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The History and Use of Shellac
Artisans of the Valley is a museum quality antique restoration
and reproduction shop specializing in shellac finishes. Over the
years, we have found ourselves explaining shellac finishes and
educating our clients as to its use and history, as well as proper
maintenance and repair techniques. Shellac has been used for several
thousand years, and to experienced finishers and restorers of fine
furniture the world over, shellac remains the finish of choice.
One of the most elegant finishes for furniture, French Polish,
is done with shellac. Conservators and restorers of antiques use
shellac for re-finishing antiques. This text is designed to provide
a thorough background in this unique product.
To the average person, shellac has a jaded history
of poor water and heat resistance, difficulties in application,
and limited durability. We are constantly hit with this persona
by clients and especially other woodworkers, always with the classic
intolerance of a “white ring under the glass.” Some
of these objections are valid, but in general the objects to shellac
are unfounded or easily overcome by using proper tools, techniques,
and most important - proper product.
True Early American antiques were finished in, and must be restored
in almost exclusively shellac to maintain their full value. Applying
hand cut shellacs is key to matching the original methods and appearance
of past craftsmen. This is our primary use of shellac products,
but the heritage of this unique compound is far greater than just
Almost everyone has heard of Shellac, but very few truly understand
it's origin and common uses. Shellac is perhaps the father of the
modern plastics industry; the fact is that the original goal of
this industry was to replicate the characteristics of shellac with
various additional qualities. These attempts lead to forks and
turns in the road to a vast array of industries and products.
The original cultivation of shellac was not for the resin as a
furniture finish, but rather, for the dye that gives the resin
its characteristic color. Shellac is remained an important export
commodity for India and Western Europe throughout its history.
The use of lac dye can be traced back to 250 AD when it was mentioned
by Claudius Aelianus, a Roman writer in a volume on natural history.
The first use of shellac as a protective coating appears as early
as 1590 in a work by an English writer while visiting India and
documenting local cultures, an extract from his text provides
one of the earliest known observations of shellac application.
"Commenting on a procedure for
applying lac to wood still on the lathe he writes "they take a peece
of Lac of what colour they will, and as they turne it when it commeth
to his fashion they
spread the Lac upon the whole peece of woode which presently, with
the heat of the turning (melteth the waxe) so that it entreth into
the crestes and cleaveth unto it, about the thicknesse of a man's
naile: then they burnish it (over) with a broad straw or dry Rushes
so (cunningly) that all the woode is covered withall, and it shineth
like glasse, most pleasant to behold, and continueth as long as
the woode being well looked unto: in this sort they cover all kinde
of house-hold stuffe in India". -
From Shellac; its production, manufacture, chemistry analysis,
commerce and uses. London, Sir I. Pitman & Sons, ltd., 1935
This dye remained a valuable commodity until the mid-1800's,
when Perkins, an English chemist, synthesized the first chemical
dyes which killed the natural dye industry. Fortunately, for
the industry, dye has already been relegated to a fraction
of the total
trade, and resin was firmly established as a mainstay.
The use of shellac as a furniture finish never caught on in the
West until the early 1800’s, it eventually replaced wax,
and unrefined oil finishes. It remained the most widely used protective
finish for wood until the 1920's and 30's when the nitrocellulose
lacquer proliferated the furniture industry.
The Life Cycle of a Lac Bug
Where does this versatile product come from? It’s nothing
more than the organic secretions of a humble scale insect, one
of 2000 known species of such creatures known Laccifer Lacca, or
the “lac bug.”
Lac bugs, about the size of an apple seed, live attached to trees,
in great numbers, called lac host trees where they secrete lac
resin, the raw material for shellac. These little creatures offer
a massive destructive power, but are never the less are a critical
part of their environment in many regions. Lac insects lead a short
six-month life cycle consisting of four stages: egg, larva, pupa
and adult. A six-month cycle offers two harvest seasons per year.
Females lay up to 100 eggs in the form of a brood lac, containing
the female lac insect attached onto fresh new twigs of trees, known
as a lac host trees. The eggs are destined to become larvae as
they hatch small and red, roughly 0.5mm, long. Larvas leave the
brood lac, or mother cell, and settle on nearby twigs to begin
their feast of sap.
Well equip for the task ahead of them, each armed a long trunk-like
mouthpart, or proboscis, the lac larva draw out tree sap for food.
Their first meals begin a process of secretion is exuded from their
bodies which is in essence a protective covering to prevent an
attack by predators. This secretion eventually forms hard resinous
layers, completely covering the bug except for small anal and breathing
openings. The insects mature into adults under this protective
layer, both sexes become sexually mature in about eight weeks.
During this period, the male insect undergoes a complete metamorphosis,
or transformation into another form. The male loses his proboscis
in exchange for antennae, legs, and a single pair of wings. The
male cell is slightly longer than the female cell, and features
a small round trap door. When he emerges, using the trap door,
his life in the outside world consists of walking over the females,
and fertilizing them. He then proceeds to die …
The female cell, rounded in shape, and remains fixed to the twig.
She retains her mouthparts, but fails to develop any wings or eyes.
During development, she forms rudimentary antennae and legs, however
she is immobile, existing as shell-like organism with little resemblance
to an insect. Females are little more than egg producing organisms.
As the female lays her eggs, she continues to grow; all the while
increasing lac resin is secretion to maintain a continuously expanding
outer layer. After fourteen weeks the female contracts, allowing
light into the cell, then lays her eggs. When the eggs hatch they
emerge as larvae and the whole process begins all over again. Her
ovaries contain a crimson fluid, called lac dye, which resembles
cochineal (a coloring used mainly in the food industry and derived
from dried bodies of coccus insects).
After the cycle has been completed, and around the time when the
next generation begin to emerge, the resin encrusted branches are
harvested. They are scraped off, dried, and processed to form shellac.
A portion of broodlac is retained from the previous crop to produce
the new crop.
Areas of Cultivation
India and Thailand are the main areas in the world where lac is
cultivated. Over 90% of Indian lac comes from the States of Bihar,
Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra, and Orissa. Lac insects
thrive on certain trees and the principal lac host trees in India
are Palas, Kusum, and Ber. India exports different grades of handmade
and machine made shellac, as well as a limited quantity of refuse
lac, namely kiri, molamma, etc.
Lac production was introduced from India to Thailand where the
rain-tree is the principal lac host. Thailand exports sticklac
and seedlac. Today India is responsible for 50% of the world production.
Most of the finished shellac is exported.
Methods of Production
After the trees have been infected with broodlac, the crop requires
little or no attention until harvest. Cultivation is involves scraping
off the twigs, gathering of fresh moisture rich shellac. Fresh
harvests are left to dry before being sold. The gathering process
usually takes place villages, gathering small quantities brought
to local markets, eventually massed for sale to manufacturers or
The quality and value of sticklac depends very much upon a variety
of factors such as the host tree, the climate, whether the crop
is harvested before or after the emergence of the larvae, and methods
of drying and storage. In India, the yield of sticklac averages
three quarters the weight of broodlac used.
The lac scraped from the branches is known as crude lac or sticklac.
Crude lac or stick-lac, consists of the resin, the encrusted insects,
lac dye, and twigs. This is crushed, washed, dried to form Seedlac.
The Seedlac is then converted into Shellac by hand or machine.
Wm. Zinsser & Co of New Jersey, USA, is the world's largest
shellac firm. About 20 workers bleach and dewax tens of thousands
of pounds of shellac each day. The plant is even inspected regularly
by rabbis to retain its kosher rating.
The sticklac is crushed and sieved to remove sand and dust. It
is then washed, breaking up the encrusted twigs and insect bodies,
plus allowing the lac dye to wash out. The decaying insect bodies
offer a deep red water that can be reduced into a concentrated
dye. The remaining resin is dried, winnowed, meaning fanned and
separated, then sieved to get the commercial variety of seedlac.
The dusty lac eliminated by sieving is known as molamma lac or
The lac dye was removed by the initial washing of the shellac resin
in large kettles, which is also the first step in preparing the
resin. Traditionally seedlac is processed by hand in long narrow
cloth bags, heated by a charcoal fire. The cleaned shellac is slowly
forced out leaving impurities such as insect bodies or twigs inside
The residue left inside the cloth bag is another variety of refuse
lac known as Kirilac. The filtered mass is drawn into sheets approximately
0.5cm thick and thinner by skilled workmen and made into different
varieties that constitute commercial shellac e.g. Lemon I Shellac,
Lemon II Shellac, Buttonlac and Standard I Shellac. Shellac varies
in color from yellow to deep orange. When bleached it is called
made Shellac is produced by either melting using steam heat and
squeezing the soft molten lac through filter; by means
of hydraulic presses; or using solvents. Machines, rather than
the traditional hand processing are being increasingly used by
the lac Industry.
Over shellacs the ability to produce cleaner and purer resins
developed, however true antique restorers know the tricks of the
trade involve the use shellacs to produce a rich, warm, deep patina
matching years of oxidation in the woods surface for reproductions
or masking the restored finish layers by using hand cut unrefined
the end of all the stretching, washing, and refining the shellac
is dried. Often in outdoors in the sun. It is then stored in cool
dry conditions until ready to be packaged for shipment.
Properties of a Natural substance known as Shellac
Synthetic resins have for the most part displaced Shellac’s
leading role in many products, but the public's incessant return
to ‘natural' and non-toxic compounds may be leading to an
encouraging comeback. As obvious from it’s use as food preservative
and coloring, shellac is entirely non-toxic and FDA approved.
Shellac is hard, and practically odorless, in the cold, but evolves
a characteristic smell on heating or melting. Superior grades are
light yellow in color, while the inferior grades range from deep
orange brown to almost dark red. It is a powerful bonding material
with low thermal conductivity.
It is resistant to the action of ultraviolet rays, and has tenacious
adhesive qualities, sticking to anything from porous wood to glossy
smooth surfaces. If you’ve ever tried to clean it off glass
- you’ll understand, and Shellac is one of the only products
capable of sealing in the smell of urine!
It dries to the touch in less than fifteen minutes, reducing or
if properly applied, eliminating drips. It can be softened and
molded like clay or dissolved in solvent, melted into existing
finishes, and spread whisper thin.
A Versatile Compound
Zinsser Company is currently the largest US shellac importer/supplier.
Their name is obviously associated with "Bulls Eye" brand shellac,
but Zinsser reports the top four uses for shellac are actually
pharmaceutical, confectionery, hats, and food coatings, in order
from highest to
coatings for wood ranks about number eight.
The facts of this section pass far beyond woodworking,
but hold relevance to understanding the extensive useful characteristics
of a simple product. Because of its specific characteristics, it
has a wide variety of modern uses far past the “white ring” finish.
Almost everyone is familiar with shellac, and it’s use as
a finish. Now that you are up to date on it’s origin, there
are countless other common uses for this product.
Pharmaceutical - Shellac is used to coat enteric
pills so that they do not dissolve in the stomach, but in the lower
which alleviates upset stomachs.
Shellac is approved by the FDA as a food safe coating. Solvents
must be pure ethanol (not denatured).
One common use is in protective candy coatings or glazes on candies
like Reese's Pieces, because of its unique ability to provide a
gloss in relatively thin coatings, even M&M's.
This Non-toxic glaze is also used for fruit, coffee beans, and
Leather & Hats - Shellac is used to stiffen
felt used to make hats. It allows the makers to shape the felt
into brims, bowl shapes,
Uses - There are thousands
of uses for shellac, some you'd never think of. Examples include:
Manufacture of grinding wheels, acting as an adhesive that breaks
down at low
heat allowing the
wheels to slowly
dissolve and self-clean. Early electrical insulators (shown right)
employed shellac as a glue, it bonds glass and metal surprisingly
at the time the 78-record was popular, records were largest single
outlet for shellac.
Shellac is used as a dye, previously in fabric,
and to this day in oriental carpets. It is a component in rubber
compounds, as a sealing wax, component in gasket cement, as a
mould for dental plates, as printing ink. It is even found in cosmetics
such as hair lacquer. Even the finish on playing cards often
Shellac is a common additive to lipstick and makeup products. Added to the finish and improving the binding ability of these products.
Lac By-Products and Derivatives
Shellac acid derivatives include Aleuritic Acid, Jalaric acid
and Shellolic acid. By-products obtained during manufacture of
shellac include molamma, kiri, passewa, shellac wax and lac dye.
Molamma is usually in the form of a fine dust, obtained during
winnowing, sieving, or washing seedlac; Kiri is the residue retained
in the cloth bag after refining seedlac into shellac by hot filtration.
It contains sand, insect debris and other impurities; Passewa is
obtained by boiling the cloth bag used for refining seedlac and
is available as thick slabs; Shellac wax is retrieved from shellac
and has properties similar to carnauba wax; Lac dye (laccaic acid)
is obtained during the washing of seedlac.
The finished product are dry flakes, Dry shellac flakes store
indefinitely, under proper conditions, but contrary to what you
may hear, it won't store forever in just any location. Sealed bags,
preferably vacuum packaged, prevent moister from entering the resins
and provide for an almost unlimited shelf life.
Dry shellac reacts with itself when exposed to moister, forming
polymers that are insoluble in alcohol. Shellacs that have been
dewaxed are even more susceptible to this. You can extend the usable
life of dry shellac flakes by storing them after purchase in a
cool, dry area - a refrigerator is best.
A test for suspected old shellac is easy - simply dissolve the
flakes in alcohol. Most shellacs should be totally dissolved within
three days. If you see a gelatinous un-dissolved mass after this
time discard the shellac; it is past its usable life. If you just
purchased it, consider returning the batch to your supplier and
notify them that this batch is now past its prime.
Sometimes in summer months, shellac will cake
together. This is known in the industry as "blocking" and
is not a sign of bad shellac. Break up the shellac with a hammer
it in alcohol as usual. Heat causes this, as shellac begins to
melt at low temperatures.
For use as furniture finish, shellac is dissolved
in ethanol, and a chemical process known as etherification begins.
Over time, the
alcohol chemically modifies the hard shellac resins, ultimately
turning them into a sticky gum, which doesn't dry - the result
is shellacs reputation for “never drying.” Large manufacturers
such as Zinsser have an expiration date, usually three years from
the production date, but for the best results and working properties,
you achieve better results if you prepare your own shellac from
dry flakes. A small stockpile of individual sealed bags is the
sign of a good restoration shop.
Shellac does solidify properly in hot weather, and this is a problem
in many countries. It is best stored in air-conditioned warehouses
maintaining a temperature between 14-18 degrees C. Air-conditioned
storage ships and containers are often employed to ensure the arrival
of shellac reaches its destination in useable condition.
Dissolve dry shellac flakes in denatured ethanol, which is sold
in most paint stores. It also dissolves in methanol, butyl, and
propyl alcohol. Methanol will evaporate the quickest, followed
by ethanol, butyl, and propyl alcohol. The last two alcohols, butyl
and propyl can be added to shellac dissolved in ethanol in small
amounts to act as retardants.
Retardants act to slow the evaporation of solvent alcohol and prolong
the functional application time, an important factor when brushing.
Lacquer retardant can also be used, as well as methanol, but these
both impart a very toxic factor so its general use is discouraged.
Shellac as a finish is a solution, the solid resins
of shellac dissolved in alcohol, usually denatured alcohol. The
ratio of dry
shellac flakes, in weight, dissolved in liquid volume of alcohol
is known as the cut. The traditional stock ratio is 3lbs of flakes
per 1 gallon of alcohol. Experience over years of application taught
woodworkers that this traditional formula works for almost every
Custom cuts of shellac are often employed to produce specific
results. Cuts over 3lb quickly become thick and gel like, and almost
unusable as a furniture finish.
A light cut, say a 1lb cut, acts as a sealer, a thin unobtrusive
layer usually designed to begin the process of grain sealing and
raising. A seal coat is often employed as a base for other finishes
such as paint, or even a full 3lb cut of shellac. Cuts less than
1lb are employed in a process known as “sizing,” or
lightly sealing the grain of a material to reduce the penetration
of dies or pigments.
Pro’s and Cons
All finishes have basic advantages and disadvantages when compared
to their colleagues. Shellac directly competes for industry attention
with Lacquer, Varnish, Urethane, Acrylic, and Epoxy based finishes.
1. Natural substance, penetrating wood and enhancing the natural
beauty and grain patterns.
2. Non-yellowing when compared to varnish and cellulose nitrate
3. Quick drying, many shellacked items can used the same day or
4. Wide variety of colors available, close compatibility with trans-tint
dies and other pigments.
5. Superior adhesion, bonds in situations that easily reject a
6. Excellent hardness, it can be sanded and rubbed out well proven
by the French Polish Process.
7. Excellent as a sealer coat to raise the fibers of the wood for
8. Seals in finishing contaminants such as silicone, waxes, dirt,
urine, and oils. Even preventing stains from bleeding through paint.
9. Ease of repair, shellac can be re-emulsified to remove scratches
and other minor surface imperfections completely
10. Easy application of fresh layers, new shellac melts into the
old shellac allowing for perfect repair work.
11. Ease of removal, simply dissolve with denatured alcohol, eliminating
the need for harmful and toxic strippers.
12. Application is practical with a pad, brush, or spray with equal
13. FDA approved – safe for food utensils and children's
14. No unpleasant or toxic fumes or carcinogens.
1. It re-dissolves in alcohol so perfumes and strong alcoholic
beverages like whiskey will mar the surface. Keep in
mind that simple nail polish remover or some hair products
destroy lacquer, varnish, and some urethane finishes.
2. Forms white rings on contact with water, a primary
concern with non-dewaxed shellac and aged shellac surfaces.
3. Tendency to show scratches due to a low molecular
weight as compared to finishes like acrylics and polyurethane,
higher molecular weight. The resistance to scratches
can be improved by a simple waxing.
4. Has a shelf life once in solution.
5. Not resistant to alkaline compounds. Alkaline chemicals,
such as lye and ammonia, discolor and mar shellac because
of its acidic
composition. These chemicals are frequently found in
household cleaning products.
6. Sensitivity to heat, softening at 150 degrees Fahrenheit
and sustaining serious damage from pots or oven dishes.
In the defense of shellac, many of its disadvantages base in misconception
and misuse. Two of the most common ones can be easily explained.
The first is that it won't dry. This problem can be avoided by
using freshly dissolved shellac flakes. The second complaint against
shellac is poor moisture resistance. This can be overcome by using
dewaxed shellac and fresh pro-duct. Using old shellac solution
will decrease its moisture resistance.
You can easily prove this. Take a board that has been finished
with fresh shellac and after it has fully dried (about a week),
pour some water on the finish and let it sit overnight. When you
come back the next morning you will still see the puddle of water,
but the finish will be only slightly marred. Shellacs ability to
withstand water decreases with the age of the film; so don't try
this on old finishes.
Ironically, shellac is that it resists water vapor very well,
in fact defeating its synthetic competition often thought
surpass it under United States Forest Products Laboratory testing.
The moisture-excluding effectiveness of wood finishes, or the
ability of a finish to prevent moisture vapor from entering
structure of the wood, of shellac exceeded polyurethane, alkyd,
and phenolic varnish, and cellulose nitrate based lacquers. Keep
in mind that some of the disadvantages, like scratching and marring
with alkalis, are easily repaired because of one of shellac's
great advantages -- its ease of repair.
Shellac Finish Descriptions
Descriptions From www.shellac.net
SEED Lac, Kusmi
Neutral Brown and unprocessed. Excellent for older antique
restorations and repairs. With bug parts,
tree parts, etc.
Seedlac requires straining after dissolved. Strain
seedlac to remove
SEED Lac, Dark
Deep Brown, seedlac is excellent for use
on darker woods, for antique restoration and, repair. Strain
seedlac to remove
KusmiRed Brown #2
Buttonlac is a unique shellac product preferred by restorers
and those looking for a very protective shellac finish. It
is superb for French polishing because of its hardness.
processing of buttonlac polymerizes it, resulting in a
very tough material. Adds a great tone to woods like mahogany,
oak, cherry, and douglas fir.
There are two colors: Kusmi
#1, and Kusmi #2, Reddish Brown. The numbers refer to the
of year when the shellac is harvested. Specify: Kusmi
#1 Caramel Amber -or Kusmi #2 Reddish Brown.
This is made from seedlac of Bysakhi origin (summer season
from Palas and Ber trees, an April - June/July crop).
is a hard resin, brownish in color, and is prepared in
the Hand made process by heating the seedlac in a cotton
The resin secretes through the pores of the cloth and the
molten shellac is formed into buttons.
GARNET Lac (Granta)
Deep Rich Brown, with a warm cast. Excellent
on mahogany, walnuts, and for darker cherry tones.
Machine Made TN
Shellac of a medium yellow similar in tone to yellow. MMTN
is extremely thin and dissolves Very Quickly.
This thicker flake has a rich Cinnamon
Orange tone in the flake form. Use for Shellac finishes on
Mahogany, Cherry etc.
LEMON Yellow / Orange
An excellent general purpose shellac,
light yellow creamy color.
Deep Rich Brown-Red cast.
Deep rich orange color, perfect to blend
new wood with aged golden oak patina.
General purpose and undercoat. Rich yellow-orange
BEIGE, pale, slightly golden toned.
Light Pale Transparency.
VERY Light Pale Transparent.
Extra LITE Pale Platinum Blonde Transparent
Shellac can be applied by practically any method – brushing,
padding, or spraying. Most common applications are a simply brushing
on a thin even coat for a finish. Never shake or power mix shellac,
it imparts air bubbles and moister in the finish which are very
difficult to remove later without completely removing the failed
finish. Preparing shellac requires only a slow hand stirring
with a flat paint stick.
Natural finish prefers natural brushes; Fitch
brushes are usually pure skunk hair, but some have soft badger
hair on the outside
to produce a smooth finish and a center of skunk hair to give
the brush body. A brush is worth it’s weight in gold as they
say, you'll quickly realize the value of a good natural brush
in just a few minutes of use. Pure white china bristle scores a
tier, and is best if your use will be sporadic and a more disposable
price tag is required. Never use a synthetic brush, or absolutely
never a foam brush.
Before brushing saturate the brush with alcohol
from tip to ferrel, metal band around brush handle, to activate
ability to smoothly hold and transfer your finish. This
also makes the brush easier to clean later. Wipe it clean against
the edge of a can before dipping into your shellac.
A 1-1/2 lb. cut seems about the
best brushing cut, perhaps slightly thinner for a first sizing
(sealing) coat. Dip the brush halfway into the shellac each time
you need to refresh it, bring
brush out and let the excess shellac run off, then drag it lightly
across the top of the jar, or can your using. Starting about 2" in
from the edge, drag the brush lightly to the edge, then come back
all the way to the other edge.
Carefully watch the edges for drips
and keep a pad handy to remove them before they begin to dry.
Dry drips, flying spits, or runs - otherwise known as goobers, can be removed
after the finish dries but are much easier to deal with while
its freshly applied.
Shellac dries quickly, learn to overlap your coats
quickly or distinct lines will form between brush lines. Avoid
covering an area with more than brush strokes in each area per
is no issue with air bubbles unless you "slap" the brush
against the surface. Overlapping each coat by about a 1/4 inch,
entire surface from start to finish. Never stop short on any surface,
in fact never stop short on a piece. Finish should be applied from
start to finish, nonstop. It
coats to reach a deep rich and durable finish.
Brush cleaning can be done with alcohol solvents,
but standard ammonia cleans shellac brushes
the alkaline ammonia
dissolves the acidic shellac. Soap and water finishes the job,
and the soap helps soften the bristles.
A less known and practiced technique is called padding, a process
that takes advantage of shellac's rapid drying capabilities and
produces a fine thin layer without brush marks or drips. Padding
works best on flat surfaces, but can be useful on carving or rounded
areas once you gain some experience. Use a 2 lb. cut shellac and
some padding cloth or a finishing pad, often marketed as a French
polishing cloth. It should be as lint-free as possible. Do not
use cotton T-shirt type cloth or cheesecloth, and most definitely
never use a paper towel!
Cut a piece of cloth roughly 10"-12" square,
then fold it up into a pad, a pre-made pad is easier. Pour about
of alcohol on the cloth and work the alcohol into the cloth. Then
take a squirt bottle of shellac and dispense several thimble-fulls
of shellac into the pad. There are two basic methods, a strait
along the grain technique that starts a motion before the surface
and ends after the pad breaks contact, much like following through
with a baseball bat swing or leading with a shotgun at a flying
target. On an average size surface, you can return to the start
by the time you reach the end and pad on several layers.
The second technique is a circular method, pressing lightly and
pushing the shellac (almost burnishing) into the pours of the wood.
This method takes some practice and you must carefully sense the
status of the pad, adding a small amount of shellac continuously
to prevent it from sticking. The heat of friction rapidly dries
the shellac, and if waxed shellac is used begins to polish the
Keep doing this until the surface is tacky and the pad starts to
stick. Between wipes, pad the edges. The trick to this is to apply
light coats of shellac by keeping the pad moist, not dripping wet.
If you can squeeze shellac from the pad, it's too wet. You can
prolong the life of a bad between sessions by keeping your pad
in a tightly wrapped zip lock back, or a small jar with a tight
cap. When the pad begins to fray, discard it - a few cents in cotton
will waste hours of work if you impart fibers into your finish.
The first application of shellac, brush, spray, or pad, should
penetrate quickly and be dry enough to scuff-sand with 320 sandpaper,
this removes the raised fibers in about an hour. After the first
coat, rub using to maroon synthetic fiber pads or 000 regular steel
wool between applications. After three coats, let the finish dry
for twelve to twenty-four hours, depending on humidity. It takes
three to five coats to reach a full polished finish. Then rub the
finish out with 0000 steel wool, using wax thinned with mineral
spirits as a lubricant. Products like Briwax are perfect for this
process. After the wax dries to a haze, wipe the excess wax off
with a soft cotton cloth, and then polish with a nylon stocking.
This leaves a very mellow, hand-rubbed satin finish.
Repairs to Shellac Finishes:
Shellac surface repairs are simple, apply a thin coat of alcohol
on a pad, and then lightly work as if applying a coat. For more
substantial finish damage use a 1lb cut instead of just alcohol.
You can fill deep scratches using a heavy cut (4lb or more) applied
with an artist's brush like a #1 or #2. If the scratch has gone
through the finish and the stain, you can mix the shellac with
alcohol soluble dyes or pigments to match to original color. White
water spots can be treated the same way, but usually only with
common practice is the use of shellac sticks, colorized solid shellac
employed by melting it into cracks,
chips, scratches or depressions. The use of a burn-in knife and
chemicals that prevent the shellac from sticking to surrounding
areas in the hands of a skilled artist can erase damage such as
dog chews or dents.
To test for a shellac finish, dab some alcohol
on an inconspicuous area such as behind a leg. If the finish gets
tacky, it's shellac.
Artisans specializes in shellac finish restoration and reproduction,
and can provide all related services.
Although many have conceded or celebrated demise of shellac's
dominance as a furniture finish, antique collectors and restorers
find this a sin, these artificial finishes may be perceived as
waterproof and more durable, but they hide the natural beauty of
wood under a cataract of plastic film. Despite the attempts by
scientists to duplicate shellac synthetically, and the thousands
of useful products resulting from their efforts, a little Indian
bug still secretes the best and most astonishing furniture finish.
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