Fresh-mixed shellac is an excellent film finish, and we go through a lot of it in our shop. Here is how I mix it up for general use as a furniture finish (i.e. not as a barrier for urine, smoke or sap).
- We use Tiger Flakes from Tools for Working Wood. There are lots of good shellac suppliers out there. But once I settled on Tiger Flakes, I stuck with Tiger Flakes. I like consistency and predictability with my finishes.
- I use pure-grain alcohol: Everclear from the liquor store. Hardware store alcohols (which have water, methanol and/or other chemicals) don’t dissolve shellac as well. And they can be poisonous. If you can’t buy Everclear, I recommend you visit Kentucky! (Other woodworkers I know buy ethanol through medical supply catalogs and report that it’s not too much of a pain.)
- I mix up shellac in a “one-pound cut” or even a little weaker. That is one pound of shellac per 1 gallon of Everclear. There’s a handy chart here that helps you through the math for smaller portions. While many prefer a “two-pound cut,” I prefer to apply more thin coats than a few thick coats. You can, of course, easily thin down a thick shellac.
- I use a magnetic stirring gizmo. This $30 gadget allows me to pour the ingredients in a plastic beaker, drop in a magnetic stirbar and walk away. In about an hour it mixes the shellac completely. Some people prefer to pulverize their shellac with a grinder used for coffee beans. That works, too. I prefer the magnetic stirrer because I can pour an entire pound of shellac into an entire gallon of alcohol and walk away. No pulverizing small batches of shellac. But that’s just personal preference.
- Then I filter the shellac through a paint filter or cheesecloth. Amazingly, the Tiger Flakes never contain any bug parts, so there’s nothing really to filter out. But I do it anyway just to be sure.
- Then I label and date each glass jar of shellac. We use it so quickly, however, I’ve never had any expire.
— Christopher Schwarz