Monday, March 22, 2010
Shellac is an all natural product. It is a by-product of a bug found in India and Thailand. Shellac is often used in the maufacturing of candies and food products. If you are looking for a product that when dry is one of the more non-toxic fiishes that you can use then shellac might be the one for you.
Shellac is clear or can be tinted to give you some color choices. It comes in a spray can or in a brush on formula. If you decide to use the brush on method you will want to cut the shellac with denatured alcohol, so buy a can of that as well. The amount of alcohol you add will vary according to your needs. A good starting point is a 50-50 mix until you get used to it. It also comes premixed sometimes, in an amber or orange variation. I use the amber quite a bit. If you read my post about handmade Easter eggs, you may remember where I dappled some amber shellac on the eggs to give them some color variations.
Shellac is known for a warm soft glow, especially the amber version when dry. I like it a lot for refinishing old wooden sleds, prim flour bins and soft woods like pine and cedar.
I also use it as a primer or sealer, especially when refinishing a dining room table. Here is why...Over the years silicone based furniture waxes have become more and more common. Silicone contamination of a piece of bare wood can be catastrophic. Silicone, if left unchecked, will often cause a condition called "fisheye" in a fine finish. In cases of severe contamination, it will cause your freshly coated table to look like it has the chicken pox. It is pretty awful to contend with. The really bad thing about silicone contamination is that you can't see it ahead of time, sanding won't take it out, mineral spirits and solvent won't remove it, and neither will paint remover. So what do you do? Shellac to the rescue! Just apply a coat of shellac as a primer, before you put on your hard coat. The shellac will seal off the silicone and keep the fisheye out of your finish. I have gotten where I use it almost as a rule when refinishing dining room tables. For this application I usually use the spray version.
Shellac is incredibly beautiful on old, worn, pine flooring. It does not hold up to wear very well, but it can be reapplied to traffic areas where needed, and it dries quickly. There was a time around the turn of the century when floors were commonly finished with shellac.
Shellac is also a really easy finish to use. This is a good one for beginners. It is a very forgiving finish. The disadvantage of shellac is that it is not nearly as durable as a laquer or polyurethane, so I don't apply it as a top coat on pieces that get a lot of use. But, it's hard to deny the advantages of shellac in the workshop. Give it a try.