Which comes first, shellac or dye?

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Forum topic by Andybb posted 11-30-2017 08:14 PM 997 views 0 times favorited 7 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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2762 posts in 1376 days

11-30-2017 08:14 PM

I am making a small dining table topped with mahogany veneer. I am trimming it with sapele so I want to add a slight reddish highlight/tint to the veneer.

Depending on who you listen to and what vid you watch…....Should I first coat with shellac to seal it then add the transtint wb dye on top and then sand and finish OR apply the dye first, sand then seal with shellac before applying the finish?

I plan on sanding off most of the dye and just leaving some highlights of the red mahogany dye. Intuitively it seems that the transtint wb dye would be happier on the bare wood, but maybe not?

The veneer is sanded to 220, feels smooth and doesn’t require filler or sealer IMO, but I want the shellac on there at some point if only for the pop it provides.

I plan to finish by spraying Varathane with HVLP unless I get lazy and just use Deft from a rattle can.

Thanks in advance.

-- Andy - Seattle USA

7 replies so far

View pintodeluxe's profile


6153 posts in 3585 days

#1 posted 11-30-2017 08:38 PM

Dye first, then shellac.

Actually shellac is an optional step if you’re going to apply stain as well. Sometimes I’ll do diluted shellac before oil based stains as a pre-stain conditioner on blotch-prone woods like cherry.

Since you don’t need a pre-stain conditioner, just wet the surface with distilled water to raise the grain. Then sand the fuzz back with some fine sandpaper, and you’ll be ready to apply dye.

Do sample boards of everything first!

-- Willie, Washington "If You Choose Not To Decide, You Still Have Made a Choice" - Rush

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2762 posts in 1376 days

#2 posted 11-30-2017 08:52 PM

Thanks. The shellac is mainly to give it that oil based amber look, but I have also mixed transtint honey amber in with the red mahogany. Not really an issue if i use Deft lacquer on top but I’m trying to stick with and perfect my wb Varathane finish technique, however on small stuff the Deft can is easy. This table is only 30×30 so I could go either way.

-- Andy - Seattle USA

View Bill_Steele's profile


705 posts in 2504 days

#3 posted 11-30-2017 09:41 PM


I’m by no means an expert at dyes, but I did take the opportunity to experiment and learn more about them in my last project. I used a powdered dye that I mixed with hot water (distilled). I found that 2 oz. of water per teaspoon of dye gave me the color intensity I wanted. I bought several colors, but decided to just use blue. I experimented with an oil and polyurethane topcoat AFTER the dye was applied, as well as exploring the effect of pre-raising the grain with distilled water, applying thinned shellac, or pre-stain conditioner BEFORE applying the dye. What I ended up going with was: (1) raise the grain with distilled water (lightly sand back with 220), apply the dye, wait for it to dry, apply oil and poly topcoat. The oil and poly topcoat darkens the color—which I prefer to the neon like color that results from the dye only. I used a clean rag to apply the dye and the top coating. One thing I found is that after I applied the dye—if I sanded at all, I risked sanding through the dye and/or creating spots that were lighter in color—so I made sure not to sand after the dye was applied.

In the pictures below you can see the color with dye only and then how the oil+poly darkened it.

figured wood looks nice—but only if you view it from the right angle!

I hope that helps!

View GraceAndDrew's profile


40 posts in 991 days

#4 posted 11-30-2017 10:02 PM

Everything I know about finishing I learned from Bob Flexner in his books and articles. In my opinion, dye first, then finish.

Like the others said, since dye is mixed with water, you want to raise the grain and de-whisker it first. Then dye. You can really control the color with dye. Even if you get it too dark you can lighten it.

I personally would not use shellac on any project (based upon what I learned from Flexner). If I had a sprayer I would use lacquer but since I don’t, I always use polyurethane (not water-based). I thin 3 to 1 Polyurethane to Mineral Spirits. I don’t add Linseed Oil like many do. This increases the cure time quite a bit and since I live in dusty Texas, I need it to dry quickly.

Best of luck!

-- Grace & Drew Woodworking,

View Andybb's profile


2762 posts in 1376 days

#5 posted 11-30-2017 11:09 PM

I personally would not use shellac on any project (based upon what I learned from Flexner).

- GraceAndDrew

I’ll have to go back and re-read my Flexner stuff. Basically, what you’re saying is that I should use the honey amber dye to get the amber tone and apply my top coat of finish. I’m inclined to give that a try as it is completely water based.

-- Andy - Seattle USA

View Holbs's profile


2344 posts in 2801 days

#6 posted 12-01-2017 03:18 AM

sign up for Charles Neil membership and you get tons of great info on finishing. His videos really helped me understand a lot about preparation, the joy of having a #2 guy, sanding, etc.

-- The Carpenter Bee is derived from the Ancient Greek word wood-cutter "xylokopos/ξυλοκὀπος"

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2762 posts in 1376 days

#7 posted 12-01-2017 03:42 AM

I actually have a Charles Neil membership. My intention is to use his “trace coating” technique on this. Apply a red mahogany / honey amber mix then wipe it off and sand it down. I think I’ll skip the shellac.

-- Andy - Seattle USA

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