Shellac is a warm colored finish for wood that’s easy to apply with a rag, brush or sprayer. It dries quickly so multiple coats can be applied in one day.
Shellac is a natural finish that has been used for thousands of years. The color of shellac ranges from garnet to clear and it enhances the natural beauty of wood.
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Have you ever attended a woodworking show hosted by The Woodworking Shows? It’s a great place to check out new tools and see tool demonstrations, but they also offer some amazing woodworking classes included with the price of admission.
Recently I attended a Woodworking Shows event and sat in on the “Choosing the Right Finish” class presented by Jim Heavey. On The Woodworking Shows website it says “Jim has been a woodworker for over 30 years and a contributing craftsman and educator for WOOD Magazine since 1997.”
Jim shared valuable information with the class about using penetrating oil, shellac, lacquer, and polyurethane. I’d like to share with you what I learned about using a shellac finish for our wood projects.
Before we get into what we need to know about shellac, be sure to click the subscribe button at the bottom of this page to sign up for my FREE weekly newsletter loaded with helpful pocket hole tricks, space-saving workshop ideas, clever DIY tips and more!
What is Shellac?
Jim started his talk by sharing with us that shellac is a natural finish and has been used for used for thousands of years. Shellac is a film forming finish so it protects by forming a film on the surface of our wood projects.
We also learned shellac is an evaporative finish. In other words, it dries because the denatured alcohol mix with the shellac evaporates into the air and leaves the shellac behind.
How is Shellac Made?
As Jim mentioned earlier shellac is a natural finish. Shellac is made from the “cocoon” of the Lac beetle. The cocoon is hand scraped, boiled and laid out to dry in sheets.
When the sheets have dried they are broken into flakes. Then the flakes are mixed with denatured alcohol and this is the mixture we apply to our wood projects.
Shellac can be purchased in flakes.
And it can be purchased premixed with denatured alcohol.
What Color is Shellac?
Shellac has a warm color and enhances the natural beauty of wood. The colors of shellac range from garnet, amber and clear. Jim said shellac develops a patina and darkens with age. (I should note the can of shellac I have in my workshop says “Will not darken with age”.)
Can Shellac be Tinted?
There’s good news if you’re not a fan of garnet, amber or clear. Jim told us shellac can be tinted to achieve a different color for our wood projects.
What is the Shelf Life of Shellac?
Jim gave us a heads up about the shelf life of shellac. He said the shelf life of shellac flakes we mix with denatured alcohol is about six weeks. The shelf life of store-bought premixed shellac is three years. Premixed shellac has a date stamped on the can so we know when it’s past its shelf life.
What are the Pros and Cons of a Shellac Wood Finish?
- Shellac enhances the natural beauty of wood
- Shellac is easy to apply
- Shellac dries quickly so multiple coats can be applied in one day
- Shellac is only available in high gloss (but it can be dulled with 0000 steel wool)
- Alcohol will remove shellac
- Shellac is not as durable as other finishes, but it’s easy to repair
Where Can You Use Shellac?
Jim said shellac is a great finish for heirloom pieces and jewelry boxes. He cautioned us to be careful when choosing shellac as a finish for certain projects because it can be removed by alcohol.
In other words, shellac is probably not the best finish for a dining room table where alcohol may be served. The shellac finish will be removed if any alcohol spills on the table.
How to Apply Shellac
Jim shared with us that shellac is easy to apply to our wood projects. It can be applied with a rag or a brush and shellac can also be sprayed with a paint sprayer.
The denatured alcohol in shellac evaporates quickly so we can apply multiple coats in one day. Jim said each new coat of shellac “eats” into the previous coat which means we don’t need to sand between coats. (I should note the directions on my can of shellac says to sand with 220 grit sandpaper between coats.)
One reason we may need to sand shellac is if we found a defect (drip, dirt, etc.) in the finish.
How Long Do You Have to Wait Between Coats of Shellac?
Shellac dries quickly so we only need to wait about an hour for it to dry between coats. Many times it will dry even quicker than an hour.
How Many Coats of Shellac Should You Apply?
Two to three thin coats of shellac will generally give us the look we want for our DIY projects.
Can You Apply Shellac Over Stain?
Shellac can be applied to bare wood and it can be applied over a stain. We should wait 24 to 48 hours for the stain to dry before applying shellac.
Can Shellac be Used as a Primer?
Jim said shellac can be used as a seal coat for wood but he gave us a word of caution. He said when we use shellac as a primer, sealer or in between coats of a different type of finish (lacquer, polyurethane, etc.) that we to use dewaxed shellac.
He told us shellac naturally contains wax. Paint, lacquer, polyurethane, etc. can’t stick to wax. Jim said once the dewaxed shellac is dry we can put just about anything we want over the top of it.
Shellac-based white tinted primers are also available. Zinsser BIN Primer is great for sealing wood and wood knots. Skate over to How to Stop Knots from Bleeding Through Paint to see how I seal knots on my wood projects.
How is Shellac Removed?
As we discussed earlier shellac is made with denatured alcohol and is sensitive to alcohol. Alcohol will remove shellac.
Shellac is a natural finish that has been used for thousands of years. The colors of shellac range from garnet to clear and enhance the natural beauty of wood. Shellac is an easy finish to apply with a rag, paintbrush or paint sprayer.
Thank you for stopping by. If you found this information helpful, would you please pin it to Pinterest? Other DIYers would appreciate it and I would too! Thank you – Scott