Finishing Small Projects with Shellac

Finishing Small Projects with Shellac

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Paul shows his process for applying a shellac finish to small projects. He uses a first cut coat which raises tooth in the surface and works progressively around the project from the wet edge whenever possible. Next, he sands out this first coat before applying consecutive coats.

For finishing more complex projects with shellac, watch our more detailed and longer video here.


  1. redwood on 22 January 2016 at 4:04 pm

    Great thanks for this one

  2. bobeaston on 22 January 2016 at 5:46 pm

    Any finish that is “beer friendly” is just PERFECT!

    I have long enjoyed shellac + wax finish, but still pick up tips and hints watching Paul.


    P.S. There were several mentions of “French Polish.” Will we be seeing a French Polish lesson?

  3. António on 22 January 2016 at 5:55 pm

    Thanks another great update!
    Since I “discovered” Shellac here in the site is my go to finish!

  4. dpaul on 22 January 2016 at 6:12 pm

    Do you clean the brush? Or is it even necessary, given that the shellac will melt the previous content?

    • Matt Hess on 23 January 2016 at 12:40 am

      Paul has mentioned elsewhere that he doesn’t clean his brushes as the hardened shellac will quickly soften if you place it in alcohol (or alcohol dissolved shellac) the next time you use it. However, from experience, I can tell you that if you do the same with a larger, thicker brush, the softening time can take a while.

  5. Arjan Dral on 22 January 2016 at 7:32 pm

    Indeed very nice. I going to make one myself, hope with somewhat the seem outcome.

  6. Robert Tutsky on 22 January 2016 at 8:17 pm

    Thank you Paul for this episode, nicely done. I have used spray shellac in the past but I prefer the brush on method, especially for smaller projects. Like you mentioned it is an easy finish to work with.

    D. Paul… I have been using Taklon artists watercolor brushes for years (they work beautifully) and never bothered to clean the brushes. They will re-activate themselves in a matter of minutes, ready to go.

  7. Trevor Roeder on 22 January 2016 at 10:42 pm

    I loved watching your finishing process and it turned out beautiful, thanks for sharing!

  8. Gary Rodewald on 23 January 2016 at 12:38 am

    good show work well.
    Love your demos always right on.

  9. Scott Smith on 23 January 2016 at 12:55 am

    Thanks for finishing that stool. I love this project and was so disappointed you didn’t finish it at the end. It turned out awesome.

  10. Ashley Kitson on 23 January 2016 at 1:08 am

    Since I’ve been following you Paul, I have turned over to shellac as my go-to finish for many projects. I quite often use a small sponge wrapped in cotton rather than a brush and that gives a nice finish, and fast too. Nice to see the first coat being thinned (methylated spirit is UK term btw – you been toooo long in the states 😉 )

    Now how about doing something on staining/colouring – like wire wool and vinegar mix on oak. Good old trick. Bet you have some others.

  11. mkvernon on 23 January 2016 at 3:02 am

    Thanks, Paul. As always, very enjoyable and informative.

  12. Farred on 23 January 2016 at 4:05 am

    Whenever I use shellac, it always runs. Does anyone else have this problem? Or am I just using old and inferior shellac?

    • Joe on 25 January 2016 at 5:26 am

      My experience with bullseye shellac indicates that after time the shellac will leave runs more readily than a new can. Why that is, I can’t say but I noticed a dramatic difference when finishing an old can then opening a new during a project.

  13. Woon Choi on 23 January 2016 at 6:11 am

    Hi Pual, thanks for your video showing how to do shellac finish. I wonder if you can show us how to colour or stain and finish it with shellac coats some day. I always does that if I made the project with pine. But problem was that the stain get decoloured or washed off as soon as I apply shellac. Without any sanding sealer applied as you did in the video, I did the first coat with alchol based stain and then a few coats of shellac. But when shellac was applied to the stained wood the colour got off. I reapplied stain again followed by another coat of shellac. So strictly speaking some area of the project did not get as many coats of shellac as does the rest of it. Do you have any suggestion to resolve this?

    • ausworkshop on 23 January 2016 at 6:47 am

      A good brush helps but I also have trouble with runs. It can be annoying if you’re fussy about them. Especially on difficult pieces. Flat areas are much easier. I tend to use an oil blend on finer pieces and shellac for workshop projects. Then again I think I’ll use oil for shop projects as well, beats fussing with shellac in my opinion. Shellac does have it’s benefits. I don’t really like the shine though. If your stain is alcohol based maybe try an oil varnish blend over the top instead. I recommend OSMO or Rustins. A couple of quick coats and you’re done. Then back to woodworking. I don’t enjoy finishing. It’s usually a job that’s taken way longer than expected already so by the time I get my brushes out I just want the project finished and out the door as soon as possible with the least amount of fuss. If this means using Shellac then that’s what I’d use but recently I’ve been using OSMO with good results. Once you learn to use OSMO you’ll never look back. No more brushes for me just a cheap white synthetic pad which you can even reuse!

      • Woon Choi on 25 January 2016 at 3:53 am

        Thank you, Aus. I think the brush was ok because they said it was made for applicatipn of shellac. So I have to assume so. Yes I think shellac is the easiest one to prepare, apply. And quick to dry. No odor like poly.

    • Ed on 23 January 2016 at 5:11 pm

      John- What you are describing is just how things work, especially if you use a dye. If you put down water based dye and then try to put on water based finish, the water in the finish will take up the color, like you say. The same thing happens if you put down alcohol based dye and try to put shellac over it. Shellac will take up water based dye, too. I was taught two ways to deal with this. The first is to spray your finish. That way, the finish just lays on top of the color and there’s no brush or pad to pull the color. You must make absolutely sure that you do not make any runs because a run will pull the color with it, so that first sprayed coat must be very light. If you cannot spray, then you can wait for the color coat to dry *completely* and then switch to a different finish to put down a barrier. For me, I wipe on an oil based finish over water based dye. The oil will not take up the water or alcohol based dye. This is just a barrier coat. Keep it thin. Put it on, wipe it back. Let it dry completely. With that barrier coat down, you can now go back to whatever finish you want as long as you let it dry completely. So, I’ve put down water based dye, put General Finishes Arm-R-Seal as an oil-based barrier coat, and then brushed on as many coats as it takes of General Finishes High Performance water based finish. I am not affiliated with General Finishes but mention them just because I know they’ll work in this way and be compatible. Be patient! Let it dry dry dry! For me, the reason to switch back to water based finish is to reduce the use of volatile organics. In your case, you could put down a barrier coat and then put shellac over that. Or, you could try to spray shellac from a can, but be warned it is really easy to get a run with spray can shellac. Sorry this is so long…hope it helps. Please look for Paul’s bench plane tune-up where he mentions coloring the shellac with shoe dye. That would be the simplest of all.

      • Woon Choi on 25 January 2016 at 4:37 am

        Hi Ed thank you. Spraying is not an option to me working in a 2 square meter corner of my garage. As you suggested I will try to put on linseed oil between the stain and shellac. And the products you mentioned are not likely to be available where I live down under. Next time I will try to dry dry and dry although it wont be easy for me wait that long. 🙂

        • Ed on 25 January 2016 at 2:31 pm

          John- Please see if you can find something other than linseed oil, which I suspect will not work because it basically never dries. There is a difference between penetrating oils and finishes that are carried in solvents that set up after the solvent evaporates. You’re looking for the latter. Maybe a wipe-on oil based polyurethane? Whatever you find, try a test on some scrap wood and give the result time to fail before you commit to a real project. If you only have access to penetrating oils, you may be better off adding dye to the shellac, like Paul shows. I wonder if Synteko gloss urethane would work? (Gloss because this is just a barrier coat and you want the coats above it to set the sheen, but you could get away with satin, too). Maybe post a note in the finishing forum and ask other Australians what they are using? Hope I’m not sending you on a goose chase!

          • Frank Ortega on 14 March 2016 at 12:20 pm

            Why not use Danish oil instead of Lineseed oil. It polymerises (sets) and you can get it at Bunnings.

  14. Tim Potter on 23 January 2016 at 1:10 pm

    Hi Paul, I’ve adopted shellac after watching your videos and always finish with wax. I do find that it scratches really easily though. Am I doing anything wrong?

    • Ashley Kitson on 23 January 2016 at 8:56 pm

      Hi Tim

      I guess it depends on what you are looking for.

      I use shellac + wax on articles that get some handling, like boxes, stools etc.

      I use acrylic varnish (and paints) on durable surfaces (book shelves etc.)

      I use UV products for hard wearing areas like floors – but be warned, you need to kit up for that.

      Each finish has its merits. Try a few.

      Oil finishes (danish oil, tonge oil, boiled and raw linseed [but be aware of fire hazard with linseed]) et al. I do my cedar greenhouse every year with oil. Looks great.

      Man made: acrylic varnish (I like this – wood seems to age underneath it), polyurethane, ‘boat’ varnish.

      Traditional finishes: Shellac – do some research, there are many mixes and colours – If you want to get finicky, experts seem to agree that you need to use it fresh. Maybe so, but I buy mine in 1/2 litre bottles premixed and they do a good job.

      And finally
      One man’s scratch is another man’s patina.

      have fun.

  15. James Savage on 23 January 2016 at 7:27 pm

    What a lovely finish! I have used something called sanding sealer which is clear, is this the same as the shellac Paul is using in this video?

    • stevewales on 23 January 2016 at 8:46 pm

      Hi James, Yes it is — AS Long as it is Shellac Sanding sealer.
      You can get “lacacote” and Cellulose sanding sealer (same composition I think) which is formulated to go under Nitro-cellulose type lacquer – It’s generally cloudy – contains stearates (soapy agents).
      Then there are Vinyl type sealers – used under modern “pre-catalyzed” spray finishes.

      Finally — The traditional shellac and alcohol mix. as Paul mentioned, the composition is described in Two ways — First, The CUT — this is a measure of the ratio of shellac to Alcohol — You saw that he was using a 3lb Cut that he diluted by 1/3 for the base coat — This is the ‘Sanding Sealer’ coat – used to seal and raise the grain — A 2lb Cut. Shellac Sanding Sealer is Typically a 2lb Cut.

      Second the Type (Colour) of Shellac — In It’s natural state, Shellac has an Amber Tint and contains a percentage of WAX. ( Do a search on Shellac – try — It’s Coughed up by Beatles to protect it’s eggs).
      De-Waxed Shellac is necessary if you are going to use a top coat that is not compatible with wax –Pretty much every modern synthetic finish.
      As I said, The natural colour of shellac is shades of Amber, this can be changed by adding dyes (Grand pianos are finished with Black dyed shellac (one of the magazines this month has an article on using Very Old ’78 records to smash-up and melt to make black shellac — I guess it was a christmas vacation filler!!)) .
      if you do not want to alter the colour of your wood and want to use a modern top coat, then you buy Bleached, De-Waxed ( called either Spirit or shellac) sanding sealer.

      Your “Clear” sanding sealer Might(?) be a cellulose based one — if it smells kind of chemical and sweet (Same as Acetone nail varnish remover).
      Else it has a ‘Meths’ , alcohol smell — and is probably labelled on the bottle as shellac sanding sealer. Then You’ve the right one – normally a 2lb cut – Paul has described using just this sealer to build up coats of finish and using leather (Shoe) dye to colour it (his plane handle).
      I hope the eyes didn’t glaze over somewhere in the middle of this treatise on Shellac – but I thought a little ‘Un-Packing’ of the term Sanding Sealer would be a useful addition to our knowledge base.

      Steve. (From Wales)

  16. David Gill on 23 January 2016 at 8:24 pm

    Up to now I have always used the Liberon sanding sealer for my Shellac finishes as previously recommended by Paul, but on this video Paul says he is using Shellac which he dilutes with denatured alcohol. Is this better than the sanding sealer, if so where is best place to purchase in the UK

    • Ashley Kitson on 23 January 2016 at 8:31 pm

      see above post
      denatured alcohol == methalated spirit – you can get it in Wickes, et al.

  17. johnnyangel on 24 January 2016 at 9:32 am

    Re staining: Here in France I can buy from any DIY store and even many supermarkets something called “brou de noix” which is made from the green external skin of walnuts. Anyone who’s ever shelled fresh walnuts will know how devilish BROWN it is! I think actors used to use it when needing to darken up (as for Othello, for example). I’ve never used it and would be glad to hear from anyone who has, particularly whether it can be mixed with sanding sealer or other finishes like varnish. Thanks.

  18. David Gill on 24 January 2016 at 1:10 pm

    Thanks for your replies
    My question was is there any difference between the Liberon sanding sealer I have always used to give a Shellac finish ( As recommended by Paul) or is the ready mixed Shellac Paul appears to be using on this project any better, if so what is the name of it and where can I buy it it the uk.
    I do not want to start making the Shellac from flakes and alcohol .

    • Tom Benim on 24 January 2016 at 6:49 pm

      See Pauls blog from April 2011. He says he uses Liberon Spirit Sanding Sealer.

    • redwood on 24 January 2016 at 6:59 pm

      David Gill, Paul is just using Liberon I would guess, Special Pale French Polish is a colourless and transparent polish made from the finest quality pale de-waxed shellac and is suitable for the most delicate work. It can be applied with a French Polishing mop or with a rubber in accordance with traditional French Polishing techniques.
      I would just stick to sanding sealer, dose the same job
      Other Info
      For detailed French Polishing instructions please contact Liberon Technical Services on 01797 361136 or send an SAE to Liberon Ltd, Mountfield Industrial Estate, New Romney, Kent TN28 8XU.
      Clean brushes in methylated spirit.
      Liberon Special Pale French Polish is available in 250 ml, 500 ml, 1 L and 5 L containers.
      When not in use keep in a cool dry place. Once opened product may deteriorate.

  19. willyd57 on 24 January 2016 at 8:32 pm

    I started using shellac about a year and a half ago when I became interested in learning how to do a french polish. It is a wonderful, and easy to use finish for wood projects. Mixing your own shellac finish from the raw material is worth the effort. Directions for doing so are readily available on the web, but I will stress one important point. Make sure you use high quality 200 proof denatured alcohol (especially for a french polish) or the shellac will not dry as quickly as Paul pointed out that it will. You can even use 200 proof grain alcohol if you prefer. It is very clean and does not contain any nasty chemicals in it as does the denatured variety.

    [email protected]

  20. Joseph Corgan on 25 January 2016 at 2:59 am

    What kind of brush is best for shellac? I have tried two or three at random from the paint and hardware stores, but am not satisfied with the results. Natural bristle seems better than synthetic. The best brush that I have found is a really cheap natural bristle, but the brush seems a little thin on bristles.

    • Kjord on 26 January 2016 at 1:27 am

      brushing shellac is best applied with a fine bristle flat brush, my ideal is a 1 to 1-1/2 inch golden Taklon brush. After use, clean the brush with denatured alcohol to remove most of the shellac, but don’t worry about removing all. Let the brush dry flat, and next time you use it the new shellac/denatured alcohol solution will quickly soften the brush again. This size of brush is as big as you need for shellac.
      Most of the “sanding sealers” you see are a thin cut of shellac. But mixing your own is easy, and has several advantages. After shellac is mixed it has a definite shelf life, including the cans of “sanding sealer” so you have to be careful that your purchase is still good. Dry shellac flakes last indefinitely, and give you the freedom to choose other colors of shellac, so you can either choose clear or the warm depth of garnet, etc.

  21. cjbellone on 25 January 2016 at 3:47 am

    Please tell me about the brush.

  22. Jeffrey DiBella on 25 January 2016 at 5:48 pm

    Always enjoy watching your videos as I known I’m going to learn something new and learn a few new tricks. Never thought about turning over the brush when applying the shellac. Makes a lot of sense. Also, never thought about using a steel wood to apply the furniture wax or using a shoe brush to finish the buffing process. All techniques I’ll be using in future projects. Thanks.

  23. David Gill on 25 January 2016 at 6:43 pm

    Thanks Ken
    When I next need to buy Shellac (I still have a container of the Liberon Sanding sealer to use up) I may try the Liberon special pale french polish.

    Hi Tom
    Following Pauls recommendation I have only ever used the Liberon sanding sealer it was just when Paul produced this last video he seemed to have changed the product he was using.
    I have found the following brushes to be good They are made by Royal and Langnickel. They can be purchased off the internet or if you live in the UK The Range sell them. The only problem is they come in a pack of 3 1″ 2″ and 3″ and I only use the 1″
    #RART-150 – Item is available.
    GBP£ 4.08

  24. Harry McCarthy on 26 January 2016 at 2:10 am

    Hey Paul, how would shellac work out as a sealer under an oil finish such as tung oil? I know it works fine under poly finishes but never used it with tung oil.

  25. kooch on 29 January 2016 at 10:02 pm

    I noticed you are using a hake brush to apply shellac. I thought hake brushes were only used for applying water colors and acrylic paints at least that’s what the suppliers suggest. Do you have any problem with the brush shedding much of it’s goat hair?

    • Betzalel on 5 December 2017 at 8:47 pm

      I had terrible experience with hair on the finish….will try the other sugestions…

      • Philip Adams on 6 December 2017 at 5:42 pm

        I think this very much depends on the quality of the brush. Once it has been used a few times, they rarely shed hair.

  26. Shawn Troutt on 27 September 2016 at 12:16 am

    Hi Paul,
    I’m goin to finish my baby crib with shellac. The wood is eastern red cedar. Is the wax nesseary or can it be sanded with 0000 steel wool and be fine?

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