"Hobbit Holes in MyWorld" --by RusticWoodArt #29: Go Ask The Lac-Bug About Finishing Wood

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Blog entry by frank posted 09-08-2008 02:32 AM 3256 reads 1 time favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 28: The Revelation of Wood Part 29 of "Hobbit Holes in MyWorld" --by RusticWoodArt series Part 30: Out in The Woods »

Go Ask The Lac-Bug About Finishing Wood
In one of my previous comments on Finishing Recipes and Tricks by SteveKorz and the corresponding forum, I offered these last words; ”I mean when we start thinking about shellac, maybe we should also consult with the lac bug.

I know that one can get technical when it comes to talking about finishing along with all those books and DVDs out there, along with all the recipes we get so hung up in and about….so I have decided to offer a lighter side to finishing with shellac. Finishing, whether it is served up as a recipe of mine, or from some-one else is and should be all-ways open to interpretation of the individual woodworker or artist. The time one spends with finishing, will be time well spent and can exceed the time that one spends on all that came before. It will be one of the major aspects of your work, that one is graded on by others who are looking at your work.

I imagine that many could or will disagree with me here when I say; ”that learning to finish a piece of ‘wood art’, is just as important as knowing how to join the wood together so that one has a piece to finish.” Just as there are no-shortcuts in the integrity of design that goes into the labor and laying out of the construction and execution of workmanship, so also there should be the inspiration and satisfaction that comes from knowing that your finishing exceeds beyond your expectations.

I was reading this morning of one furniture maker in the area; who belongs to The New Hampshire Furniture Masters Association, Terry Moore, which in turn led me to an article in Fine Woodworking Magazine, January/February 2001, by Asa Christiana where Terry Moore is quoted as saying:

Pieces are graded on a one-to-five scale for originality or for execution of a traditional design, for artistic decisions such as clarity of intent and integration of elements, for command of the medium, for attention to details and for functionality. In concrete terms, the juries expect pieces to be completely finished, including backs, bottoms and insides. There can be no glue drips, tearout or rough surfaces left anywhere. Joinery must be mechanically sound and tightly fitted.

“Then, pay as much attention to the finish as you did to the joinery,” Moore tells potential exhibitors. They must prepare surfaces well; apply the finish carefully with no runs, drips or overspray and “finish the finish” with wet sanding, steel wool or other fine abrasives. A coat of wax is usually recommended.” —by Terry Moore

Then, pay as much attention to the finish as you did to the joinery,” is what I am talking about when it comes down to the fine art of finishing.

So continuing on lets move ahead to shellac and the tiny little red lac bug, who is the one that is responsible for all that makes shellac such a great product to use. The life cycle of the lac bug is around six months with the female doing much of the work, while the male’s job runs more to the activity of fertilizing the female. It is from the lac tree itself that these bugs swarm to, as they settle upon the tree projecting protrusions into the trees bark. From this point on they suck up the sap from the tree in great numbers….as the word ‘lac’ itself is derived from the Sanskrit ‘laka’; which in turn means one hundred thousand. In what is often referred to as a ‘feeding frenzy’ the lac bugs now will in turn start eating and feeding till they have feasted to death.

What comes next has all-ways amazed me as while these bugs are eating and ingesting the sap into their own bodies, there is also going on within a chemical adjustment of the sap so that the lac bug now reverses the process and starts exuding the secretion back onto the tree branches. This secretion when coming into contact with the air, becomes a hard cloud with a shell like covering, that in turn covers the whole horde. The female herself, is also busy laying up to one thousand eggs as both the male and female are now in a state of dying. This covering of a shell-like hard cloud now in turn forms a protection barrier for the young as they are hatched within and as they break forth from the hard shell covering, as they now in turn swarm forth into the light of day. Death and life, as the form of shellac making moves on, to the hands of man now in this process of what will yet be called shellac.

So lets post some pictures and talk some more about the bathroom countertop that I’m finishing up here with shellac. Once again, black walnut, butt joined and edge glued, which has been previously finished up with tung oil. I must admit that yes, there are times when working with walnut I leave the sapwood showing and then other times I will work to blend that area in with the darker heartwood. Sometimes these options are not all-ways left up to me, as when the customer is responding to what be-comes their own inner voice of choosing. Since this piece of wood is going into a bathroom renovation at our house for what will be the answer to a request from my wife….I have a little liberty in deciding what the finished project will look like.

The top is coming along just great and gathering some character of tung oil,as it awaits my next execution of application into wood finishing. I might also mention that in the assembly and glue up process there has been no-chance joining of the boards, as the whole picture of what and how this countertop is going to look up to now and beyond….even to the placing of the Mexican sink into the top along with the colors in the sink, has all-ready been worked out inside my head….

....and so we now get down to this box of fix’s, as I am excited about the chance to move some shellac across this surface of wood…..

....there are many brushes that I use in finishing, but one that is constantly close at hand is this cheap throw away (except for the shellac brushes, I do not throw them away) that I am all-ways buying and keeping around my workspaces in quantity. Some of the tales I could tell about these and the finishing jobs they have worked for me over the years. And yes, I do shop around and keep a list of the places that I can get these at…..but because of price I will say that I never buy them at the large box stores. Here is one of my favorite sizes and I might be getting ahead of my-self here since in this photo not only am I showing the brush, but the tinted color of shellac to be used…. stepping back a bit, I will talk some of the tinting process. For the shellac and the walnut on this project I am using TransTint Dyes #128488, Bright Red which I get at Woodcraft. I use many other dyes and formulas, some of which I mix and make my-self, but for ease and convenience I decided to use this one for this project. And so next I start mixing and mixing and trying out till I reach a shade that works for what I am after….and on this one that was three try’s. I also will go heavy on the tint since by the time I’m done with the different steps of procedure that include all those sanding stages….the color tone does in-deed re-duce to a lighter shade. And then one must also remember that what I’m testing on here, is un-finished wood, while I will also test with the tint some-times going onto wood that has been treated with a tung oil mixture. And as one//you can see, I have again jumped ahead by showing the walnut top as all-ready treated with the tint of shellac….

....these next photos show some of the tinting process and I will have to try and fill in with the brush technique as we go along….

....with this process of applying the tinted shellac. I might also add that as I apply the shellac with a brush to the area of the sapwood, I’m really not much concerned with how or how much I over lap into the heartwood area, as this I will deal with later….

....when I start back brushing and sanding. I am outlining some areas where the tinted shellac is overlapping into the heartwood of the walnut as the tinted shellac is being applied only to the sapwood at this point….

....I will leave you with this photo shot of the tinted shellac on a wood burl that I tung oiled last night and today came back too, in order to apply the same tinted shellac that is being used on the walnut counter-top. I believe that as I move along on this piece, I can better show how the whole process of tinting, overlapping of the shellac between sapwood and heartwood and the use-full-ness of hand sanding, brings the whole process to-gether….

....and yes, more to come….

Linking back to in this series to:
1.) All Good Wood Projects Need….
2.) WoodWorking Vision
3.) Drupes and Drupaceous Nuts as Tung Oil

And so once again I welcome your comments and questions, along with any photos that you might want to include.

Thank you.

’’ smart, work safe, and live, to work the wood....’‘

-- --frank, NH,

7 comments so far

View lew's profile


12102 posts in 3782 days

#1 posted 09-08-2008 03:05 AM

Wow, Frank- what great information. When I first scanned this post, I thought there were two separate walnut tops. It is fantastic the difference the shellac made.

Thanks for the lesson!


-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View Karson's profile


35125 posts in 4427 days

#2 posted 09-08-2008 04:02 AM

Great Frank. A nice trail from the beginning to what we see now.

-- I've been blessed with a father who liked to tinker in wood, and a wife who lets me tinker in wood. Southern Delaware soon moving to Virginia †

View trifern's profile


8135 posts in 3794 days

#3 posted 09-08-2008 05:54 AM

Great information Frank. Why did you choose this color? Thanks for sharing.

-- My favorite piece is my last one, my best piece is my next one.

View frank's profile


1492 posts in 4233 days

#4 posted 09-08-2008 12:32 PM

—thanks for the Wow…. Lew; ....and more lessons to come….
—hello Karson; ....ah yes, trails. Now that reminds me, soon I must get out and do an-other photo walking trail….waundering walk-abouts in the woods….
—hi Trifern; ....why, why, why….and color….LOL. Well first of all you remember that I said I had some freedom in the design of this countertop. I have also noticed that to my eye at least, a good red blends in with the dark walnut and causes great highlight of the colors in the sink. And then also, red is my favorite color….so that in the end, the artist gets his own way….

Thank you.

-- --frank, NH,

View trifern's profile


8135 posts in 3794 days

#5 posted 09-08-2008 02:03 PM

Thanks Frank. I appreciate your ultimate honesty of red is my favorite color. My question was quit vague on purpose. I am always fascinated by why and how people arrive at color choices. I studied color theory for four years in college and have always looked at color different than most. By the way, I really like your color selection. Thanks again for the education on finishing.

-- My favorite piece is my last one, my best piece is my next one.

View Dennis Zongker's profile

Dennis Zongker

2745 posts in 3619 days

#6 posted 09-08-2008 02:22 PM

Now That’s a blog!!! Way to go Frank. Thank you.

-- Dennis Zongker

View SteveKorz's profile


2134 posts in 3741 days

#7 posted 09-08-2008 05:03 PM

GREAT info Frank! I’m always learning something… everyday…
Thanks for the post!

-- As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17) †

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