Natural Handyman's Links Library section header
Natural Handyman's Home Page Home repair articles and do it yourself tips Home repair contests at Sweepstakes Central Do it yourself books on a variety of home repair topics Tools Natural Handyman's Question and Answer archives Find a handyman or contractor for those small home repair jobs Select links to home repair and do it yourself products and services Advertising options on the Natural Handyman website Comments and questions

Return to Painting and Decorating Library Index

Using Shellac To Obtain A Fine Wood Finish

"Create A Classic Finish With Bulls Eye® Shellac

A Beautifully Natural Finish for Naturally Beautiful Wood

Bulls Eye Shellac from Rustoleum -ZinsserWhat is Bulls Eye® Shellac?

Bulls Eye® Shellac is an alcohol-based solution of pure lac, a natural resin secreted by tiny insects on certain trees, mainly in India. After it is harvested the dark, reddish-brown resin is crushed into granules, rinsed to remove the natural dye and then dried. It is then processed into flakes that are mixed with denatured alcohol to create Bulls Eye Amber Shellac, a deep amber color finish that gives woodwork and furniture a rich, antique appearance.

Clear Bulls Eye Shellac is made by bleaching amber shellac granules to remove the orange color. Clear Shellac is not water-clear – it has a faint, golden cast that is much lighter than oil-base finishes but lends a warm color to wood that water-base finishes cannot.

Both Clear and Amber Bulls Eye Shellac contain from 3% to 5% natural shellac wax, which gives them their somewhat milky appearance in the container but does not affect the clarity of the finish film.

For more information on shellac write to us or ask your ZINSSER dealer for a copy of The Story of Shellac.

Why Use Shellac?

Shellac beautifies wood surfaces in a way that no other finish can duplicate. It brings out the rich warmth of wood grain so that finished surfaces look soft and natural, not plastic-coated. It also has features and benefits not found in any other clear finish:

  • All-natural – Shellac is an all-natural resin of insect origin that is harvested regularly and is therefore an environ-mentally friendly renewable resource.
  • Non-toxic/hypoallergenic – The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has certified shellac as a protective glaze for candy and pharmaceuticals.
  • Easy to use – Shellac is user-friendly and virtually goof-proof. It can be applied with a brush, pad, sprayer, or wiping cloth.
  • Super-fast dry time – Shellac dries to the touch in MINUTES and, in most cases, can be sanded or recoated in a little over half an hour.
  • Mild alcohol odor – Shellac is dissolved in denatured ethyl alcohol. It has a mildly antiseptic odor that dissipates very quickly as the product dries.
  • Non-yellowing/non-darkening – Shellac is UV resistant and won't darken with age – unlike oil-base finishes.

Tinting and Coloring Shellac

An infinite palette of shades and tones can be achieved by mixing Clear and Amber Shellac, by tinting Bulls Eye Shellac with alcohol-base stain, aniline dye, trans-tints or universal colorants or by mixing B-I-N© Primer-Sealer into tinted shellac.

Mixing Clear and Amber Shellac

Clear Shellac may be mixed with Amber Shellac to create any desired intermediate tone. Simply add small quantities of Amber to Clear or Clear to Amber. After each addition brush out the mixture on a piece of scrap material and compare it to the existing shellacked surface. Woodworkers and floor finishers often mix Clear and Amber when using new shellac to match older shellacked surfaces.

How to Apply Shellac

Shellac is a beautiful finish over every kind of wood imaginable, including oak, pine, cherry, mahogany, birch, chestnut, maple as well as exotic and tropical woods such as Ipe, Cocobolo, Australian Cypress and many others.

Shellac is easy to apply and with just a little practice you can get professional looking results quickly and easily. Both clear and amber shellac may be used at container consistency. For certain applications, however, best results can be obtained if the shellac is thinned with alcohol. Refer to the label for thinning directions.

Brushing

  • For best results use a 2" or 3" wide china bristle brush or a high-quality synthetic bristle brush.
  • For crevices and intricate areas use a small (1" or 2" wide) angled sash brush.
  • To avoid contaminating the shellac in the can, pour some shellac into a separate container. Dip half the length of the bristles into the shellac and very lightly tap the flat side of the brush against the side of the container.
  • Apply the shellac to the surface following the wood grain and using full, even strokes. Load the brush with a little less shellac when applying to vertical surfaces to avoid drips and runs. Work quickly and evenly and do not over-brush.
  • If you discover a missed spot do not attempt to touch it up. Wait for the next coat before touching up areas that may have been missed. Subsequent coats will blend any touch-ups into the overall finish.

Wiping

  • Use a lint-free cloth, folded to form a pad that can easily fit into the palm of your hand.
  • Pour a small quantity of shellac onto the cloth and wipe smoothly and evenly into the wood in the direction of the grain.
  • Stop wiping when surface is evenly coated and begins to feel tacky.

Surface Preparation

Woodwork, trim, furniture, cabinets, etc.

  • Sand bare wood with a fine grade of sandpaper or sanding block (120 to 220 grit). The smoother you sand the surface the smoother your finish will appear.
  • Remove sanding dust with a vacuum or tack cloth.
  • Fill holes and gouges with a wood filler that will closely match the color of the wood.

Floors

  • Sand smooth using a floor sander. On first pass use 80 grit paper followed by 100 grit paper for the final cut.
  • Remove dust with a vacuum cleaner.
  • After the final sanding wipe the floor clean with a rag dampened with mineral spirits and let dry.

Staining Wood Before Finishing

Note that fir, pine and other softwoods do not absorb stain evenly and often appear blotchy. For a more even stain appearance over these woods, dilute shellac with alcohol according to the label directions and brush it quickly and evenly over the surfaces to be stained. The wash coat seals the wood pores to give controlled penetration of the stain for a more uniform appearance. After 10 minutes rub the surface lightly with a fine ScotchBrite® pad or 220 grit sandpaper or steel wool and remove all dust before applying the stain according to the manufacturer's directions and let dry overnight.

Woodwork, Trim, Doors and Paneling

  • For most interior woodwork two or three coats of shellac give a beautiful, velvety sheen that is unmatched by any other finish.
  • Apply a coat of 2-lb. shellac by brush or wiping rag. Let dry 1 hour.
  • Hand-sand lightly with 220 grit sand-paper and remove the dust.
  • Apply second coat of shellac. Allow to dry 3 hours before lightly sanding. Apply the final coat and let dry overnight.

Furniture and Cabinets

Shellac is regarded by furniture craftsmen and finishers as the premier finish for fine wood furniture. But there is no law that says you have to be a craftsman to get professional-looking results.

New furniture and cabinets

  • The procedure for staining and/or finishing new furniture and cabinets is basically the same as that for woodwork.
  • Apply the finish to recessed and vertical surfaces first, saving the largest areas and horizontal surfaces for last.

Previously shellacked furniture and cabinets

  • Clean the surfaces thoroughly with mild detergent and remove any wax by wiping with a rag soaked in mineral spirits or paint thinner. Change rags frequently as they become loaded with grime and wax.
  • After the surface has dried brush apply 2-lb. Clear or Amber Shellac. In most cases just one coat will be enough to restore the beauty of the original finish.
  • If the old finish is cracked soak a rag in denatured alcohol and wipe the surface gently until the shellac amalgamates and the cracking disappears. Apply the new shellac. If the finish is badly cracked and flaking it should be removed by gently scraping and sanding it off. If this is too difficult or if the piece is intricately detailed, try washing the finish off with alcohol or ammonia. Any shellac that remains will blend into the new finish.

NOTE: A shellac finish may not be suitable for kitchen cabinets, bar tops, kitchen floors and furniture or cabinets in high-humidity areas
such as bathrooms, which are subject to almost constant contact with water, alcohol or ammonia detergents.

Finishing Floors with Bulls Eye Shellac

  • Apply a coat of 2-lb. shellac using a brush to cut in corners and edges. Apply shellac to main body of the floor using a lambs' wool applicator following the grain of the wood.
  • Apply shellac to 2 or 3 board widths at a time, laying the product down in a smooth, even brushing motion. Avoid excessive brushing or wiping with the applicator.
  • Let the first coat dry 2 hours. Sand lightly using a machine sander or sanding pole with 180 grit sandpaper and vacuum surface to remove dust.
  • Apply second coat of shellac (in 4 hours, the second coat will be hard enough to walk on).
  • For heavy wear areas, a third coat is recommended. Apply 3 hours after second coat and in this case allow overnight drying before subjecting to traffic.

Using Wax over a Shellac Finish

Many floor finishers believe that this is the most beautiful floor finish in the world.

  • Apply the shellac at container consistency and let dry for 2 hours.
  • Sand the floor with 120 to 200 grit paper and remove all dust.
  • Apply 2 to 3 coats of paste wax and buff between coats to a deep gloss. Note that you can wax any shellacked floor for a deeper shine and added wear resistance.

Touching Up Shellacked Floors

  • Prepare the surface by lightly sanding worn spots with 220 grit sandpaper.
  • Using a natural bristle brush, apply a small amount of shellac in the center of the worn area and feather it out to the edges, overlapping slightly.
  • Finish off with the brush in the direction of the grain. If the area is badly worn a second coat may be necessary to achieve a proper color match.
  • Two or more coats are recommended; allow at least an hour of dry time between coats. Allow 4 hours after final coat before subjecting to heavy traffic.

Using Shellac Around the House

Shellac is a marvelous sealer and finish for crafts, hobby and other household items and surfaces. For objects or surfaces that are too small, intricate or delicate to brush use Bulls Eye Aerosol Shellac.

Small Objects & Intricate Surfaces -  Shellac is a fast and easy sealer/finish for picture frames, toys, models, etc. Spray shellac is commonly used to apply a fast, beautiful finish to louver doors, wicker, cane, bamboo and other hard-to-finish materials.

Arts & Crafts Projects - Shellac is ideal for string sculptures, wreathes, paper flowers, decoupage, table decorations, etc. as well as sealing plaster sculptures and similar figurines. For centuries shellac was used to protect oil paintings on canvas.

Tools and Metalwork - Shellac protects tools and similar items from dust, dirt and corrosion. It's an ideal protective sealer and finish for wrought iron copper, brass, bronze, etc.

Sealing Knots – Nothing seals off knots and sap in new wood like shellac. Depending on how new the wood is, one or two coats of 3-lb. amber shellac will seal them off so they can't bleed into the finish coat to ruin it. For especially tough knots use multiple coats of amber shellac.

Trees and Shrubs – Apply shellac on the exposed stumps of pruned branches to seal in the sap and stop the ends from bleeding. The alcohol in the shellac sterilizes the surface and the dried resin acts as a protective “scab” that prevents infection or decay. Eventually the shellac breaks down with exposure to the elements and washes away.

Sealing Damaged Asphalt – Prior to patching asphalt, apply three to four coats of 3-lb. shellac to seal off residual oil and gasoline to prevent it from dissolving the new surfacing material.

Clean Up

  • Clean up spills and drips with a rag soaked in denatured alcohol or ammoniated detergent.
  • Always clean natural bristle brushes and lambs' wool applicator/rollers with denatured alcohol.
  • Synthetic brushes and applicators may be cleaned with either denatured alcohol or a solution of one part ammonia and 2 parts warm water.
  • If shellac dries hard in the applicator pad, brush or roller simply leave it overnight in the appropriate solution (alcohol for natural bristle and ammonia/water for synthetic) and finish rinsing in the morning.

Caring for a Shellac Finish

  • A shellac finish is easily cleaned using a damp rag and a mild, non-caustic soap. 
  • If there are water spots or white rings in the finish, the discoloration can usually be removed by rubbing gently with an alcohol-dampened rag.
  • If damage is too severe for correction by this remedy, or where the spot is the result of a burning cigarette or other physical damage, remove the old film in the affected area by sanding. Then apply two or more coats, using either aerosol shellac or liquid shellac thinned to a 2-lb. cut.

© 2003 ZINSSER Co., Inc. No portion of this article may be reproduced or reprinted in any form for other than private use without the expressed consent of ZINSSER Co., Inc.

Return to Painting and Decorating Library Index