I see this mentioned all the time in guides but I don't know what this looks like. Google does not make this obvious. Can anyone please tell me what a tacky finish is or is supposed to look like? Bonus points if you show pictures!

EDIT: I'm amazed I even need to clarify this in a DIY home improvement forum, but here goes....

No, I'm not referring to style or glue. I'm referring to this type of explanation:

"Rub a small amount of acetone, using a clean cotton swab, into another less-visible part of the wood. If the acetone beads, the current finish is polyurethane. If not, wait for a couple of minutes. Touch or scrape the area lightly with your finger. The lacquer will dissolve completely in this time, but varnish and shellac will become tacky." Source: https://www.hunker.com/12437441/how-to-tell-which-kind-of-finish-is-on-a-wood

Dozens of other guides use this word to describe a finish, but I can't find any consistent explanation of what this means specifically with respect to wood finishes. I also can't find any pictures, so even if something was tacky I would have no way to identify it.

What does "tacky" mean in this context?

  • So Style or glue?
    – Solar Mike
    Commented Nov 26, 2021 at 9:06
  • @SolarMike neither, I'm referring to the clearcoat finish on stained wood (polyurethane, lacquer, etc.).
    – sparaps
    Commented Nov 26, 2021 at 20:34

1 Answer 1


At least two very different meanings.

One has nothing to do with how it looks - it's "tacky" meaning slightly sticky. For a finish, that's not fully cured/hardened.

The other is tacky meaning that in the opinion of the observer it's in poor taste or style. That one is a moving target as things go in and out of style and tastes change or are simply different. Something finished with glitter might be divine to one person and tacky to another, say.

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