim used or old furniture that is past staining and finishing for a natural wood surface and with a variety of techniques you can make a plain piece look very expensive…

    In this howto the primer was used for the under color however some wood workers will use other colors of paints.. reds .. greens are popular and even tints of black with green for the top finish.

    You need to get out to a few nice furniture stores and take a look at what results others are getting before you select your own design.




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