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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.
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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 that it means there’s less polystyrene going into landfills, and one of the things I wanted for my business is for it to be as low waste as possible. I also like how it dries quickly and generally matte or very low, low sheen without significantly darkening the wood. If I were 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 never 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 a sweltering 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. It would help if you also were careful of spills because it will eat other plastics, glue, and paints.
I can’t tell you how long you can store it or if you should let it sit for a while before using it. 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. I guessed 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 I don’t use it all for some reason, 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 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, and 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; just think that firstly it would smell pretty awful and that it would linger. Still, there might also be oil residue left on the work surface which may remain flammable. I used this lacquer and took the photo with a candle burning about 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!