As you are working to treat and finish the wood on your log home or cabin, you may find yourself asking “Are varnish and lacquer the same thing? Can I use either in my project?” Do not worry, many of our customers ask the same questions. While both varnish and lacquer are finishes that give the wood product a glossy finish, these products are not the same. There are some scenarios when lacquer is a better choice, and sometimes when varnish is the better pick. We are comparing varnish and lacquer so you can choose the proper time to use each of these finishes. There are many different types of coatings, and different applications for each coating!

What Are Wood Varnishes And Lacquers?

Before covering the appropriate times to use varnish and lacquer, let us look at what varnish and lacquer are.


Varnish is used as a top coat or a finish on wood projects, homes, furniture or porches. It is transparent and dries hard, making it a highly protective finish for wood. Varnish has a glossy finish and is exceptionally durable, both against physical damage as well as UV light protection. Varnish consists of a resin, drying oil and thinner or solvent.


Lacquer is a quick-drying, solvent-based finish that provides an extremely intense glossy finish. It contains a solution of shellac in alcohol that creates a synthetic coating on the wood product. While it is also durable and resistant to damage, it can begin to discolor and become scratched as time goes by.

What Is The Difference Between Varnish And Lacquer? Heading 2 here

At first glance, it may seem like varnish and lacquer are similar enough to be used interchangeably – both provide a shiny, glossy finish with durable protection. However, there are differences that make using the correct product for your project important.


Both varnish and lacquer have a shiny, glossy finish once they dry on your wood project. However, the shine level differs between these products. Varnish provides a semi-gloss or satin sheen finish, where lacquer provides more sheen levels, ranging from high gloss to ultra-matte.

Durability  Of The Finish

Both varnish and lacquer provide hard, durable finishes, the level of protection is different. Lacquer is highly resistant to damage, including from acid, alkali and water, as well as physical damages, such as cracks or abrasions. However, lacquer can begin to discolor or become scratched over time. Varnish has protection from UV rays.

Chemical Effect

Be cautious when using varnish and lacquers on wood products that may have other materials attached, such as tools that may have a rubber handle or head. For example, rubber may have a chemical effect with lacquer, causing stains.

Chemical Makeup

One big difference is the chemical makeup of varnish and lacquers. Varnish consists of a resin, drying oil and thinner or solvent. This chemical makeup gives wood products a glossy finish while forming a tough, protective film. This finish is so tough because it has a high ratio of solids, in contrast with more liquid-based finishes. It is also almost colorless, which is a bonus because it can be applied over existing wood stain to bring out its natural grain or color. 


In contrast, lacquer is a solvent-based product, containing a solution of shellac in alcohol, which produces a resilient synthetic coating. Lacquer is still tough, resistant to acid, alkali, water and physical bumps.


Varnish is generally painted on, sometimes in several layers for added protection. Lacquer is thinner, so it is generally applied through a sprayer and is quick drying. Lacquer is easy to reapply over time if the original layer started to fade or discolor.

Do you have questions about your wood home or log cabin project, and which finish is right for your wood pieces? Contact the team at Lovett’s Coatings for additional information or custom assistance so you can ensure your wood project will look great for years to come.