When furnishing a home or apartment, deciding to buy used furniture and fix it up is a sound economic choice, and it keeps more items out of the landfills. If the finish is in terrible condition, however, it may require a lot of time and effort to restore it to its former glory. Use our breakdown of furniture finishes to determine which product is right for the job.
Varnish is a mixture of resins, solvents, and drying agents. Many different resins and drying agents are used, with each type of varnish tailored to a particular job. Varnish creates a durable finish, acceptable even for the outdoors, but its lengthy drying time (typically 6 to 8 hours) diminishes its appeal.
Shellac is a type of varnish called a spirit varnish. It is made with the sticky secretions of Indian and Burmese insects dissolved in alcohol. Shellac’s tone creates a very warm finish. It dries quickly but requires several coats, with sanding between coats. Retouching shellac is easy, as each layer adheres to the one before. However, shellac can whiten when exposed to water, so it is not a good choice for a tabletop.
Lacquer is another spirit varnish. This is a good choice for a table as it dries to a waterproof finish. If you want to apply it with a brush rather than a clean cloth, be sure to buy a brushable satin lacquer for best results.
Polyurethane is a petroleum product that creates an extremely durable finish. Polyurethane is an excellent choice for floors and heavily used surfaces. It lacks the warm tone you get with a natural based finish such as shellac, some other varnishes and lacquer.