The Difference Between Varnish And Lacquer Everything You Need To Know

varnishing an oak internal door

Varnish and lacquer are two substances that share many similarities, which often leads to confusion, and seasoned DIY enthusiasts are no exception! It’s easily done; both are designed to provide wood surfaces, such as oak internal doors, with a glossy and durable finish. However, some key differences set them apart, and understanding these differences is essential for choosing the right substance for specific jobs. In this article, we’ve outlined some basic facts about varnish and lacquer so you can quickly tell them apart and identify the key factors that make each better suited to certain jobs and why.

Why choose varnish?

While varnish and lacquer share many similarities, they are, in fact, very different due to their unique chemical compositions. But don’t worry, we won’t bore you with complex scientific terms. Simply put, varnish is a combination of resin, drying oil, and thinner or solvent, which, when mixed, creates a clear and hard solution that forms a thin protective film around wood products. What’s great about this coating is that it not only gives your wooden products a glossy finish but also provides a natural shield against UV light, preventing the colour from fading in strong sunlight. Plus, thanks to its high ratio of solids, it’s incredibly durable and tough. So, whether you want to protect your wooden furniture or give it a sleek finish, varnish is the way to go!

Varnish is a popular choice for wood finishing for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it is almost colourless, which makes it perfect for bringing out the natural grain and shine of an existing wood stain. This makes it a great option for a top coat or finish. Secondly, it’s easy to apply, as it can be painted on without any fuss or mess. However, it’s important to note that several layers of varnish may be necessary to achieve the desired finish. So, whether you’re a woodworking enthusiast or simply looking to enhance the look of your wooden furniture, varnish is worth considering.

The lowdown on lacquer

Lacquer is a solvent-based product that produces an intense gloss finish. It contains a shellac solution in alcohol, which creates a durable synthetic coating. Unlike varnish and other finishes, lacquer is thinner and applied via a sprayer, which makes it dry faster. It provides a finish that is even tougher than varnish, resistant to acid, alkali, and water, as well as casual bumps and knocks. This makes it an excellent choice for internal doors in busy family households as it can endure most punishment.

While lacquer is generally more durable than varnish, it is not immune to scratches and discolouration over time. Therefore, keeping an eye on it is recommended, mainly if the lacquered door is in a high-traffic area. However, if you do notice fading or other signs of wear and tear, don’t worry. A quick spray of fresh lacquer is all it takes to restore your door to its former glory. One of the best things about lacquer is the wide range of colours and sheen levels, giving you more freedom to choose the perfect shade for your internal door. Overall, lacquer is an excellent option for those seeking durability and design flexibility in their doors.

Lacquer vs varnish

Now we’ve cleared up what exactly separates varnish from lacquer and vice versa, let’s dive into a few comparisons and take a closer look into how they compare and contrast. From their application methods to their durability and overall appearance, these two finishes have unique qualities that make them stand out. So, let’s delve into a few comparisons and discover what each finish has to offer.

Application method

Varnish and lacquer have different application methods. Varnish is usually brushed or rolled onto the wood surface, allowing for a thicker coat and more precise control over the finish. On the other hand, lacquer is sprayed onto the wood surface, resulting in a thinner and more even application. This spraying technique can be advantageous for achieving a flawless, high-gloss finish with minimal effort.


Renewing the varnish on wooden surfaces involves a time-consuming process of waiting for each layer to dry before sanding ready for the next coat. While this technique ensures a smooth finish, it can be time-consuming. In contrast, lacquer coating does not require sanding between coats, making it a more convenient option for those looking to finish their surfaces quicker and more efficiently.

Repair and maintenance

When it comes to maintaining wooden surfaces over time, varnish is often a more practical choice. It can be easily repaired by sanding it down and recoating it. On the other hand, lacquer may require more extensive work, such as stripping and reapplication, if significant damage occurs.

Drying time

When it comes to drying, varnish takes longer to cure and fully harden. It’s essential to have patience between coats, making sure each layer is dry before sanding lightly and applying the next coat. In contrast, lacquer dries relatively quickly due to its solvent-based composition. If you’re looking for efficiency, the rapid drying time of lacquer can save you time on projects.

At Savoy Timber, we understand the importance of quality and consistency in home improvement. That’s why we’ve taken the extra step to factory-lacquer all pre-finished doors in our range, ensuring a flawless finish every time. So, if you want to upgrade your home’s interior, why not visit us at one of our DIY stores in Blackpool, Wigan or Preston? We have many products on display, so you’ll find the perfect match for your home. Or take your home to the next level with one of our high-quality pre-finished doors.