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Wood Restoration Techniques

  Advantages and Disadvantages of Shellac 1 of 2  


Much has been written to the use of shellac and how it is applied, but very little mention has been made of advantages of using this material.  Let us, therefore, note some of the qualities which make this finish material so important to the wood finisher.

Lac encrusted twigs.

One of the outstanding qualities of shellac is its durability and strength.  If properly applied and maintained, it will last indefinitely on the surface.  It is for this reason the shellac is used as a floor finish, as a finish for bowling alleys, and for other places where abuse and wear are common. 

There is no fear of it cracking after many coats have been applied because it is so elastic and flexible.  Thus accidental shock from spoons, keys, and other objects being dropper on the shellacked surface will not crack or mar the finish.

Rubbing with either steel wool or pumice stone leaves a fine velvety smooth feel to the surface, with mellowness that cannot be duplicated with other materials.

Shellac is fast-drying, and this fast-drying quality makes it appropriate material to use where time is important.  No special drying facilities are necessary, because it dries dustproof in a matter of minutes.  Several coats may be applied within hours of each other.

Sieving and Winnowing of Seed Lac.

Used as a sealer, it cannot be surpassed.  It spreads evenly over the porous surface, leaving a film which prevents the absorption of other materials.  Any material applied to the shellac sealer will adhere well, without any fear of checking or blistering.

Then, too, it is unsurpassed as a furniture polish when used as a French polish.  You will obtain a beautiful, lasting, lustrous finish that requires no additional polishing or rubbing.  It is no wonder that French polishing has been popular since the seventeenth century.

Finally, its use as a touch-up ingredient makes it almost indispensable.  No other material will combine with alcohol anilines and then adhere to a surface with such rapidity as shellac.  It becomes a part of the finish and , when properly applied, cannot be distinguished from the surrounding surface.


It should not be assumed that shellac is the all-perfect finish material, which can be used under all conditions and for all type of jobs.  There are some drawbacks which should be considered before the final selection of the finish material is made.  A few of these should be considered.

Shellac is not waterproof.  It will not withstand moisture without turning white.  Therefore, it should never be considered where outside finishing is to be done.  Garden furniture, for example, should not be finished with shellac.  Shellac is not recommended for finishing of coffee tables, kitchen tables, and the like, which may be subjected to water at some time or another.

Shellac is not heatproof.  When it is subjected to heat, as when a hot dish is placed on the table, it will soften up and mark the surface, which is then beyond repair.  When the heat applied is extreme, the shellac will blister and crack.  Thus, a piece that will be subjected to heat should be finished in materials other then shellac.


Naturally, because shellac is made with alcohol, it will absorb any trace of alcohol placed on it.  It is not alcohol-proof and should not be applied to furniture like cocktail tables or bars, where liquor is apt to be present. 

The liquor accidentally spilled on shellacked surface will act as a solvent and remove the finish to the bare wood.  There are other finishing materials, like varnish and lacquer, which are alcohol-proof and can be substituted for shellac.

Liquid shellac is not very stable material.  When stored in metal containers for any length of time, it will deteriorate, discolor, and lose its drying qualities.  This is especially true of white shellac. 

The chemicals used in bleaching orange shellac to white affect the drying qualities after the shellac has aged for six to twelve months.  Shellac that old should be discarded and not considered for any finishing purposes. 

Shellac stored in a metal container for a considerable length of time will become discolored due to the chemical actions which take place between the chemicals in the shellac and the metal.  Shellac should be purchased in glass containers when it is not to be used immediately, for it will not discolor so readily.  Metal containers should be used only when the shellac is to be used immediately.

S.W. Gibbia

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