Tips for a shellac newbie

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Forum topic by TheWoodenOyster posted 01-21-2014 02:08 AM 1157 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1317 posts in 1958 days

01-21-2014 02:08 AM

Topic tags/keywords: finishing

Hey guys,

I am doing a project with some very light sycamore wood and decided that I want to try to keep the finish pretty clear, and more importantly keep it from yellowing over time. I have heard that shellac is better at maintaining a clear color over time, so I bought a small can today to give it a whirl.

I am looking for any and all tips for shellac application. Never dealt with it before, I have been mostly a rub-on poly guy up to this point. I love trying out a new finish, and hopefully y’all can help me out!


-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

9 replies so far

View SuperCubber's profile


1026 posts in 2308 days

#1 posted 01-21-2014 04:48 AM

I’ll start by saying that I know this isn’t what you asked for, but it may help you achieve the look you’re going for.

If you want a clear finish, without “yellowing,” the best/easiest choice is probably water-based poly. It’s crystal clear and doesn’t yellow (advantage or disadvantage depending on what you’re trying to do). If you want a clear finish that is pretty durable and non-yellowing, that’s what I would do.

-- Joe | Spartanburg, SC | "To give anything less than your best is to sacrafice the gift." - Steve Prefontaine

View BilltheDiver's profile


255 posts in 2909 days

#2 posted 01-21-2014 05:54 AM

Shellac is one of my favorite finishes. It’s easy to apply, easy to repair, and you don’t have to sand between coats if you don’t want to. You didn’t say if you bought a rattle can or a regular can, but if you bought regular, I would suggest thinning the shellac between 1/4 and 1/2 with denatured alcohol, at least for the first couple of coats. Also be sure you didn’t buy garnet shellac if you want clear and colorless. Garnet will give you a red color. Sand, spray light coat, wait 15 minutes or so, spray again, keep going until you are happy with the result, but not too many coats. The reason you don’t have to sand between coats is that the coat you are applying partially dissolves the previous coat. If you manage to cause a sag or drip, let it dry a few hours, then sand it until it disappears and restart the process. No need to sand to the wood. I like to rub it out with wax on 0000 steel wool after the final coat for a smooth satin finish.

-- "Measure twice, cut once, count fingers"

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

4999 posts in 2517 days

#3 posted 01-21-2014 12:32 PM

Shellac is absolutely color fast (never changes) but the wood might, so you may still see some shift over the years. The other thing is that shellac isn’t water clear, it does some tint to it though not as much as stuff made with linseed oil (varnish). I’ve used a lot of shellac, and still can’t brush it. I can pad it on, and I can spray it. So practice on somehitng first to see if you get the results you want. One thing about it, if you brush it and get streaks, you can easily fix it. Using a pad dampened with DNA, it’s easily smoothed out.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2384 days

#4 posted 01-21-2014 02:18 PM

Forget the shellac. If it’s a small job: rattlecan lacquer. Big job: waterborne poly.

-- 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 Jim Finn's profile

Jim Finn

2657 posts in 2945 days

#5 posted 01-22-2014 12:30 AM

I use shellac for sanding coats only and finish with a gloss acrylic finish from a rattle can.

-- Website is No PHD just a DD214 and a GED

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 2713 days

#6 posted 01-22-2014 01:34 AM Shellac is my favorite finish and this is my favorite technique to apply it:

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

View OSU55's profile


1697 posts in 2013 days

#7 posted 01-22-2014 02:35 PM

If it’s a project that doesn’t need much durability, shellac is an excellent choice. You probably bought Zinsser waxed shellac, which is a good product as long as you are not wanting to topcoat it. If brushing, use a golden taklon brush – with shellac the brush is increadibly important because it dries so quickly. Thin shellac to a 1-1/2 lb cut with DNA, which is 50% if you bought Zinsser. Jeff Jewitt at Homestead Finishing Products has videos and other info on shellac.

View TheWoodenOyster's profile


1317 posts in 1958 days

#8 posted 01-23-2014 05:43 AM

Thanks for the tips guys. I’ll be taking them into account as I work on this project. I am working on some sample boards and will try the techniques y’all suggested

-- The Wood Is Your Oyster

View RHaynes's profile


112 posts in 1644 days

#9 posted 01-23-2014 07:57 AM

+1 on the french polish. But when I FP, I use a little bit of pumice powder also. Woodcraft sells it in a can, the same size/style as popcorn salt or that fake parmesan cheese. You can build a really smooth, clear finish this way. Good luck!

-- "Sometimes the creative process requires foul language." -- Charles Neil.

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