Coloring wood with Nail Polish

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Forum topic by nerdkraft posted 12-10-2015 08:41 PM 2450 views 0 times favorited 13 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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57 posts in 3403 days

12-10-2015 08:41 PM

Problem: I wanted to have a bright red line in walnut and didn’t want to bother with having to do an inlay or work with paint to get a bright color with dark wood using a primer, paint and sealer.

Solution: Nail polish. It’s available in a variety of bright colors, is cheap, dries in 30 mins and covers up pretty much anything.

Finished Result

Full blow by blow of the experiment is here

I’m hoping you find this useful. If you have other tips for getting the same effect, I’d love to learn more!

13 replies so far

View MrUnix's profile


7383 posts in 2584 days

#1 posted 12-10-2015 08:58 PM

I’ve used nail polish for all sorts of stuff… it’s basically some really, really expensive lacquer paint sold by the half ounce :)

I’ve done an accent ring similar to yours, but instead of using lacquer (nail polish), I used epoxy that I tinted to achieve a dark red. A channel was cut while on the lathe, then filled with the epoxy. After it was cured, I finished turning and sanding the piece to smooth everything down. Not a real good picture, but it’s the lidded box in the upper left:

The one in the upper right was similar, but tinted brown and small slices from a branch were inlaid in the epoxy before it cured – then turned and sanded the same way.

I’ve also used it to paint stuff when I didn’t need a whole lot of paint, and the wife had a color I liked… like for this wiring block cover I made out of thin plywood:

And I’ve used it for all sorts of other stuff non-woodworking related… fixing chips in tile floors, coating damaged motor windings, and the list goes on :)


-- Brad in FL - In Dog I trust... everything else is questionable

View conifur's profile


955 posts in 1536 days

#2 posted 12-10-2015 09:18 PM

I have used it to fill in scribe lines for contrast on rulers, miter gauges ect.

-- Knowledge and experience equals Wisdom, Michael Frankowski

View SirIrb's profile


1239 posts in 1615 days

#3 posted 12-10-2015 09:22 PM

You sure as heck know how to name a thread so that it WILL be read. Add “nailpolish” to the title.

My wife makes some nice turnings and borrows my…nevermind. I am quite selfdeificating.

Nice job.

-- Don't blame me, I voted for no one.

View nerdkraft's profile


57 posts in 3403 days

#4 posted 12-10-2015 10:34 PM

Hah! Very good points.
I thought about using epoxy + color but then the clearance rack at the drug store jumped out at me :) For self preservation, I try not to steal from the Mrs.

View Bikemexico1's profile


1 post in 76 days

#5 posted 03-31-2019 04:18 PM

Sorry, I am new to this whole thing. One of the commenters above mentioned that nail polish is essentially lacquer paint. How are the two different?

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5395 posts in 2736 days

#6 posted 03-31-2019 06:01 PM

Nail polish is just lacquer, and nail polish remover is just lacquer thinner.

-- Bondo Gaposis

View Nubsnstubs's profile


1553 posts in 2115 days

#7 posted 04-01-2019 03:53 AM

Sorry, I am new to this whole thing. One of the commenters above mentioned that nail polish is essentially lacquer paint. How are the two different?

- Bikemexico1

One is sold by the gallon, and the other is sold by the ounce. ........... Jerry (in Tucson)

-- Jerry (in Tucson)

View mike02719's profile


106 posts in 4171 days

#8 posted 04-03-2019 02:43 PM

Nail polish has been used by fishermen forever to seal the thread wraps in fishing jigs. Very useful, as other LJs have said for many uses. I have used it on turnings to fill in around knots, etc. covered and mixed with CA and sprayed with accelerator. Nail polish remover is diluted acetone.

-- Mike, Massachusetts

View bilyo's profile


688 posts in 1487 days

#9 posted 04-04-2019 02:51 PM

Has anyone tried using automotive touch-up paint. There might be a larger selection of colors. I think it used to be lacquer. Don’t know what it is these days.

View doubleG469's profile


812 posts in 829 days

#10 posted 04-04-2019 03:01 PM

Has anyone tried using automotive touch-up paint. There might be a larger selection of colors. I think it used to be lacquer. Don t know what it is these days.

- bilyo

Having a 21 yo daughter, I can tell you for certain there is not a larger selection than nail polish.

-- I refuse to edit the photo orientation for this website any longer. It’s an issue they should address and correct. Gary, Texas

View RobHannon's profile


262 posts in 915 days

#11 posted 04-04-2019 03:09 PM

Nail polish is also a great cheap way to color driver bits for quick identification. Or to paint loaner tools bright pink so they get returned.

View MrRon's profile


5478 posts in 3628 days

#12 posted 04-05-2019 01:27 AM

I’ve used nail polish to paint model parts for the trains I build, but I find the lacquer is a bit too thick to brush on smoothly. I will try thinning it out the next time I use it.

View CaptainKlutz's profile (online now)


1334 posts in 1879 days

#13 posted 04-05-2019 12:11 PM

One subject not discussed so far: nail polish compatibility with top coat?

IMHO – There are some erroneous generalizations being stated about comparison between naill polish and lacquer that impacts compatibility. :-(

Nail polish is not same as lacquer. It is typically nitrocellulose that is dissolved in acetate solvent.

Lacquer finishes are much more complex, and can be anything from old school lac-bug shellac, nitrocellulose, and/or acrylic compounds; all suspended in up to a dozen different solvents. So they can be called similar, but not the same.

Similarly Nail polish remover is not ‘lacquer thinner’. Nail polish typically does not have aromatic hydrocarbons found in more poisonous lacquer thinner.

Lacquer finishes have property were they dissolve the top layer of previously applied material to help adhesion, and reduce sanding. So be sure to test any ‘lacquer’ top coat, when put over nail polish? There are volumes written by experts about various finishing chemistries and compatibility. Without exact formulation information for all of above, can only point out the issue.

So, While nail polish is handy, comes in world of colors, and wife won’t miss what you borrow; it could be recipe for disaster with just any old top coat.
If you want least issues, suggest you use automotive lacquer touch up paint for color highlights, and automotive clear lacquer for top coat. These are tested to be compatible within same brand name. :)


-- I'm an engineer not a woodworker, but I can randomly find useful tools and furniture inside a pile of lumber!

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