Different shades of shellac

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  • #135909
    Daniel Grass

    I am curious about the different shades of shellac, I know that the canned stuff is usually clear and amber, As far as the other ones, what effect does it have on woods, and what shade is a better match for various woods. I am building a bedside table out of soft maple, and am wondering what effect the other shades of shellac will have on it. An when would you want a waxed shellac verses a dewaxed shellac?

Viewing 14 replies - 1 through 14 (of 14 total)
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    I have used a batch of amber shellac on several projects, mostly for french polishing. It’s a 300 grams : 1 liter cut. Not sure how that translates into a poun cuts.

    Dark woods like mahogany really flourish. I’m talking deep, rich colours. Cherry is not bad either, but oak comes out practically yellow. I’m not using this type of shellac on light woods again.

    For maple I think you’ll need to use the blonde shellac, but I haven’t used it yet. I think this is the type of shellac Paul puts on all of his pieces.


    David Perrott


    I really don’t know when you would use waxed shellac. I actually have garnet shellac. It gives a bit more of an aged look to woods. I buy the flakes and make it. I didn’t have good success with the canned stuff. You can also add color to shellac with alcohol dyes. I want to say P.S. used leather dye for that on a video. Not sure of the price of that. I have used lockwood dyes for that. I like the finishing aspect. Its just as varied as the woodworking itself!

    Peter George


    The colour in shellac is a dye in the natural product. Shellac was originally collected for this dye rather than the resin. The various shades of shellac are dependent on the amount of the dye left in the product. I’ve used orange shellac to warm the colour of various woods. I’ve also used blonde shellac when I don’t want much colour change.

    It’s easy enough to dewax shellac if you mix your own. Just let it stand for a few days and the wax will settle to the bottom. You can carefully pour off the clear part and discard the wax. I think that the only time you have to worry about the wax is when you are going to apply another finish over top of the shellac.

    I think that it is best to mix your own from flakes. Shellac deteriorates after being mixed, and the stuff in the paint store could have been on the shelf for quite a while.

    Peter in
    Biggar SK
    "New York is big, but this is Biggar"

    Matt McGrane


    Peter is exactly right about when not to use waxed shellac. If you use a waxed shellac as a sealer, a subsequent finish like polyurethane might not stick to the waxed shellac properly and you could get peeling later.

    If I remember correctly, Zinsser’s “Seal Coat” is a waxed shellac. You have to make sure you find the right one if you want dewaxed shellac.

    Matt, Northern California - Started a blog in 2016: http://tinyshopww.blogspot.com/



    For all commercially available coatings there is an MSDS/SDS and generally a TDS (Technical Data Sheet) available that gives a lot of information on the material.
    A Google search: Zinzer Seal Coat MSDS, got the following instantly.
    The Zinzer Seal Coat is dewaxed:
    If you can’t find it online, a simple call to the manufacturer will get you answers to your questions.
    Most companies have a technical and or customer staff willing to help.
    No need to guess.

    SW Pennsylvania

    Derek Long


    I second Peter and say buy flakes and mix your own if you can. It’s really easy and a bag of flakes lasts a pretty long time unless you really lay on shellac a lot. Keep it in a sealed glass mason jar in small quantities and you can use it for a couple of months before it goes bad.

    For unstained maple, you’ll want to use a blonde shellac unless you want the maple to be yellow-ish. Even with blonde shellac it will be a little yellow, though, but a lot less than an amber.

    I used Minwax wipe-on poly a year or so ago on a maple box, and I think that yellows the least if that’s what you’re going for.

    Derek Long
    Denver, Colorado



    Craig’s advice about reading the MSDS and TDS before using products is right on. Zinnser has many products and they vary with regard to wax so you must check each one. The seal coat does not have wax, as I recall, but I think their canned shellacs do. For me, it doesn’t matter as I’ve had bad luck with canned shellacs. I tried to polish with it and it was just too grabby even if I cut it with alcohol and even if I lubricated the polishing with mineral oil. I switched to freshly mixed shellac and the problems went away. I also put some of the canned shellac on a piece of glass and some of the fresh and the canned could easily be scraped from the glass while the fresh was extremely difficult to get off. The spray zinnser I think is wax free, but again, check.

    Peter George


    There is an image on this page which shows examples of how some different wood species look with some different grades of shellac:


    Peter in
    Biggar SK
    "New York is big, but this is Biggar"

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 12 months ago by Peter George. Reason: Silly autocorrect error
    Robert Fowler


    Here is another link with more examples of different shades of shellac. Hope this helps.



    Daniel Grass


    Thanks for those links to examples of the types of shellac on maple! I had been looking and looking to see examples!



    Here’s a link to Early American Maple Finishes article by Jeff Jewitt where aged color is achieved through dyes and glazes. I haven’t tried this myself of course, but someday, someday!




    Waxed shellac is used for floors and instruments…

    I really love shellac, i use it on almost all of my projects. Currently I have a small batch of ruby shellac that I’ve been using on mahogany, walnut and cherry. I don’t like how the darker shellac look on lighter woods, but that could be just my lack of experience…

    I buy my shellac from http://www.shellac.net they have the largest variety of shellac available.



    Lots of good advice above. One other thing I didn’t see mentioned is that you don’t have to stick to just one kind of flakes. I’ll often mix some of each shade of flakes into a batch — that way you can get the full palette of shades in your shellac finishes.

    Slight differences in color make a big difference in the finish.

    Tim Buckley


    An outstanding video on the qualities, preparation, and application of shellac is to be found on Mike Pekovich’s informative Fine Woodworking video: “Can the canned shellac”

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