Making a Penn spice cabinet using mostly hand tools. #16: Cutting shellac

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Blog entry by JeremyPringle posted 11-13-2012 04:12 AM 3164 reads 1 time favorited 4 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 15: Dying and Boiled linseed oil Part 16 of Making a Penn spice cabinet using mostly hand tools. series Part 17: And now we return for the exciting conclusion!!! »

I am on the final stages of this project.
For a final finish I chose amber shellac, for a few different reasons.
1. I love the orange tinge and warmth is gives the fnished product.
2. It is a traditional finish, it has been around and has been used for thousands of years.
3. I enjoy the process.

I buy my shellac in flake form (right) on the left is seedlac, the same product but you can buy it in different forms depending on what you are using it for. The seedlac is some I borrowed from a Luthier friend of mine to show the difference.

So my process starts with my thinner, flakes and a jar.

I am using grain alcohol for this, because I live in Canada and cannot get denatured alcohol. The grain alcohol is more expensive than other shellac thinners, but it is the best stuff, so I do not mind paying more. I am going to cut my shellac to be about 1.5-2lbs. If you do not fully understand what that means, I will explain. Shellac in liquid form is measured in pound cut. Weight of shellac dissolved in volume of liquid. The standard cut is 3lbs into 1 imperial gallon of liquid. This is called a 3 pound cut.

Here is my process. I wanted 500ml (metric, remember? Im Canadian) of finished shellac that I could use. So, 1 imperial gallon is about 4 metric litres. 500 ml is 1/8th of that. So to get the ratio right, I will need 1/8 of 1 1/2 lbs. So I take 1/4lb of flakes, which is already 1/6th, but I need an 1/8 of 1 1/2, that’s too much flakes. So I put 3/4 of the 1/4 into a mason jar, and them filled it about 7/8 full with solvent. I leave room to add more solvent of flakes as needed. This will give me something between 1.5 and 2 lb/cut. This is also a great thing about shellac… you can mix it to whatever you want. The store bought stuff is 3 lb/cut. But I prefer to have it thinner.
In goes the flakes….

Now the alcohol…..

I use a stick and stir it around, here is what the flakes look like after about 2 min

10 min…

20 min…. almost fully dissolved.

Even though there are very few solids left, I still let it sit about 24hrs. Then I get a second jar and put a few layers of cheese cloth over the mouth a pour the mixture from the one jar to the other. The cheese cloth will filter out all the bug bums and dirt and crud that was in the flakes…

You can even see the nasty stuff that is on the side of the jar…. nasty.

Ok, now it is ready to be brushed onto the drawer fronts…. but, we still need to talk about brushes. $3 brush…. $3 finish. Also, the solvents we are dealing with will dissolve synthetic brushes, so a natural bristle brush is a must, not a should. I am using a 2” pure badger hair brush. Why? Because they are the best. I also clean out the nasty jar as best as possible and put a small amount of alcohol in it to clean the brush when I am done.

One coat on all the drawer fronts,

I will put another coat on and then sand them all smooth with 600, and then another, and another…. until it looks like glass. This is a very time consuming process, but the end results are going to be awesome.

Thanks again for reading.

4 comments so far

View FirehouseWoodworking's profile


726 posts in 3541 days

#1 posted 11-13-2012 04:49 AM

Very good tutorial. And I can see that the spice cabinet is going to be gorgeous. Well done!


-- Dave; Lansing, Kansas

View bonobo's profile


297 posts in 2324 days

#2 posted 11-13-2012 06:23 AM

I’ve been following this and can’t wait to see it all polished and assembled.

Canadians living in Ontario, where the LCBO won’t sell you grain alcohol, can find denatured alcohol at Canadian Tire. It’s sold as fireplace fuel under the name Bio-Flame. Call for an inventory check first.

-- “The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.” ― Mark Twain

View BTimmons's profile


2303 posts in 2753 days

#3 posted 11-13-2012 09:03 PM

Man, that curly maple grain is dynamite. Can’t wait to see this finished.

-- Brian Timmons -

View tirebob's profile


134 posts in 3121 days

#4 posted 11-13-2012 10:06 PM

Awesome as usual man… Looking forward to seeing this done as well!

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