Fresh Shellac Kits

Category: Materials


Mixing your own fresh shellac can provide a smoother finish and isn't as difficult as you might think.

Our Review

Having stained much of the second floor trim, we're now to the point where we're ready to do the finishing coat. Jeannie did some research on various finishes and we've decided to go with shellac (much credit to This Old Crack House on that, btw).

(Note from JM: Aside from the finished look--which is deeper/richer than polyurethane in my humble opinion--shellac is a very forgiving substance. Mistakes can be easily corrected with a rag and a little denatured alcohol. It dries VERY quickly, about ten minutes per coat. It doesn't yellow with age. Fresh, dewaxed shellac...which you have to mix a little more protection against moisture than the "ready-mixed" kind.)

To begin our own experimentation, Jeannie recommended that we go with fresh shellac from a mail order company Rockler, who offer a nice starter kit in a variety of shades. J ordered both Orange and Garnet so that we could determine which color best matched our existing doors.

When it arrived, I picked up a gallon of denatured alcohol over at Home Depot to get started. Everything else comes with the kit we purchased, which was basically just a 2 oz. bag of shellac flakes and a tumbler with markings to determine the appropriate mixture.


The flakes themselves are kinda cool. Hard to believe they actually come from bugs. Who thinks of this stuff!?


The tumbler is marked to enable you to make different 'weights' of shellac--basically different thicknesses. In our case, we went with a 2 lb. mixture (or "cut"), which is recommended for stain topcoats...4 ounces of denatured alcohol mixed with the 2 ounce packet of shellac flakes.


After they are mixed in with the denatured alcohol, the flakes take 2 to 24 hours to disolve according to the instructions...we left it overnight and it was just fine the next morning.

We started our actual experimentation on an extra piece of stained trim we won't be reusing (it was from the old closet). We put two coats of each color--orange and garnet--on separate sections, leaving another section unfinished for comparison. The orange is on the left, the garnet to the right, and the unfinished portion on the far right end.

This photo gives you a general sense of how it looked. This was after just two coats, which we're thinking is probably enough for our purposes.

Closer up, you can see the very slight difference in coloration. (Notice there's discoloration in the wood grain itself, but you can still see the color is different near the top.) This photo also gives you a better sense of the luster the finished board has. To be honest, this isn't the greatest piece of trim we have so we're expecting better results when we start using the actual trim.


Ultimately, we preferred the garnet's look and it also better matches our existing (red oak) doors. It's probably close to the color that was used originally.

That's it for now. As these photos are actually from a few days ago, we went ahead and ordered more shellac flakes (the 1 lb. bag!) so we'd have enough for all of the trim. That arrived today so we'll be mixing it up in preparation for lots of work this weekend.

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I think the flakes are cheaper too, I was going to buy a gallon of the Zinnser stuff and it was $60 (cdn.). And you know it's fresh if you mix it yourself. Lee Valley has the flakes too, I'm going to buy some next time I'm there.

You may want to order 2 lb of flakes because that will give you a gallon of 2 lb cut which will probably require 4 coats after intermediate sanding and I know you have a lot of trim. Besides, if you run out half way through you will be frustrated because garnet is not availiable pre-mixed. I used the Zinsser stuff because I could buy it at Lowes and Home Depot when I ran out and I didn't have to filter the stuff. When you use as much as I have with all the alcohol too, it was cheaper to buy the cans. If you need "real dark" I can send you some aniline dye. Greg will be posting about it shortly, I'm sure. Have fun and don't inhale!

I'm glad you like it. The stuff is really wonderful. I wonder why it fell out of favor as much as it did. It is one of the least toxic finishes around(the denaturing agent is the most toxic part), it produces wonderful colors on it own, it cheap, quick to apply..... I think that i have probably 3-4 different colors in my cabinet right now. The dewaxed shellac can be quite water resistant also. I am curious how it goes for you or anyone else that is doing larger areas like doors, especially if you are not spraying it.

My original plan was to mix my own. I got impatient, though. Putting on shellac is pretty much the last step, and by the end of a big project I just want to get it done. I used the Zinsser as well and was pleased with it. I think if I was trying to match existing wood I would do what you are doing and play around with it a little more. I applaud your efforts. Mixing your own shellac is very cool.

that IS very cool. We're going to try it!

How well does shellac wear on floors? Our downstairs has hardwood floors covered by carpet, and I'd rather just pull everything up, sand the floors, and shellac them.

Greg--I've heard that Zinsser is the only way to go for pre-mixed...high quality stuff! However, A) I am a geek for chemistry and thought self-mixing would be fun, and B) I was intrigued by the higher water resistance of the dewaxed flakes because a lot of the trim is around the windows :)

Jen--When I was reading up on shellac, I did come across a few people who had used it on floors but who protected it with some other type of sealant. Although shellac is easy to repair, it does scratch and show wear more easily. So high-traffic floors without some kind of protection might mean never-ending maintenance. Google search for "shellac old floor". That should bring up more information than I would know!


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