Friday, July 9, 2010

Learning to use Shellac - Making shellac

I recently decided to take the plunge and learn how to work with shellac. Shortly before the Frank Klausz workshop, I received information about a man who sells dry shellac flakes, and the description of Frank's class said that he recommends sealing the jewelry box project with shellac.

So I ordered the sampler set, which included four ounces each of blond, beige, orange, and garnet shellac flakes. A also picked up some mason jars and denatured alcohol from the local hardware store, and I was all set. I procrastinated somewhat after receiving the flakes, but then decided to mix up some. Our kitchen scale proved handy, as I was able to put a jar full of eight ounces of denatured alcohol onto the scale and zero it out. I was then able to add shellac flakes until I had added two ounces (resulting in what they call a 2# cut).

It took a couple of days of stirring and shaking to get the flakes completely dissolved in the denatured alcohol. Once it had completely dissolved, I strained it through a paint strainer to get rid of the dregs (I'm not sure what the dregs were, but the filter did a good job of filtering them out).

My first applications were on a piece of scrape wood similar to the red oak of the warping mill I was building and planned to finish with shellac. All the books and articles on shellac I've read say you should use a good quality brush or a pad to apply it. And I now understand why. Curious (and a bit impatient) to try out my shellac, I used an acid brush to apply it. What a mess. Drags and runs were the rule and not the exception. But the shellac itself appears to work quite well, as long as I apply it thin enough.

So when it came time to actually finishing the warping mill, I used a pad (as described by Bob Flexner in "Understanding Wood Finishing" - a great book by the way). I started out with scrap pieces to learn a bit more, but it turned out quite well overall. I'm sure there are many skills yet to learn when it comes to using shellac, but my first experience went well.

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