Experts pleeez help! Shellac troubles

flowermumJune 27, 2010

In my heart I'm a Norma from New Yankee Workshop, but in reality I'm a novice, so far. A girl can always dream! lol

I'm making a small table top, very simple, very plain. I stained it using Minwax to achieve the dark rich color I wanted. I then wanted it to have a beautiful glossy sheen but I didn't want to use something that would be off-gassing/stinky for a long time.

So I decided to use shellac. (I did wait fully until the stain had dried before applying the shellac.) The first coat seemed to be beautiful. I then sanded with 220 and applied a second coat. After the second coat I looked closely at it and thought I had applied the shellac too thickly. I didn't know how to fix it. I searched the net trying to find solutions and answers, with no luck.

Can someone tell me how to proceed now?

Today I sanded lightly with 180 to try and take down the thick muddled areas, and then I sanded with 220. The board felt amazingly smooth. So I thought it was ready for another coat of shellac. I used a foam brush this time thinking it would hold more shellac and provide a nice even coat.

This coat appeared to be going well until I started to overlap the brush strokes. I soon realized my error and tried not to overlap the brush strokes.

Now the problem is that some areas are "low" and the shellac looks like it didn't take in certain spots. So now I'm off to sand again with 220 only, and see what happens this time.

Next question: Upon my final coat, what do I do to get rid of the dusty look from the sanding? I read on the net to wax but some say you don't have to wax. Can I just use mineral oil or something similar?

The directions on the Zinsser Bullseye Clear Shellac are not detailed.

Also, when I rested my palm on the board today after it dried, my palm left an imprint. Is this just the characteristic of shellac or should I just try not to touch it so heavy-handed until I have polished it?

thanks a million in advance!

sorry so long winded

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

your canned shellac has two drawbacks. It's too thick, and it contains a wax impurity.
The thickness can be improved by thinning it with 1 part of alcohol for every 3 parts of shellac.
You can't easily get rid of the wax (it does settle to the bottom of the can after a while, but there will only be an inch or two of pure clear de-waxed shellac on top)
I strongly recommend using de-waxed shellac at all times. You can now buy it pre-mixed (used to be the only way to have dewaxed was to mix it yourself from dry shellac flakes dissolved in alcohol).
Zinsser "Sealcoat" is a 2 lb. cut (already thinned out for optimal brushing!) of dewaxed clear shellac. You can apply four coats per day with no slow-drying issues whatever.
Dewaxed shellac dries harder, faster. No more handprints.
When you sand between coats of shellac, you can wipe off the surface with a microfiber cloth &/or vacuum, but don't worry about using a tack rag because the shellac dust re-dissolves into the next coat.
After two days of final drying time, use furniture wax (like Johnson's or Butcher's) applied with the grain in some 0000 steel wool, and buff with a woolen rag. That's the most satiny smooth finish.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2010 at 8:21PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Ditch the foam brushes.

Buy some shellac flakes and dissolve them in denatured alcohol.

this is the only way to know how old the dissolved shellac is, get exactly what you zant (and need0 and control the cut (pounds of shellac to gallons of alcohol).

Shellac is rather forgiving of drips, sags, and surface defects, but the paper you are using is WAY to coarse.

Think more along the lines of 400 and 600 wet or dry paper, with paraffin oil as the lubricant for shellac (water is a non-starter with shellac).

It does take practice with a good brush and technique to get a good final coat.

Adding some extra alcohol to the the final coat lets it flatten better (and even melt some defects in to the surface) before the alcohol evaporate.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2010 at 8:51PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Oh thank you both for the information! You mean denatured alcohol, right?

sorry, remember, novice here.

    Bookmark   June 27, 2010 at 9:08PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I can only add a few more things:

- I'll bet on the handle of the foam brush it says something like "Not for use with lacquer or shellac." I've never seen one that did not say this.

- Only SealCoat is a dewaxed shellac. All the other canned Zinnser products contain wax.

Shellac is a great finish, but it does have a learning curve, like any other finish.

- Shelf life of shellac is short, mostly about a year. SealCoat has a longer shelf life due to different solvents. If you bought your Bullseye from a place that has low turnover (i.e., "Use this here polyurethane...") then it might be stale and will never properly harden. I know SealCoat has a manufacture date on the lid, I don't know about the others.

- You have put it on too thickly. It's not meant to pile up.

Here is a link that might be useful: Shellac tutorial

    Bookmark   June 27, 2010 at 10:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If you want to learn to apply a proper finish, you should buy a book that explaines the procedure. My suggestion would be FOOLPROOF WOOD FINISHING by Teri Massaschi. This is the book with the best instructions that are easy to understand, in my opinion.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2010 at 3:28AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Bobsmyuncle---thank you for the information and the link!

The foam brush package said, 'for all paints and stains.' The Zinsser can has a stamp date of July 09. I read it's supposed to have an extended shelf life.

It's frustrating to me because the packaging on the can is very misleading. They would have you to believe this product is very easy to use and apply. However, I have since learned otherwise.

I really thought this was the perfect solution. Ease of application, quick drying, and non-toxic. I'm going to give it some time to harden, although I don't know right now whether I should use alcohol to thin the application.

Could I remove the shellac with the alcohol and start over? There are four coats on now.

I will continue to research and use the invaluable info you all have so kindly offered.

Thanks again for taking the time to answer my plea.

: )

    Bookmark   June 28, 2010 at 4:15AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

"Could I remove the shellac with the alcohol and start over? "

No. You need to put this project aside for a few days and let all the coats of shellac harden. Do not mess with it until then. Alcohol will soften the finish and redissolve just the surface layer. Then it will quickly get sticky and messy. The places it is globbed will get bigger globs and the places it is thin will get thinner. Alcohol will make the situation worse and then set you back more drying time.

The best approach is to sand off the excess product. It is time to sand when the finish sands off with dust. Shellac has a tendency to gum up the paper, even when completely dry, so change the paper often. Once the surface is smooth, put a coat of DE-WAXED shellac (Zinsser seal coat). The next day, give a light sanding, and then put on a topcoat of varnish, polyurethane, or water-based urethane. I do not recommend shellac as a table top-coat, but it is an excellend sealer and grain filler. I would recommend water based urethane for your choice. It has all the qualities you seek in a wood coating: no odor, fast drying, gloss finish, and very durable. My favorite water-based wood finish right now is "Sierra" made by Rust-oleum, available at Kelly Moore paint store. Sierra is a clear paint base without pigment added, for use indoors and outdoors. Untinted paint bases are generally viewed, by woodworkers, to be more durable than all other clear wood finishes.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2010 at 1:08PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Someone2010---thank you for the book rec. I will certainly check that out.

Thank you also Aidan.

I did decide to just park this project. I decided to let it sit for a week and then do the rub out for a semi-gloss finish. However, after reading your post, this sounds like a good idea also.

For me, this has been kinda confusing because it seems there are so many different opinions and techniques. I found youtube videos and everyone has their own way of doing things.

But that is true art though, each artist 'paints' in their own unique way, with each piece of work being beautiful.

thanks guys, I will post a pix when I have rubbed my way out of this!

: )

    Bookmark   June 29, 2010 at 12:56AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm curious to know how this turned out...I know its been a long while, but I'm having difficulties with Shellac. I probably put it on too heavy on the piece I'm working old Singer sewing cabinet. I am using the Zinsser spray cans. I sprayed it Thursday...this is now Sunday. I flipped open the lid, put out the support arm that is covered in a soft felt pad (to keep from marring the surface) and this is what I got! I'm afraid I'll need to take it down a ways...I'm hopeful that it dries at all so I can sand this out. Notice how it looks like it has pushed all the way through the surface. I really don't want to have to strip it. Thoughts? Opinions? Attaching a photo. Thanks all!

    Bookmark   May 11, 2014 at 2:04PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Yosemetie sam,

What did you use to clean and prep the wood? This problem is likely the result of silicone residue from someone using lemon Pledge or similar kind of furniture polish. You're best bet at this point is to use the Methylene chloride based varnish remover.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 12:10AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Best bet, since the rest of the finish looks fine, is to apply a felt punching to the disfigured spot; the only other thing to do is to carefully scrape off the felt with a new single-edge razor blade, wet sand with 2000 grit paper, and recoat the panel; then wait a month before applying pressure; wax the area where it rests on the pad.
The problem was that the shellac had not yet dried hard, an since it is a sticky resin, the pressure embedded the felt.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 8:46AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Is the rest of the finish okay? Shellac gets old and when it does it will not harden properly. Zinsser extends the life of their products up to three years but sometimes it's on the store shelf for awhile.

No need to get out the big guns aka methylene chloride. Shellac will dissolve under alcohol. If there is no stain, you can do a spot repair easily. Just gently buff out the damaged area with a little alcohol and clean cloth then wipe some thinned shellac over the bare spot. The shellac will melt into itself and blend right in if done right.

If you aren't able to blend it perfectly doing that, scuff sand the entire piece with p400-600 sandpaper and spray a coat of finish over the whole surface.

Stripping and starting over is a last resort to fall back to if all else fails.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2014 at 2:19PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
southern yellow pine ceilings - how to tone down yellow
Hi, all. We are currently building: natural cherry...
Will these trees make good lumber?
I've got 2 fallen catalpa trees that have remained...
Best Finish over Oil Based Stain
I stained my table with Early American by Minwax, both...
Right size tip-out tray for kitchen sink cabinet
My kitchen sink cabinet is 24" wide. I want to...
Table saw for hobby work.
I searched this question on here and I did find a few...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™