Should I or Shouldn't I use Shellac?

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Forum topic by HuntleyBill posted 02-07-2011 04:52 AM 5588 views 0 times favorited 8 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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103 posts in 3086 days

02-07-2011 04:52 AM

I am building an entertainment center for my wife out of cherry. I had planned on finishing it with a coat of boiled linseed oil and then shellac. After buying and reading Bob Flexner’s book on finishing, I’m not so sure now.

I love the look of natural cherry. Is shellac a good finish for an entertainment center or would I be better off with poly? I have used poly in the past and I find shellac easier to use…and more forgiving.

What would you recommend?

Thanks for your help.

-- If you think you can, or think you can't...your right!

8 replies so far

View Dandog's profile


250 posts in 2770 days

#1 posted 02-07-2011 05:00 AM

HuntleyBill check out our friend the woodwhisper, he shows poly over shellac so you might want to use both.
video 128 finishes

-- life an woodworking is one big experiment

View Loren's profile


10380 posts in 3643 days

#2 posted 02-07-2011 05:02 AM

Shellac is great stuff. Very easy to use. It does wear more than poly
though. On surfaces where people put drinks it gets messed up over
time but it is not too hard to repair it.

I love shellac. It goes on so fast and easily, gives you a lot of control
and really looks great. I would give the oil maybe a month to cure
before topcoating with shellac. This will help prevent long-term
smells emanating from the piece as a the oil cures and outgasses
through the shellac. While the smell of linseed oil curing is pleasant
to me (I don’t think gasses are toxic), your wife may not like it.

View Todd A. Clippinger's profile

Todd A. Clippinger

8901 posts in 4095 days

#3 posted 02-07-2011 05:10 AM

Just go poly, you don’t need the shellac.

Poly & lacquer both will enhance the grain and make it “pop” without the use of shellac.

Many woodworking magazine articles espouse using shellac under all finishes and it is simply not necessary.

As a pro I have invested in more finishing equipment than most woodworkers are willing to, but the good news is that a wipe-on poly is a great way to go. Some of my jobs require a polyurethane finish and I just pick up a can of MinWax wipe-on poly.

Before I started spraying catalyzed lacquers, the wipe-on poly provided a finish that has proved to be durable over time and was easy to apply.

There is no need to use shellac or boiled linseed oil or any multi-step finish program here. Just use the wipe-on poly and maybe a stain of your choice.

If you have questions and need to talk don’t hesitate to ask and I can call you or look up my site and grab my phone # and call me.

When it comes to finishing keep it simple. This is a theme that I constantly am trying to get people to understand. Here is another LJ member that made things more difficult than necessary and he had issues.

-- Todd A. Clippinger, Montana,

View Scott Bryan's profile

Scott Bryan

27250 posts in 3818 days

#4 posted 02-07-2011 06:22 AM

I tend to agree with Todd. You can skip the shellac and go straight to the poly. However, Loren makes a good point also in that shellac is an excellent finish, itself. As Loren mentioned contact with alcohol or water should be avoided as chemicals such as these can damage the finish.

I generally will use shellac as a seal coat when I have applied a dye or stain to prevent the finish coat from lifting off some of the material. My usual routine with cherry is to apply a coat of boiled linseed oil after sanding to 180 grit. Allow at least 48 hours to dry and then apply poly either as a wipe on or spray. When the top coat is dry lightly sand with 320 grit, remove the sanding dust and apply another coat. Repeat until satisfied with the finish.

-- Challenges are what make life interesting; overcoming them is what makes life meaningful- Joshua Marine

View poopiekat's profile


4354 posts in 3730 days

#5 posted 02-07-2011 06:57 AM

HuntlyBill is probably concerned with ‘splotchyness’ which was not mentioned in the above replies.

-- Einstein: "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift." I'm Poopiekat!!

View Dan Lyke's profile

Dan Lyke

1520 posts in 4121 days

#6 posted 02-07-2011 07:03 AM

The problem I have with poly on big pieces is getting it on in a pattern that doesn’t have it drying before I finish with an area. The nice thing about shellac is that the alcohol dissolves the shellac again, so if some of it dries, no worries, just go back over that area.

But wipe-on poly has been pretty forgiving for me. So I guess the question is: What don’t you like about shellac? The water rings from wet glasses? The yellow tint? Something else? Finishing is compromises between things you don’t like, so in the end it becomes pretty personal. I like shellac, but in practice I usually end up with wipe-on poly because I want a tougher surface.

-- Dan Lyke, Petaluma California,

View Pop's profile


427 posts in 3942 days

#7 posted 02-07-2011 07:12 AM

I have a good friend who makes period furniture for a living as his father and grandfather before him. He has finishing down. Here are a few of his tricks. He puts a small amount around 1 to 4, 5, or 6 of wipe on poly in the boiled linseed oil to speed up drying. His furniture is finished in multipliable coats of shellac, but all top surfaces get additional coats of wipe on poly. The poly is for protection of surfaces that may get damaged.


-- One who works with his hands is a laborer, his hands & head A craftsman, his hands, head & heart a artist

View Paul C.'s profile

Paul C.

154 posts in 3241 days

#8 posted 02-07-2011 08:41 AM

I use shellac over blo and it’s great. I can’t use anything with nasty solvents, so that pretty well limits me to, well, shellac and tried and true. I would love to use poly, but the solvents would make my daughter nuts.

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