Contact & FAQ
Shellac as a product is quite misunderstood. Shellacfinishes.com aims at dispelling these many misunderstandings of Shellac. Shellac was widely used as a layered finish for many centuries. However with the introduction of petroleum based finishes in the early 1950’s, shellac’s popularity started to wane. Shellac’s misunderstandings come from other finishing product manufactures as well as from non practicing magazine contributors who get their information from other publications. As a frequent lecturer at Palomar College in San Diego, I get questions from students all the time. I have tried to compile many of them in this FAQ.
It is always expanding with time, so be sure to check it time to time.
What is a shellac'cut'?
The so called ‘cut’ of shellac is best described as the ratio of shellac flakes in relation to denatured alcohol. A 1lb ‘cut’, means 1lb of shellac flakes dissolved in 1 gallon of denatured alcohol. However this is a large quantity for most woodworking shops. Moreover most shops do not own a weighing scale either. Hence a smaller amount can be mixed for a 1lb cut by taking 1oz. of shellac flakes and dissolving it in 1 cup of denatured alcohol. If a 2lb cut is required, simply increase the weight of the shellac flakes to 2oz. For a 3lb cut increase the weight to 3oz and so on for heavier cuts. Since a cup holds 8 oz, divide the cup into eight equal parts for measuring 1 oz. now you don’t need a weighing scale, only a cup from your kitchen.
How do I make the shellac solution?
Take a clean glass bottle with a tight fitting lid that will hold the amount of alcohol that you intend to use. Use the above measurements for the shellac flakes and alcohol depending on the cut and quantity that you want to make. Pour the shellac flakes and alcohol into the bottle and close the lid tightly. Give it a few shakes from time to time. The shellac will dissolve in a few hours. Run the solution through a paint sieve, that can be found at any paint store, to remove impurities. You are ready to apply shellac.
Are there any benefits to using pure alcohol over denatured alcohol?
Not really, except the price you pay for the alcohol!!
How is shellac applied?
Shellac can be brushed, sprayed, padded or French polished. Padding and French polishing require practice and patience. Brushing and spraying are the easiest methods. Use a good quality animal hair brush for minimizing brush streaks. For sealing insides of drawers and furniture, brushing is the best way for a quick and easy application.
How do you determine the weight of the cut for different applications?
A 2lb cut is common and used for most applications like coating of insides of drawers and furniture. For a final coat of Super Blonde over Garnet, Orange or any other variety, a 1lb cut is usually used. Shellac can also be used as grain filler for open grained woods like Oak, Mahogany etc. Use a 3lb cut mixed with a few tablespoons of fine grain Pumice powder to form a gooey mixture. Apply mixture liberally on the surface pressing it in with a pad or a ball of cloth. Wipe excess off. Let dry for 24 hours and wet sand lightly with water as a lubricating and cooling agent. If grains are not fully filled, repeat application. Run your finger nail across the grain. If it travels freely, it indicates that the grains are filled.
Can shellac be used as a stain?
Absolutely. As a matter of fact it is a stain and a sealer all in one. You can’t ask for more! If you wish to use shellac as a stain, simply take Super Blonde, which is the clearest of all grades, and mix the required alcohol based aniline dye till the desired color is achieved. Here is an example. The drawer pulls on my tool chest are Maple but tinted as Walnut.
Can shellac be used as a sealer?
Shellac is an excellent sealer. Always apply a coat of shellac on the insides of cabinets and drawers. If the wood has been finished with any kind of oil and the odor needs to be rid off, use shellac as a sealer. Ever tried applying a coat of paint over pine wood? Over time, the sap leaches out and ruins the look. Use shellac as a sealer coat before applying paint.
Is shellac non toxic?
Yes it is non toxic and can be used on any children toys or furniture. Please keep in mind that once the alcohol evaporates, only shellac remains on the toy or furniture. Shellac is widely used in the candy, cosmetic and drug industries as a coating for finished products.
What is the shelf life of shellac?
Shellac flakes have a finite shelf life unknown to most users. Even if Shellac flakes are stored in a cool, dark and dry place, but older than 2 years (thumb rule), it will not dissolve completely in alcohol overnight when compared to fresh stock. When applied, it will be sticky and slow drying. If used for French polishing, more than the usual amount of oil will be required for lubrication. If shellac is used after this date, make sure that it dissolves completely in the alcohol. If you see a thick gooey gelatinous mass at the bottom of the jar, its past its shelf life and should not be used. It is always a good idea to buy shellac flakes as and when required.
Once dissolved in alcohol, shellac does not last more than 6-9 months at the most. Store mixture in a cool dark and dry area of your workshop. The ideal temperature is between 65-70 degrees F.
Always dissolve shellac as and when needed.
Why do I recommend de-waxed shellac for all applications?
Back in the old days, only seedlac and buttonlac was available. The process to make these are still carried on today. Seedlac is the shellac that has been removed from the twigs, cleaned and sieved by hand. Buttonlac is made from the cleaned seedlac by pushing it through a muslin cloth held close to a charcoal fire. Both these varieties contain wax, which is a by product of the lac insect. Unfortunately wax is not the wood polishers best friend. When amalgamated with shellac, it makes the finish porous and facilitates reaction with moisture. Ever heard about stories of a white ring forming if a cold glass of water is left for long over a shellacked surface? Well, it’s the wax in the shellac that helps in the creation! Therefore always decant waxy shellac varieties many times to remove as much wax as possible. Shellac without wax will have superior adhesion and water resistant qualities.
But consider yourself lucky that due to technology, you don’t have to go through the decanting process. Dewaxed shellac is now available!! The wax content of this variety is between 0.2-0.5%. This is the very reason why I strongly recommend using dewaxed shellac. Whether you are using it for a an antique or for a new finish, it matters little. It is available in different colors and if not, it can always be colored with aniline dyes to suit your taste.
But I have been told to use waxy shellac by my instructor!
One of the major reasons why waxy shellac is recommended is because less amount of lubricating oil for the pad is required thus making the burnishing process easier. But is it worth the fact that it is more susceptible to water? I think not. Moreover fresh dewaxed shellac will require very little lubricating oil. Ridding the lubricating oil that rises to the surface eventually, is a simple process and worth the time than having a finish that will ruin easily with water.
Are there any disadvantages to using Dewaxed varieties?
The only disadvantage is time. Since dewaxed varieties are the most processed, their shelf life is about 2 years from the date of manufacture. Therefore at ShellacFinishes all our shellac has an expiration date. The date is merely an indicator and not to be taken as an end date. If shellac is used after this date, make sure that it dissolves completely in the alcohol. If you see a thick gooey gelatinous mass at the bottom of the jar, its past its shelf life and should not be used. It is always a good idea to buy shellac flakes as and when required.
How do I apply Seal-Lac and Royal-Lac?
Is it necessary to use Seal-Lac prior to applying Royal-Lac?
It is not necessary to use only Seal-Lac prior to Royal-Lac application.
Seal-Lac is a shellac based sealer and pore filler. It is always a good idea to use a sealer before application of any kind of finish. A good sealer acts as a interface between the wood and the final finish. It not only gives a smooth flat foundation for the finish but also helps in adhesion. It is highly recommended that Seal-lac be used. However just plain shellac can also do the job. The only difference being that it will not act as a fast pore filler like Seal-Lac.
What is the curing time for Royal-Lac?
All finishes including shellac take time to cure after application. Curing is complete after all the solvent has gassed out. The thumb rule for cure for most finishes is between 25-30 days. Even shellac, to show its true characteristics takes this period of time. Even though the finish may be dry to touch after a few hours, it does not necessarily mean that it has cured. A quick test to ascertain if it is ready for sanding before the cure time is to gently sand with 320 or higher grit. If dust is produced, it is safe to sand it.
Are any discounts available?
Please check with your local woodworking organization for a coupon code.
If you would like to include your organization in the above list, please send your inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org