Finishing with shelac?

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Forum topic by piesafejim posted 11-14-2011 05:03 PM 1781 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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33 posts in 2679 days

11-14-2011 05:03 PM

Awhile back I started using shelac as a sealer for my projects, usually to be topcoated with laquer or water based poly. I am working on some curly maple pieces and i want to stay with shelac only. My delima is no matter if i brush or wipe on I am still not happy with the final result. My question for all you LJ’s out there is what do you use for your final sanding or how do you wet sand shelac or can you….. I anxiously await your answers.

9 replies so far

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10477 posts in 3795 days

#1 posted 11-14-2011 05:57 PM

It dries so fast avoiding lap marks can be tricky. You can try using a
“rubber” as I often do, experimenting with the french method.
Real french polishing takes some practice and it is a labor intensive
method, but the result can be very, very nice.

If brushed or wiped on, sand lightly between coats and let the
final coat cure for a week or so, then you can rub it out nice.

View PurpLev's profile


8540 posts in 3795 days

#2 posted 11-14-2011 10:36 PM

what do you mean when you say “not happy with the results”? what arent you happy about?

I noticed lately that several people mentioned they are having problems with shellac but am not sure why as it is of the easier finishes to put on. I will usually use a rag and ball it up (stretching the part touching the wood though) and wipe the finish on, wait for it to dry and sand with 320 between coats, rinse and repeat. last coat 400grit or 600, or light rub with steel wool

when wiping the edges you want to wipe ‘outwards’ (from the center of the part out) and not ‘inwards’ to avoid runouts and spills on the adjacent edge.

If it dries too fast on you, try thinning it down, and lightly overlap strokes. I wouldn’t worry much about marks during first coats as each additional coat will blend with the previous one – as long as you buff out the last coat properly you should be ok.

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

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Bill White

5072 posts in 4107 days

#3 posted 11-14-2011 11:10 PM

Look up numerous sites about “french polishing”. Lots of info available. The final result is beautiful. One of the classic finishes. It takes a lot of practice, but any errors can be reversed. That’s the beauty of shellac.
If that seems too much for ya (don’t be ashamed), use a wiping varnish over the shellac. That’s a great finish too.
Keep us posted about your outcome.


View Dave's profile


11429 posts in 2987 days

#4 posted 11-15-2011 02:56 AM

I have a problem with dry sanding. The paper will gum up. I wet sand between coats, with a little dish soap, and get great results. Once you get to your final grit you can wax it nicely.

-- Superdav "No matter where you go - there you are."

View JeremyPringle's profile


321 posts in 2621 days

#5 posted 11-15-2011 03:15 AM

Superdave. If your paper is gumming up, you are not waiting long enough for the shellac to cure, or you are sanding in one area too much. Shellac should sand off into a really nice powder and be super smooth to the touch.

I generally brush on my shellac, and I cut my own, I use about 1.5lb/cut. I can usually get the first two coats on right after the other, and then you just have to be really careful with the next few coats sanding in between of course as mentioned above. Then for the last 2 or 3 coats I switch to the LV french polish which I apply with a wadded up rag. Wait at least 5 days to a week, then I rub it out with 0000 steel wool.

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109 posts in 2782 days

#6 posted 11-18-2011 07:09 PM

As a beginning woodworker I also questioned the proper application for shellac in this forum. It seems what little I did know was the correct way. I apply my shellac straight from the can with either a foam brush or a pad. I take one swipe with the grain until the project is completely done. I then wait 2-3 hours to lightly sand it down with 320 SP block, blow it off with canned air, wait for 30 minutes for the dust to settle, wipe it down with a tack cloth and once again apply a light coat of shellac. I do this at least 3 or 4 times then wait until the next day to apply wax with #0000 steel wool. Do not let the wax dry, wipe it down with a soft cloth immediately. Actually I use a Bounty paper towel and the finish comes out slick and deep. I also read somewhere that applying a light base coat of BLO before applying the shellac was acceptable or recommended. Going to try that with my next project.

-- If it won't fit get a BIGGER hammer.

View Byron's profile


92 posts in 2527 days

#7 posted 11-19-2011 10:02 PM

TBH I think the best surface is generated from a well tuned hand plane. Sand paper damages the fibers of the wood so much in comparison that you lose alot of figure. Using a high angle plane or putting a back bevel on your plane iron prevents tear out. This is a much more dificult process but nothing beats it.

As far as putting down shellac I just found a great tutorial on french polishing :

A simpler method is taking a cotton cloth like a t-shirt that is ripped up, cutting into small squares, and folding up in a way so you have a rounded smooth edge of the cloth to work with. Dip and gather a moderate amount of shellac, you want to put on thin coats but fill the pores as much as possible. With maple you will not need to use pumice or a filler to build a polish, which is still a more difficult process I have yet to dive into. Wipe on a thin coat in a pattern you are comfortable with, the thinner you mix the shellac the longer you have to work with it until it will drag. I strongly recommend mixing your own shellac with denatured alcohol or anhydrous alcohol. I use denatured but anhydrous apparently reduces the water content and extends shelf life slightly.

Try to keep your coats as even as possible but do not go back and try to touch it up after the shellac starts to pull. You may need to rewet your rag as well. After your first coat dries, which will be rather quick, LIGHTLY sand with 320 or 220 grit sand paper, or scuff with a scotch bright. This depends on how even your coat is and what cut of shellac you use. Cut is how thick or thin you make the shellac flakes with alcohol. Continue this process until you start to build a smooth surface. Check every coat to make sure everything looks even and uniform as well as doing the blind man test, feeling the surface. If the surface pulls even slightly, when you sand or scuff wait for the shellac to dry longer. The goal is to get the surface uniform enough until you only have to buff between coats. To buff I use a brown paper towel folded so there are no ridges. A brown grocery bag seems to work well too. Eventually you should be able to buff the finish itself in to an extent, but you have to work quick. The final finish is buffed with the paper towel or scuffed with a scotch bright to get a more matte finish.

There are many ways to use shellac, this is a simple way I’ve used. I have a project I am getting photographed soon I finished a few days ago that I used this finish on.

-- Byron Conn, Woodworking/Furniture Design at Rochester Institute of Technology,

View usnret's profile


184 posts in 2655 days

#8 posted 11-19-2011 10:52 PM

I am working on a project right now and I put on a coat of BLO and then immediately put on shellac. I am using amber straight from the can. It is a little difficult because of the edges on the pieces, but if you get a run just lightly sand and apply another coat. I am not going for a french polish finish. I just put on 3 coats and wax. Rubbed out with 0000 between coats. I am using this on teak and it is beautiful.

-- Chief Petty Officer USN(RET) 1991-2011

View Howie's profile


2656 posts in 3070 days

#9 posted 11-20-2011 02:43 AM

How old is your shellac? It does have a shelf life.

-- Life is good.

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