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I noticed a few recent posts about shellac. One of my favorite finishes and just an all round good multi-tasker in the shop. I normally clean out my brushes and use that for a spit coat(pre-stain conditioner or end grain sealer).
Just before Thanksgiving I needed a little bit of Shellac for a small project and in the rush of everything forgot to clean the brush, no big deal, but I was out of alcohol and still have not picked any up.Wanting to get things cleaned up in order to start another project.

I decided to try something I heard about somewhere.

Ammonia!

I had heard that Ammonia will clean shellac.

So I stuck the dried brush( an old white china bristle oil brush)in a one lb coffee can with about 1/2 inch of ammonia, put a small cut in the lid so the handle would stick out and the fumes would stay contained.
And in about 15 minutes the brush was soft and for the most part clean, after a little more agitation and squishing on the bottom of the can it was very clean, deep cleaned even at the metal ferrule.

I was amazed( guess simple things amaze me). Ammonia is cheap, real cheap compared to alcohol and it did a superior job. The bristles were glossy clean with no sign of stiffness from residual shellac. And clean-up was a breeze just pour the ammonia down the sink.

Try it the next time you use shellac and you will be amazed too.
 

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Dave, you are right about the ammonia but I never clean my brushes after using shellac. I just immerse them into a mason jar with denatured alcohol in it and cap it with plastic wrap. I occasionally have to add more alcohol as it evaporates but the brushes are always ready when I are ready to apply a coat of shellac. And if the solvent evaporates and the brushes harden, simply add more alcohol. It will re-dissolve any shellac in the hardened bristles.
 

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Household ammonia is the brush cleanup of choice for shellac.
Followup the ammonia soaking with a quick rinse in a mild detergent solution, such as Dawn.
I use a soft nylon scrub brush, i.e. a surgical hand scrub brush, to clean out any particles and to comb the bristles.
Rinse the brush in clean water then wrap the bristles in a a paper towel for drying.
It helps the brush keep its shape while drying.

A dilute solution of lye water will also work as a shellac brush cleanup solution.
 

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Hi Guys, I started using a shellac-based friction polish when I'm turning wood pens on my lathe. I apply it with an old tee shirt. Does any one have any recommendations as to how to wash the shellac out of the tee shirt? It's completely soaked. I don't know what ammonia or denatured alcohol would do to cloth. Any help would be appreciated.
 

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I have had the denatured alcohol on various clothing items without any apparent problem. The alcohol itself evaporates then the clothing is washed normally. So, I suppose you could rinse your tee-shirt in the alcohol to clean it.

But considering what the denatured alcohol costs, I would be asking myself if the old tee shirt was worth cleaning.
 

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Great tip. I will be using shellac for the first time as soon as I finish up my Shaker chest project. The chest carcass is done and all drawer parts are cut/sized and dado'd. I will be using this tip shortly! Right after my final glue up.

Thanks! This came at a good time.
 

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Yep! The Wally World generic ammonia jug stays in my shop. A good dose of that in the shop towels that are washed in the machine with Arm & Hammer washing SODA (not baking soda) give me clean towels as well as the brush clean up.
Just DON'T use ammonia and bleach together. Chlorine gas is NOT your friend.
Dang! I sound like the home tips lady.
Bill
 

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Bill, back in my dairy farm days we used to take jugs of a strong acid cleaner and a chlorine cleaner (it was about double the strength of household bleach) and pour down into rat holes. The gas produced resulted in a lot of dead rats. We just made sure we ran as soon as we got it poured out.

I guess I should add a disclaimer that I don't recommend this. That was 35 years ago when I didn't know any better.
 

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Just to second what Scott Bryan said: if your brush (or rags) are dedicated to Shellac use, cleaning isn't needed. I allow my brushes to set up, then about 15 minutes or so before use, I suspend them in the shellac…easy-peasy. Same with those rags I use for padding, they get put in a zip lock bag, and stored in a coffee can (that's more for just keeping track of where they are. Before use I charge the cloth with shellac, and wait for it to soften up. But for cleaning spraying equipment, ammonia can't be beat…I just wish it wouldn't stain the aluminum parts of my gins.
 

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Fred: Thanks for the tip on cleaning spraying equipment. I'll be trying that one out. I also like your storage of rags and brushes.
Bill/Lifesaver: While in a submarine, salt water in the battery well will also produce chlorine gas and you are correct, chlorine is not your friend, it kills and is explosive.
 
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