About Shellac

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Introduction

For "traditional" furniture, there are many finishes;  shellac, milk paint, varnish, oils, French polish, etc...  I've never tried my hand at French polish.  I'm not fond of the appearance when it's done.  Of course, that's purely a personal thing. 

Shellac

Shellac has become one of my absolute favorites for many reasons.  It's food safe.  It's dissolved in environmentally friendly ethenol.  It's a completely natural bioadhesive polymer (nature's plastic) suitable for film finishing.  It's historically accurate (its use predates its 3000 year old written history).  It dries very fast.  It's fairly easy to work with.  It's easy to thin to several working consistencies.  It comes in several colors like garnet, amber, and blond.  The list goes on...

We use alcohol (actually, 190 proof ethanol) to dissolve and mix shellac.  And, we use the term "cut" to indicate the mix rate of shellac and alcohol.  A 1 lb. cut would have one pound of shellac flakes mixed with one gallon of alcohol.  A 2 lb. cut would have two pounds of shellac flakes mixed with one gallon of alcohol.  Like all things natural, fresh is better, and I like using flakes and making it myself so that it's both, fresh, and not wasted.  Refer to the table below to mix the various cuts in the desired amount...

For mixing your own shellac from flakes, mix alcohol and flakes accordingly...

Alcohol 1 lb. Cut
Flakes
1.5 lb. Cut
Flakes
2 lb. Cut
Flakes
2.5 lb. Cut
Flakes
3 lb. Cut
Flakes
1 Gallon
(128 Oz.)
1 lb.
(16 Oz.)
1.5 lb.
(24 Oz.)
2 lb.
(32 Oz.)
2.5 lb.
(40 Oz.)
3 lb.
(48 Oz.)
1/2 Gallon
(64 Oz.)
1/2 lb.
(8 Oz.)
3/4 lb.
(12 Oz.)
1 lb.
(16 Oz.)
1 1/4 lb.
(20 Oz.)
1.5 lb.
(24 Oz.)
1 Quart
(32 Oz.)
1/4 lb.
(4 Oz.)
3/8 lb.
(6 Oz.)
1/2 lb.
(8 Oz.)
5/8 lb.
(10 Oz.)
3/4 lb.
(12 Oz.)
1 Pint
(16 Oz.)
1/8 lb.
(2 Oz.)
3/16 lb.
(3 Oz.)
1/4 lb.
(4 Oz.)
5/16 lb.
(5 Oz.)
3/8 lb.
(6 Oz.)
1 Cup
(8 Oz.)

(1 Oz.)

(1.5 Oz.)

(2 Oz.)

(2.5 Oz.)

(3 Oz.)

Bulls Eye Shellac (from the big box stores) comes pre mixed.  According to their website, smaller quantities come in a 3 lb. cut, and their larger quantities (one gallon and five gallon) come in a 4 lb. cut.  And, as per thier product labeling, here's the mix they recommend on how to thin it...

Desired
Cut
Alcohol Shellac
3 lb. to 2 lb. 2 Parts 5 Parts
3 lb. to 1 lb. 3 Parts 2 Parts
2 lb. to 1 lb. 1 Part 1 Part

One last thing about thinning or mixing your own shellac.  Not all alcohols are created equally.  Shellac should be thinned with 190 proof ethanol.  One can head on down to the liquor store, but because there is no reagent, you'll have to pay the Federal government "sin" tax which makes it about three times as expensive (but, it will do in a pinch).  The preferred products are solvents like Behlen Behkol Solvent or Klean-Strip Green.  Standards for labeling ethanol content are non-existent, but these products boast 80%-90% ethanol with a very small reagent like methanol or isopropanol.  Behlen and similar products can be a little harder to find locally, but are readily available online.  Klean-Strip Green denatured alcohol is getting easier to find at the big box stores.  "Green" is a buzz word, after all.

For a more indepth article on the production, history, and other aspects of shellac, see the linked article. 


Resources

Shellac flakes and premium solvents are available from online retailers like Wellermart, Shellac.net, Stewart McDonald, and Homestead.

Bulls Eye and Klean-Strip Green alcohol are available at the big box stores.


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Last Updated:  Sep. 22, 2018