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Trying to get a mirror finish with shellac

by Purrmaster
posted 10-14-2012 09:34 PM


43 replies so far

View hObOmOnk's profile

hObOmOnk

1381 posts in 2849 days


#1 posted 10-14-2012 09:48 PM

I use the French Polish technique.
It’s a centuries old technique that has stood the test of time, but I’ve only been doing it for about 40 years. :)

Google “French Polish” for a plethora of possibilities.

Blessings.

-- 温故知新

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Purrmaster

807 posts in 815 days


#2 posted 10-14-2012 11:11 PM

I did. I am going to try french polishing at some point but what I’ve read says that it is very difficult to do. I’m going to need to practice on scrap wood first.

And right now I’ve got a bookshelf with shellac already on it that I need to shine up.

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1479 posts in 1083 days


#3 posted 10-14-2012 11:41 PM

French Polish has its place, but I don’t know where. With finishes available that will produce the desired results without the drawbacks of shellac, I can’t appreciate the incentive to learn the process.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

View shipwright's profile (online now)

shipwright

5224 posts in 1520 days


#4 posted 10-14-2012 11:58 PM

French polishing has a place precisely because it is traditional.
It has taken a lot of flak, not unlike hot hide glue, over the years from people who haven’t bothered to try it.
Also like hide glue, most of these criticisms are unfounded.
It does have a learning curve but when did “easy” become a synonym for “best” or even “good” for that matter? Another important advantage of french pohish is that it produces a fantastic reversible finish.
Ever try reversing a “modern” finish?

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fiberglass trees. http://prmdesigns.com/

View MNgary's profile

MNgary

235 posts in 1139 days


#5 posted 10-15-2012 03:24 AM

Just a thought, Purrmaster. Are you seeing scratches formed between coats of the finish or are scratches underneath the finish (on the underlying wood surface) becoming more pronounced?

-- I dream of the world where a duck can cross the road and no one asks why.

View Loren's profile

Loren

7809 posts in 2369 days


#6 posted 10-15-2012 03:52 AM

I think this is an application problem. Maybe with your brush
or spray method.

I recommend french polishing. It is something you can do
sort of halfway, like a wiping varnish, to build up coats.

That said, you can french polish over any shellacked surface
and the alcohol will “melt” the layers together. It’s the
pressure of the “rubber” (fr. “tampon”) than compresses
the finish and makes it smooth and lustrous. As more
coats build, friction happens and the finish can tear
up, which is a hassle to repair. So we add a little oil
to lubricate the rubber and this helps it slide and not
tear the finish. Then when the polish is done the
oil finds it way to the surface as the shellac cures
and after awhile you can “spirit off” the oil with
alcohol on a clean rubber.

It’s really not that hard to do but it does take time
and when you are learning you will not have a feel
for when to add some oil and you’ll tear the finish
sooner or later.

This is my understanding from experience. While I
don’t consider my skills at french polish any more than
capable-level, I learned pretty quick how not to
tear the shellac and that is the major hazard. Everything
else about it is forgiving.

-- http://lawoodworking.com

View Rick M.'s profile

Rick M.

4332 posts in 1102 days


#7 posted 10-15-2012 07:05 AM

Either your technique is badly flawed or you have super unrealistic expectations. It isn’t that difficult.

-- http://thewoodknack.blogspot.com/

View Purrmaster's profile

Purrmaster

807 posts in 815 days


#8 posted 10-15-2012 07:45 AM

I believe the scratches are appearing between sanding/polishing of the finish. The wood underneath is not perfectly flat and blemish free. I spent forever planing and sanding the stuff and at some point had to just start building. Madrone doesn’t have a lot of open pores so I think I got lucky there in not needing grain/pore filler (which I don’t have).

I have no doubt that this is an application problem. This is my first time using shellac and it shows. I’m going to try out french polishing on the next project. Or rather, practice first. At this point I was looking for a way to put a super high gloss on the shellac already laid down. Sort of like paint on a new car.

My expectations may also be insane, I grant you that.

I’ve been able to achieve a high gloss with polyurethane. That didn’t even require sanding between coats. But the tradeoff I noticed is that the poly seems to make the piece look it was dipped in plastic.

I’m trying out finishes that are new to me to try and get some experience and skill with them.

I don’t have spraying equipment. Finish gets put on by brush or by pad.

View Jorge G.'s profile

Jorge G.

1526 posts in 1197 days


#9 posted 10-15-2012 07:54 AM

If you are applying finish with a pad, then french polish should not be a problem for you. The trick is to make a nice good pad and have two bottles for application, one with the shellac and one with alcohol. If the pad starts sticking to the shellac, apply a couple of drops to the pad surface. I have seen people sand in between coats, but like Loren said, you can just apply one on top of the other layer until you get the desired gloss.

For lacquer I use 3M polishing compound, it leaves a mirror surface. Maybe it will work for shellac.

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

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Purrmaster

807 posts in 815 days


#10 posted 10-15-2012 10:25 AM

Do you get the 3M compound at the auto parts store? I saw some rubbing compound the other day but not their polishing compound. What do you use to apply and remove the polishing compound?

View shipwright's profile (online now)

shipwright

5224 posts in 1520 days


#11 posted 10-15-2012 04:39 PM

Here’s a decent series of videos on French polishing. It really helps to see it done as it’s not easy to just describe in words.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fiberglass trees. http://prmdesigns.com/

View Builder_Bob's profile

Builder_Bob

160 posts in 1781 days


#12 posted 10-15-2012 05:02 PM

Can’t you get a glossy surface with just wax and elbow grease? Multiple coats of finishing wax and buffing with the right material?

Works on cars.

Maybe dewaxed shellac is detrimental in this case.

-- "The unexpected, when it happens, generally happens when you least expect it."

View Purrmaster's profile

Purrmaster

807 posts in 815 days


#13 posted 10-15-2012 06:37 PM

That’s an interesting idea. Perhaps dewaxed shellac doesn’t take as good a shine.

Cars are kind of the world I come from as well. I’m not an expert detailer or anything but I’ve polished/waxed/buffed up the paint on my car many times.

When I put the final coat of wax on I’m using Minwax paste finishing wax. Buffing out the wax seems to damage the shellac. It’s as if the shellac coating is too soft… Perhaps I need a softer wax to use as the final protective coat.

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

3540 posts in 2682 days


#14 posted 10-15-2012 06:40 PM

Shipwright, I applaud your post.
Bill

-- bill@magraphics.us

View gfadvm's profile

gfadvm

11365 posts in 1412 days


#15 posted 10-16-2012 01:01 AM

Paul, Cool series of videos

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View bhog's profile

bhog

2177 posts in 1412 days


#16 posted 10-16-2012 01:10 AM

Purrmaster did you let the shellac cure for a bit before you jumped on it with sanding and waxing etc?

-- I don't drive a Prius.

View Purrmaster's profile

Purrmaster

807 posts in 815 days


#17 posted 10-16-2012 02:55 AM

When I get home I’ll check out those videos. Thank you. I’ve got a piece of scrap cherry I can start practicing on.

By the way, I tried using Scratch X 2.0 and it didn’t help much. I also used some 6,000 grit micromesh discs I got for the Worksharp. Didn’t help a lot either.

I ordered some micro mesh from Scientific Instrument Services and I’ll try that. The grits go up to 12,000 on that.

I’ll see if I can find the 3M polishing compound.

View Dark_Lightning's profile

Dark_Lightning

1797 posts in 1831 days


#18 posted 10-16-2012 03:33 AM

I don’t understand the problem. At the very least, I’ve sanded dried shellac with 600 wet-or-dry, followed by polishing with white polishing compound and gotten scratch-free, glass smooth results. My GUESS is that the shellac may be old.

View Purrmaster's profile

Purrmaster

807 posts in 815 days


#19 posted 10-16-2012 10:22 PM

The shellac is only a couple of weeks old, freshly mixed from flakes. When you say white polishing compound could you please tell me what brand/type of white polishing compound you are referring to?

View Jorge G.'s profile

Jorge G.

1526 posts in 1197 days


#20 posted 10-16-2012 11:21 PM

Do you get the 3M compound at the auto parts store? I saw some rubbing compound the other day but not their polishing compound. What do you use to apply and remove the polishing compound?

I got it at a hardware store, but I guess and auto parts store might have it. I apply it with a cloth, let it dry and then remove it with a dry cloth. Something that will not scratch your surface. You have to make sure you have sanded the surface even.

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

View Purrmaster's profile

Purrmaster

807 posts in 815 days


#21 posted 10-17-2012 04:53 AM

Thank you. If I may ask, how high a grit did you sand the shellac to before using the polishing compound?

I’m finishing the shelf for the bookshelf too, also with shellac. I’m going to experiment a bit with it. And try to find the stuff you guys suggested.

View Rick M.'s profile

Rick M.

4332 posts in 1102 days


#22 posted 10-17-2012 07:40 AM

Yeah, I don’t understand the problem either. I just sanded a shellac finish with 600 grit and it isn’t a mirror finish but it’s shiny, better than satin. I went over it again with a rag dabbed in alcohol and then shellac and it was shiny, I would call it semi-gloss. If you’ve used pumice, rottenstone and 2500 grit sandpaper and can’t get a glossy finish then something is horribly wrong.

What I do… (helps to fill the grain)
1. Spit coat, sand to 220
2. Heavier coat, sand with 320
3. Heavier coat, sand with 400
4. Heavier coat, sand with 600
5. Spit coat, buff out

You could probably skip a lot of the sanding if your shop is clean. My building is old and dust literally rains from the ceiling so my finishes get little dust nibs that I need to sand out. I should probably build a little finishing booth but I’m too lazy.

-- http://thewoodknack.blogspot.com/

View BlueStingrayBoots's profile

BlueStingrayBoots

747 posts in 2724 days


#23 posted 10-17-2012 09:44 AM

Cool video Shipwright. I want to try that! Thanks.

View Purrmaster's profile

Purrmaster

807 posts in 815 days


#24 posted 10-17-2012 10:55 PM

I’m probably doing it wrong, as was suggested earlier. It may also be that the kind of gloss I want is not practical. Sometimes a panel I’ve worked on will have spots that are smooth and shiny and others that are duller.

Also, putting on the wax as a protectant usually ends up scratching the finish after I buff it out. Perhaps I need to use a different wax.

View bhog's profile

bhog

2177 posts in 1412 days


#25 posted 10-17-2012 11:37 PM

The shiny and duller spots may be from an uneven surface.

-- I don't drive a Prius.

View Purrmaster's profile

Purrmaster

807 posts in 815 days


#26 posted 10-18-2012 12:07 AM

I don’t know how I got an uneven surface because I sanded between each coat of shellac. But I’m sure you’re right.

View Dusty56's profile

Dusty56

11678 posts in 2410 days


#27 posted 10-18-2012 02:16 AM

I don’t understand the sanding between coats of shellac unless you have dust in the previous coat. The alcohol in the next coat melts into the previous coat of shellac and it all becomes one coat in the end .
It’s not like adding multiple layers of poly to a surface where you have to let each layer dry and sand between layers so the next one will stick to the previous one.

-- I'm absolutely positive that I couldn't be more uncertain!

View gfadvm's profile

gfadvm

11365 posts in 1412 days


#28 posted 10-18-2012 02:28 AM

Dusty, Shellac really raises the grain in a lot of woods (elm,mulberry,and sycamore have been the worst for me) and I usually sand with 220 after 1 or 2 coats, then go to 320 or 400 depending on how it feels. I just did a walnut coat rack today that was smooth as silk pre-shellac and rough as a cob after 2 coats. Light sanding with 220 got it back smooth.

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

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Dusty56

11678 posts in 2410 days


#29 posted 10-18-2012 02:32 AM

I guess my point is that there is no need to sand the shellac itself unless there are contaminants in it : )
Did you continue to sand between each layer after getting it smooth ?
I raise the grain on my projects and final sand , prior to applying any finish.: )

-- I'm absolutely positive that I couldn't be more uncertain!

View gfadvm's profile

gfadvm

11365 posts in 1412 days


#30 posted 10-18-2012 03:24 AM

As long as the finish feels perfectly smooth and has no visable “oops”, I don’t sand any more (unless I want to knock the shine down after the final coat).

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

View shipwright's profile (online now)

shipwright

5224 posts in 1520 days


#31 posted 10-18-2012 06:09 AM

French polish just isn’t that hard and all you need is shellac, alcohol, a little oil and a cloth pad. Why are you spending so much money and time. Watch some videos and practice on some scrap.

This photo is a french polished surface with no wax, no polishing compound no sanding (except wood prep) It took about ten sessions of about 5 min each. Why make it harder than it has to be?
It looks shiny in this photo. In life it is really glass-like.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fiberglass trees. http://prmdesigns.com/

View Jorge G.'s profile

Jorge G.

1526 posts in 1197 days


#32 posted 10-18-2012 06:26 AM

I had not seen this one Paul, beautiful work.

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

View shipwright's profile (online now)

shipwright

5224 posts in 1520 days


#33 posted 10-18-2012 06:57 PM

Thanks, It’s in my projects.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fiberglass trees. http://prmdesigns.com/

View Greg3G's profile

Greg3G

815 posts in 2807 days


#34 posted 10-18-2012 07:16 PM

There may be issue with expectations. Shellac is not as hard as polyurethane or lacquer. It scratches easier. If you are having issues with clouding, it may actually be your alcohol. I have run into this personally. Alcohol absorbs water, even from the atmosphere. It will cause a white haze to develop, especially in a humid atmosphere. The only solution at that point is to get fresh alcohol and rub the piece down until you remove the haze by removing those layers that are contaminated.

If the issue is small scratches, I’m not sure how this is happening. It may be a dusty environment that is adding dust as you polish. I would have to see it before I could give any advice on that.

-- Greg - Charles Town, WV

View PurpLev's profile

PurpLev

8476 posts in 2370 days


#35 posted 10-18-2012 07:30 PM

are you using dewaxed shellac by any chance? for a top shine coat you should use regular (waxed) shellac.

-- ㊍ When in doubt - There is no doubt - Go the safer route.

View Dusty56's profile

Dusty56

11678 posts in 2410 days


#36 posted 10-19-2012 03:01 AM

”The shellac I’m using is Rockler blonde shellac (de-waxed). At the moment, a 3 pound cut.”
He said in the beginning , Sharon : )

-- I'm absolutely positive that I couldn't be more uncertain!

View Purrmaster's profile

Purrmaster

807 posts in 815 days


#37 posted 10-19-2012 11:25 AM

Shipwright,

That is what I am trying to achieve.

I’ll try and take some pictures though I’m rather embarrassed to show you guys the crap job I’ve done.

I am using dewaxed shellac. Mostly because I had heard that was in some way preferable to waxed shellac. I think I’d like to try some of the non-dewaxed shellac, actually.

I’m going to sand down a piece of cherry I have and start practicing french polishing. What I had read was that french polishing doesn’t give as good a shine as buffing the daylights out of already applied shellac. You have convinced me otherwise.

View RussellAP's profile

RussellAP

2963 posts in 1008 days


#38 posted 10-19-2012 01:24 PM

If you’ve got a good ROS, I’d put some wet 600 on it and some oil and polish it that way. Then wax it. You’re not going to get a shine with ordinary sand paper no matter how fine. You need a good polishing oil, I think Matco has one, and some Abrinet 600 and make a good slurry with the ROS on a low setting. Should look like a piece of glass, but I don’t know what kind of wood you’re using.

-- A positive attitude will take you much further than positive thinking ever will.

View Purrmaster's profile

Purrmaster

807 posts in 815 days


#39 posted 10-20-2012 12:10 AM

The small sheets of micro mesh arrived today. I got sheets up to 12,000. I’m going to test these out and let you guys know how that goes.

The oils I’ve got available are mineral oil, paraffin oil, and linseed oil.

View Purrmaster's profile

Purrmaster

807 posts in 815 days


#40 posted 10-23-2012 03:10 AM

Update: I used the Micro Mesh. The results were slightly better than wet or dry sandpaper but not hugely so. Also, the Micro Mesh loaded up fast and very small bits of the shellac kept “flaking” off. The same thing happened with sandpaper but the sandpaper handled it better.

Please note that I sanded dry.

The bottom line: Not really worth getting Micro Mesh for shellac. It might work better on a lacquer finish.

I’m going to start practising French polishing on scrap wood.

View pintodeluxe's profile

pintodeluxe

3513 posts in 1535 days


#41 posted 10-23-2012 03:27 AM

I have sprayed shellac with great results using gravity feed HVLP guns. That said, I build arts and crafts furniture so I am never going for a high gloss finish.
Three coats of sprayed lacquer -without buffing it out – is the easiest and most durable way to achieve a gloss finish. I usually stop at two coats and buff it out with wax and #0000 steel wool for a satin finish.

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

View daviddoria's profile

daviddoria

50 posts in 660 days


#42 posted 12-09-2013 06:53 PM

@Purrmaster – I am having the same problem as you. After the last coat of sprayed shellac, I sanded with 1000 Wetdry, 1500 Wetdry, 2000 Wetdry, then polished with a cloth with Meguiars Mirro Glaze Swirl Remover 2.0. The result feels perfectly smooth to the touch and it a little bit reflective, but certainly not “mirror-like” like I was also hoping to achieve.

Any more thoughts on this?

Thanks,

David

View dbray45's profile

dbray45

2585 posts in 1498 days


#43 posted 12-09-2013 07:20 PM

I do want to add one thing that I have found about French polishing – do not use the box store shellac in a can on your really nice piece of furniture. Go out and get some good shellac flakes (shellac.com is one source) and make your own mixture. I found that this made all the difference in the quality of the work.

I have to admit that the only things that I have French polished were veneered pieces – mostly repairing antiques.

Paul – there is no question here, you do some really nice work – and you are retired???? You are just starting.

-- David in Damascus, MD

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