Shellac as a base coat

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Forum topic by matt123 posted 06-23-2013 08:18 AM 8887 views 0 times favorited 26 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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18 posts in 1763 days

06-23-2013 08:18 AM


I recently tried using shellac as a basecoat under an arm r seal top coat, nothing else involved. And it looks real nice. I felt like I needed to post this because alot of people talk about how you don’t need shellac as a basecoat if you are just going to use a oil top coat. its true, you don’t “need” it, but it does look better IMO. You always hear about the other practical uses for shellac but I wanted to mention how it can look as just a basecaot.

It adds a shimmer to the wood like the way light bounces off silk, and it high-lights the grain better than plain oil based top coats. It also allows you to get two coats on in one day plus a coat of tougher finish on after, all in one day, thus building a finish much faster.

I had three cherry shelves, one I did with minwax poly, one with zar oil modified waterborne poly, and one with shellac and arm r seal. The shellac/arm r seal was the nicest by far.

26 replies so far

View waho6o9's profile


8162 posts in 2540 days

#1 posted 06-23-2013 12:25 PM

Good to know, thanks for posting.

View Wildwood's profile


2297 posts in 2097 days

#2 posted 06-23-2013 01:18 PM

Some film finishing manufacturers actually tell you not to use waxed or dewaxed shellac under their products because of compatibility issues. Lot of that might have something to do with type of shellac.

If understand need dewaxed shellac, and what a wash or sealer coat of shellac all about might not have problems. Think Zinseer’s seal coat does not contain wax.

Basically, a wash or sealer coat nothing more than thinned film finish. Other than seal wood pores helps build film finish faster. You can thin any film finish with proper solvent to accomplish that goal!

When using lacquer almost always use thinned lacquer as a seal coat first.

-- Bill

View matt123's profile


18 posts in 1763 days

#3 posted 06-23-2013 01:38 PM

I was using zinsser dewaxed shellac. I know alot of it is personal preference, but I felt the dewaxed shellac added to the look more so than just an oil urethane or poly finish. I will be using the shellac and arm r seal to make a wood slab kitchen table for appliances and stuff, I will post those pictures when I am done. Actually that Marc “wood whisper” dude has a youtube video of using shellac under arm r seal, the link is below but the finishing is at the end of the clip.

View Finisherman's profile


227 posts in 1812 days

#4 posted 06-24-2013 01:17 AM

Good post. Dewaxed shellac makes an excellent sealer coat under virtually any film finish, even poly and waterborne finishes. The shellac adds a chatoyancy that is hard to beat. In fact, a coat of dewaxed shellac will add a great deal of depth to an otherwise pale looking waterborne finish. I’m glad that your project turned out so well.

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2324 days

#5 posted 06-24-2013 11:27 PM

It’s unnecessary. Any difference you note is simply because the shellac will add a pale amber tone to whatever you put on top of it.

-- 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 OggieOglethorpe's profile


1276 posts in 2073 days

#6 posted 06-25-2013 05:36 PM

”It’s unnecessary. Any difference you note is simply because the shellac will add a pale amber tone to whatever you put on top of it.”

If an ingredient in a finishing process changes the final look in a matter that is desired, wouldn’t that make it necessary? ;^)

View matt123's profile


18 posts in 1763 days

#7 posted 06-25-2013 06:06 PM

I understand how it is not “needed” or “unnecessary”, but I do see a difference and I just wanted to point out that de-waxed shellac as a base coat “can” add a nicer look to a finish. Someone used the word chatoyancy, I looked it up and this is exactly what I was talking about.

Also, as a hobbyist, 15 bucks on a de-waxed shellac is not breaking the bank.

View chrisstef's profile


17299 posts in 2969 days

#8 posted 06-25-2013 06:30 PM

Ive become very fond of shellac as a finish. Ive started mixing my own flakes with DNA to vary the cut. There’s a bit of a learning curve with it all though. Im still learnin buit ill get it.

-- Its not a crack, its a casting imperfection.

View Wildwood's profile


2297 posts in 2097 days

#9 posted 06-25-2013 08:00 PM

All shellac’s impart color to wood, which is fine by me. Dewaxed shellac makes a good spit, 1 lb cut, seal or wash coat 2 lbs cut and regular top coat 3 lbs cut. May be mixed up on cuts or shellac to denatured alcohol and terms but experienced finishers understand.

A 1 lbs spit coat might be okay to stop two different colored woods from bleeding into each other or as a seal coat. Yet some will swear by 2 lbs cut for that purpose and sealing wood surface. Still others throw out any proportion and just mix their shellac for whatever purpose they have.

If buy Zinsser’s Bulls Eye shellac 3 lbs cut, will have to thin for sealing coat. If buy Zinsser’s Bulls Eye Seal coat 2lbs cut no thinning required.

I feel there is a type and shade of shellac for every piece of wood known to mankind. If want to impart a particular hue choose the appropriate shellac for the job. As long as not going to top coat it with another film finish waxed shellac okay. Just watch number of coats too many might get you lot of streaking. You can usually use thinned dewaxed shellac under waxed shellac and as a top coat to avoid streaks. Better to practice on scrap first to achieve effect looking for. Refinishers use a lot of waxed shellac restoring old furniture.

Discovered by accident can thin almost any film finish to serve as a sealer coat so stopped fooling with shellac for that purpose. Only film finish that do not thing before use is waterborne poly.

-- Bill

View CharlieM1958's profile


16274 posts in 4181 days

#10 posted 06-25-2013 08:54 PM

chrisstef: Whose DNA are you mixing the shellac flakes with? :-)

-- Charlie M. "Woodworking - patience = firewood"

View HorizontalMike's profile


7749 posts in 2877 days

#11 posted 06-25-2013 09:07 PM

FYI, I read recently about adding up 10% Isopropyl Alcohol as your shellac thinner to give you a longer open time to let the shellac flow. I did this on my most recent project coffee table. I sprayed with a 40lb HVLP gun in 80-90F weather and it worked out very well, in my semi-novice shellacing experience.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

4901 posts in 3923 days

#12 posted 06-25-2013 09:14 PM

You don’t have enough time to hear about my raves for dewaxed shellac. I can, and will, comment about the value of Seal Coat for a primary coating. Others might poo poo my affinity for this product, but I have never had a finish failure from using shellac. Just be sure to use the dewaxed Seal Coat. Waxed stuff will make for some probs
It will be well worth your time to watch this vid



View matt123's profile


18 posts in 1763 days

#13 posted 06-26-2013 12:22 PM

Perhaps another good question if anyone has time is- What types of topcoats do you prefer with dewaxed shellac and which types of wood benefit (at least visually) from a shellac base coat most?

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2324 days

#14 posted 06-26-2013 01:33 PM

There is no benefit to shellac as a base coat. All film forming finishes can and should be applied directly to raw wood.

-- 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 NiteWalker's profile


2736 posts in 2540 days

#15 posted 06-26-2013 03:35 PM

My 99% of the time finishing schedule is a coat of sealcoat followed by crystalac super premium. Because the crystalac is a water borne, it makes a big difference putting the shellac down first. Curly maple looks good without the shellac and only crystalac, but really pops with sealcoat first.

Another advantage, crystalac costs about twice the sealcoat. I’d rather not be spraying expensive finish as my sealer coat.

So there’s two benefits the sealcoat has for me.

-- He who dies with the most tools... dies with the emptiest wallet.

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