Water-based lacquers -- Good, bad, and ugly

Professional finishers share their experiences with water-based lacquers. March 20, 2001

What do you think of water based lacquers?

Forum Responses
All are not bad. All companies formulate them a little different. Some will raise the grain like crazy and some will not. Some are very high in co-solvents and some are very low. Also some are cross-linkable and some use an Iso catalyst. Some will blow off with the wind and others will perform just as good as the clear coat on your car.

The biggest problem with waterbornes is that you need to get rid of the water to get the product to cure and if you need speed, you will need heat, or warm, dry air moving around to pull off your water.

Bob Niemeyer, forum technical advisor

I am an exclusive user of waterborne finishes with HVLP equipment.

Waterborne finishes do not actually contain water, but can be cleaned up with water prior to their curing. Thinning with appropriate amounts of water has not caused me any problems. I have not had trouble with cure time in temperatures as low as 50 degrees Fahrenheit. I often place freshly sprayed pieces in an area with two large fans to keep air moving and speed dry time. I generally do between-coat sanding after 15 - 30 minutes. I have used a couple American produced products that gave impressive results.

Using waterborn finishes requires different techniques than solvent based finishes, but high productivity and high quality are absolutely achievable.

Bridges and railcars are painted with WB's. As are aircraft, powerboats, tankers, freighters, wood flooring, houses and passenger cars. WB base coats are used by a majority of automotive OEM's. Furniture applications--both new and restoration abound.

Any resin that is used in WB's has water in it. It may be a very small percentage, but water is the primary solvent. When a WB formulator purchases WB acrylic and urethane resins to blend into a final solution, a fair percentage of the total solvent structure is water. Figure anywhere from 5-15% water before we put anything else (such as glycols) into the resin to get it to form a film. Then add water-based wax emulsions, leveling agents, anti-slip aids, modifiers, etc. All have a percentage of water in them. The key is to keep as much water out of the system as possible.

I use both solvent and water based products. They require different techniques. On site applications, I go with waterbase if there are occupants of the home or office. In my shop, I use solvent based products because of several reasons.

The problem I have with waterborne is the lack of snap it brings to the wood, compared to lacquer. It's harder to clean the gun, also. Whereas damn near any lacquer works just as well as any other lacquer, waterbornes vary all over the place.