Shuffleboard Finishes: The Differences Between Shellac, Lacquer, Epoxy, and Polyurethane

A shuffleboard is an important purchase. Sizewise, it takes up a lot of room. Timewise, you expect your investment to last forever.

Therefore, before making that purchase, learn all you can about shuffleboards. How else will you know what type of shuffleboard is best for you? You’ll need to learn about differences in sizes, woods, and finishes. This article focuses on the various types of finishes available for coating shuffleboard tables. Each finish type has unique pros and cons.

Shuffleboard Playfield Finish

The Loft Table Shuffleboard by California House.

Overview of Shellac and Lacquer Finishes

Shuffleboard tables made during the early to mid-1900’s were made only from hardwoods, and were typically coated with shellac or lacquer. If you purchased an older table, you may wish to restore it to its original shellac or lacquer finish type. Shellac and lacquer tables can be hand sanded using a fine-grit sandpaper. Sanding strokes should be long and consistent. New shellac can then be applied.

Shellac is actually a natural product made from a secretion the female lac bug produces in order to form a cocoon-like tunnel to enable her to traverse tree branches. This resin is scraped from trees, processed into flakes or powder, and combined with an alcohol solvent.


  • Shellac on hardwood is a fine playing surface, in fact, many experts consider it to be the authentic, preferable surface for play. While the shellac is not super protective against dings and dents, it doesn’t really need to be. The durable hardwood it typically covers is resistant to abrasions in its own right.
  • Shellac dries to a high-gloss shine.


  • As shellac wears down easily, it needs to be reapplied yearly. It may need to be reapplied more often on a high-play, commercial table.
  • Alcohol spills will dissolve the shellac. Also, the heat from warm beverage cups or food dishes will leave white rings on shellacked surfaces.
  • Shellac scratches more easily than most lacquers, yet it is easily refinished.


Early Shuffleboard tables, that is, those built in the beginning years of the 1900s were finished with lacquers that came from resins derived from a tree indigenous to China. The tree’s binomial name is toxicodendron vernicifluum, but it is commonly known as the Chinese lacquer tree.

In the 1920s, lacquers were produced from resin obtained from the nitration of cotton and other cellulosic materials. The manufacturing process for nitrocellulose lacquers was, however, discovered to be hazardous. Soluble nitrocellulose is flammable and toxic.

In the 1950s, lacquers were developed using acrylic resin, a synthetic polymer. These liquid lacquers, as well, had some dangerous components. Brian Pachik, PA Director of Table Shuffleboard Association, owner of Keystone State Shuffleboard installation company, and an avid tournament player, provided some of the history of these later lacquers.

“When the dangerous ingredients were removed, it was discovered that the finishes were simply not as durable. That’s why many shuffleboard manufacturers ultimately switched to epoxy and polyurethane finishes,” he said. “One of the few using a compound close to acrylic is Venture, but they have an exclusive, proprietary acrylic-like finish that is not a hazardous liquid, but rather a hard-top adhesive.”

Pros of Early Lacquers:

  • Easy application.
  • More resistant to scratches than shellac.
  • They created a hard, yet flexible, finish.

Cons of Early Lacquers:

  • Thin, needed to be re-coated often.
  • Not as shiny as shellac. Needed to be polished to retain sheen.
  • The manufacturing process for nitrocellulose lacquers was hazardous.

Pros of Liquid Acrylic Lacquers:

  • Fast drying.
  • Holds the color of the wood on which it is placed.

Cons of Liquid Acrylic Lacquers:

  • Tannin from wood can bleed-through.
  • Not as durable and chemical resistant as epoxy or polyurethane.
Venture Grand Deluxe Shuffleboard Table with acrylic-like lacquer finish

Shown here: Venture Shuffleboard’s Grand Deluxe. It is finished in solid acrylic-like lacquer. Said Venture spokesperson, Lizz McKay, “We spend a lot of years formulating this unique surface finish. We find it is most protective of the wood underneath… and we use only hardwoods from the Pocono Mountains. Also, we think our surface provides a superior playing surface.”

Overview of Epoxy and Polyurethane Finishes

Both epoxy and polyurethane are synthetic polymers. A polymer is a substance composed of multiple, repeated subunits of similar molecule groups. Both epoxy and polyurethane finishes harden to form an extremely durable surface. Because these finishes are so protective of the woods they cover, their use has enabled modern-day shuffleboard tables to be produced from softwoods.

Epoxy is typically poured on, with the table surface surrounded by blocks, so that the glaze self levels. Polyurethane is brushed or sprayed on.

Both glazes have long lifespans. Said Pachik, “I tell my customers, the epoxy top is not going to wear away in your lifetime, or even your kids’ lifetimes. It’s gonna last for your grandchildren.”

Polyurethane tops won’t need refinishing for a good five years or more. Unlike shellac and lacquer coatings, which can be hand sanded, epoxy and polyurethane coatings typically require use of a planer and machine sander. The job of refinishing a synthetic polymer coated table is often best left to professionals. Said Pachik, “You made an expensive investment, so you would hate to make a mistake.”


Epoxy is, essentially, plexiglass. It is a thermosetting synthetic polymer sealer that can be water based, solvent based, or 100% solids. A formulation that is 100% solids creates a surface of superior hardness and impact resistance.


  • A harder, more protective finish than shellac, lacquer, and even polyurethane.
  • Epoxy finish lasts many years before refinishing is required.


  • Less flexible than polyurethane.
  • Not as scratch resistant as polyurethane.
  • Cannot withstand great temperature swings.
  • Tends to yellow when exposed to even small amounts of sunlight.
Georgetown Table Shuffleboard with polyurethane finish by Playcraft

Shown here: Playcraft’s 12’ Georgetown Espresso Shuffleboard Table. It is finished with 10 coats of polyurethane.


Polyurethane is, essentially, liquid plastic that hardens. It is the most popular coating for shuffleboard tables of today.


  • It is a thinner coating than epoxy that allows for more flexibility. This flexibility allows for impact absorption and abrasion resistance.
  • Very scratch resistant.
  • Can tolerate greater temperature swings. Handles humidity better than epoxy.
  • Polyurethane lasts several years before refinishing is required.


  • Not as hard a surface as epoxy., established in 1998, is the web’s premiere source for shuffleboard tables. The shuffleboard professionals at are happy to share their extensive knowledge with you. They can be reached by phone 7 days a week by dialing 1-888-565-7180 or by email at

Keystone State Shuffleboard offers installation services throughout the East Coast.

Learn More about Shuffleboards:

  1. Shuffleboard Pro-Tips: What about Thickness?
  2. Tips on Where to Place a Shuffleboard Table
  3. Shuffleboard Table Care and Maintenance

About the Author consultant, Colleen Cochran, is a writer, graphic artist, and an aficionado of all things recreational.