I was using lacquer on my cabinets, but it left dry spots in the finish. I switched to conversion varnish and I like the way it goes on, but I can't stand the smell. What are you using in your shops? I am thinking about trying polyurethane.
Dry spots? Use sealer first, and two coats of lacquer. We use Precat lacquer and conversion varnish, depending on the job. Poly will not smell pleasant either. Your finishing area or room should be closed off from the shop, with good exhaust. If you smell it through your respirator, you're not using the right one or it doesn't fit properly. We have tried water-based product but were not happy with the end result, so switched back. But the water based smell was tolerable (you'll still need a mask).
Conversion varnish is quite simply the best finish on the market for cabinets. Itís relatively easy to apply, easy to use, and for the buck itís a darn good finish. Lacquer canít touch it as far as durability.
Proper catalyst ratio, 3.8 oz per gallon and adequate reduction allow for a fast setting, durable, clear finish that holds a sheen. This finish is forgiving in that it levels out well during drying.
We start with SW vinyl lacquer sealer straight out of the can, except we catalyze with super catalyst--optional. This helps hardness and sanding. Sand the sealer with 320 or steel wool.
We usually reduce the water white conversion varnish to about 15.5 seconds with a Zahn #2 cup. That is equivalent to about 33% with xylol or high flash naptha for more flow out. ButylCellosolve can also be added. This will help flow out as well, but will slow drying, so use sparingly. There are some commercial solvents available that improve flow out.
You get a lot more depth by adding additional coats.
The amber version of SW conversion varnish works well when a non-yellowing finish isn't necessary. It has more solids, costs a little more, but goes further. You can even get pigmented conversion varnish. We have had good success with these.