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A simple way to make Homemade Lacquer that actually works from two common ingredients. All you need is two simple ingredients: polystyrene foam (like the packing styrofoam that surrounds electronics in the box), and common thinner - all-purpose thinner/lacquer thinner.
Table of Contents
How I tried to make my own homemade lacquer:
I like to make things if I can so, after making my own wood stain (vinegaroon) and both beeswax polish and filler, I decided to see if I could make lacquer - If there's a hard way to do something - I'll generally find it. The number one benefit is that it's cheap to make but I also like the fact that it means there's less polystyrene going into landfill and one of the things I wanted for my business is for it to be an as low waste as possible. I also like the way it dries quickly and generally matte or very low, low sheen without significantly darkening the wood. I guess if I was making oak tables I would probably use a commercial lacquer but this homemade version works well with pallet wood.
What projects would I use my own lacquer:
I only ever use it for indoor projects and I use linseed oil for anything outside, but even then I Wouldnt ever use it for anything that needs to be 'food safe'. I did use the first batch on an outdoor seat about six months ago and it's still looking good after an unusually hot and wet South Australian summer (SA is on the edge of a desert, so lacquer doesn't normally last long outside here).
Definitely no smoking or naked flames and always outside or somewhere very well ventilated - this stuff is whiffy and malodorous. Having said that, I used to get headaches working with commercial products but I haven't with a homemade product. You also need to be careful of spills because it will eat other plastics, some glue, and paints.
I can't tell you about how long you can store it, or if you should let it sit for a while before using. I tend to make what I need and use it straight away. One of the articles I read on the interweb said to leave it to sit for 24 hours then strain it through a coffee filter. My guess was that they used dirty or dusty styrofoam. I haven't ever had a problem if the styrofoam is clean, to begin with.
What it looks like when I make it:
When I make the homemade lacquer, the liquid goes cloudy like a hair gel (but nowhere near as thick). If for some reason I don't use it all, the next day there is sediment at the bottom of the jar - just like commercial lacquer. This isn't dirt or dust though, and I have never tried to remove it. In fact, I shake/stir it in and for the same reason, you need to shake/stir commercial lacquer. I've only ever tried mixing it with stock standard white polystyrene/styrofoam. I do know that you can't use the packing pellet kind which dissolves in water (a vegetable byproduct). I've never tried. I use all-purpose thinners because that's what I have at hand and I've been pleased with the results. Lacquer thinner would work just as well, if not better.
Can you use other chemicals?
I'm not sure about acetone and to be honest I probably wouldn't try it because acetone is more expensive. I have read that you can use acetone and ping pong ball to make lacquer but I haven't had much luck with it. I'm not a chemist either but I reckon petrol could be potentially disastrous - I'm just thinking that firstly it would smell pretty awful and that it would linger but there might also be oil residue left on the work surface which may remain flammable. I used this lacquer on it and took the photo with a candle burning about a half an hour later - I wouldn't be game to try that with a lacquer made from gasoline.
Don't forget to check out our page on Workshop Safety! Be sure you handle this homemade mix as FLAMMABLE and label the bottle with a sharpie or other secure method so that no one drinks this accidentally!