Applying High Gloss Black Lacquer

Finishers suggest ways to achieve a glossy black finish on furniture. August 16, 2012

I normally work with clear lacquers but I'm working on a restoration project involving a 1940s cabinet that my client wants high gloss black lacquer (piano finish). I do have some experience with black and white lacquer, though not enough to feel confident using it. When I worked with white lacquer there was a high build sanding sealer product (I think) specifically made for it that I used. I would apply a generous amount of the white pigmented lacquer sanding sealer, sanding between coats to get a smoother foundation before I applied several thin coats of a final white lacquer, normally gloss. I was very happy with it.

Anyway, my question concerns an undercoat for the high gloss black lacquer. Is there one? Can I use white pigmented sanding sealer under it? When I worked with high gloss black lacquer, I didn't use anything for an undercoat but I wasn't thrilled with the final product several times. I seemed to have to apply too thick of a coat of black in order to get a relatively smooth finish and it wasn't sandable and I just wasn't happy with it in the end. I liked using sandable sealer as an undercoat much better. I will polish the piece as a final procedure. Has anyone ever used shellac as an undercoat for high gloss black lacquer?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor E:
Mohawk makes a black vinyl sealer.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I will check into that.

This cabinet is mahogany and the grain will need to be filled in order to get the best effect. I was thinking of using materials I have on hand and a technique I'm familiar with. I would apply a coat of shellac, let it dry and sprinkle pumice on the mahogany and rub it in with thinned shellac and alcohol and work it until the grain was filled. Would that be compatible with the black lacquer?

Can someone just come over and do this for me? Just kidding (maybe). I don't know why I'm apprehensive about doing this cabinet, I mean, I've owned a furniture restoration business for 20+ years and have restored baby grand pianos in black lacquer and many other chairs and such. I guess I just wanted to hear how other people do high gloss black lacquered finishes.

From contributor R:
You can have any color sealer tinted to get it closer to black. I would use a good grain filler, not mess around with lots of coats and sanding. That will take forever. I have always topcoated the black with clear coats - it adds lots of depth. It also lets you level out the black, remove any dust or orange peel, then add the clear. You will still have to buff out the clear. Go to an automotive paint store and buy the appropriate compounds and buffer pads. Practice on some flat panels to build a little confidence.

From contributor V:
Sherwin Williams makes a very nice black primer and black topcoat. If the conditions are right there is no need to buff. I have always used a grain filler from Mohawk.

From contributor L:
ML Campbell makes a product called Level Sealer that will fill the grain pretty quickly on mahogany. If you are staining black you could just use Elmer's carpenter's putty to do the grain fill. Fill it, stain it and then use the Level Sealer to finish the leveling job off. I used it on quartersawn white oak and it worked well. Still takes a lot of time.

From the original questioner:
Thanks for all the advice everybody. I might not use all these methods but reading them really helped me decide how I need to proceed for sure.

From contributor B:
With a low solids product like lacquer you are looking for a big problem with shrinkage. A mahogany substrate will only contribute to the problem due to the depth of the grain that you're trying to fill. If I was to do the job I would finish out of a polyester black primer at 15 mils. Let cure overnight and machine flat on the second day. Then spray 2 wet on wet coats of high gloss black urethane followed by 2 coats of wet on wet clear urethane. Let cure for 2 days. Sand and polish to a mirror finish. No shrinking , no grain collapse , especially a month later after you drop the job off to the customer.

From contributor R:
I second the polyester/urethane schedule.