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