Help - My finish is giving me a shellacking!!

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Forum topic by WudWrkr posted 07-07-2011 07:10 AM 3621 views 0 times favorited 17 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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32 posts in 4780 days

07-07-2011 07:10 AM

Topic tags/keywords: shellac runs drips question humor pine finishing rustic

I’ve made some slatted country shelves out of pine. As you can see in the photo I have not attached the
shelves to their supportting brackets as I intend to finish them separately first.

I am mostly challenged when it comes to finishes, but I decided to use Zissner’s Bullseye Amber Shellac #704. I used it once a few years ago and had most of that can left. However, according to the directions on the can it was expired by a year so I purchased a new can of the exact same (#704) stuff.

The directions on the first can, the one I used before, recommended thinning the shellac to a 2# cut and even had a handy-dandy chart on the can.

The new can says specifically NOT to thin – so I didn’t.

Granted, I need a lot more hands-on in the finishing department (especially my brush work), but I think not thinning the shellac (and those danged slats) compounded my ineptitude.

I have sanded with 320 grit and by the time I got the thickest parts off I was down to the wood in several places. At this point I pretty much don’t know how I should proceed (thank goodness I decided not to glue up both parts of the shelves before I applied the finish.)

Is this shelf recoverable or should I just burn it with the hottest fire I can find – sorry, I’m still a little emotional :) Perhaps I should try a different finish?? I like the amber tones on the pine, plus the shellac is a sealer too, as I understand it.

Any and all help and comments are greatly appreciated.


I thought this would be a good opportunity to use the painters points I just purchased…or NOT!

Maybe for hardwood, but not for pine! Hmm, maybe I was pushing too hard with the brush and that caused the finish problem and the dents from the painter’s points…hmmm…NAW!!!

-- Steve - "Dang, no matter how many times I run it through the planer it's still too thin!"

17 replies so far

View derosa's profile


1597 posts in 3896 days

#1 posted 07-07-2011 07:40 AM

I’ve got an older can of the same that also has the label listing how to cut it and even though it had expired for a little over a year it seemed to work fine. You can clean up some of the thicker spots with a razor blade held at 90* and a some alcohol to blend it in.
I’d try cutting a sample of the new can and testing it out on scrap. Can’t hurt anything and may give positive results.
I also found it easier to use foam brushes as I tend to overload bristle brushes and create runs.

-- A posse ad esse

View Mark Kornell's profile

Mark Kornell

1171 posts in 3591 days

#2 posted 07-07-2011 07:44 AM

Shellac is readily dissolved by alcohol – you can use a padding technique to deal with the runs. Lots of info on padding in this forum, but the basic principle is to put a ball of wool (or similar) drenched with denatured alcohol inside a lint-free cotton rag, and then rub out the uneven areas. Add alcohol as necessary.

The alcohol dissolves the shellac, and it gets moved around and deposited elsewhere by the rubbing action.

You may have to apply a bit of shellac in the areas you have sanded through.

And despite what it says on the label, you can thin it with any alcohol appropriate for thinning shellac (ethanol, methanol, isopropynol and isobutanol).

-- Mark Kornell, Kornell Wood Design

View pintodeluxe's profile


6345 posts in 3873 days

#3 posted 07-07-2011 08:31 AM

Sand it back a ways, and shellac again. This time use a lint-free rag to avoid drips.
Best of luck

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

View WudWrkr's profile


32 posts in 4780 days

#4 posted 07-07-2011 04:47 PM

Russ: I see, using the razor blade like a cabinet scraper – I like it – I’ll try it! And the foam brush too, although I think I’ll just use a brush on large flat surfaces whenever possible for a while.

Iguana: Padding? Verrry interesting. I’ll do some research on that. I’m thinking that padding combined with Russ’s razor blade for really thick runs might just pull that shelf out of the fire!

pintodeluxe: Yeah, wipe-on sounds a lot easier. I think I’m going to have to experiment with thinning the shellac before I do that, but I see a future for me in lint-free rags!

Actually, I can see using a combination of all y’alls advice to solve my existing problem and to use in future projects. Thanks very much for your input.

-- Steve - "Dang, no matter how many times I run it through the planer it's still too thin!"

View Bertha's profile


13615 posts in 3753 days

#5 posted 07-07-2011 05:41 PM

I never try to use shellac heavier than a 1lb cut. You also want to avoid going over an area you’ve already covered, even at 1lb. The alcohol will loosen the lower coat and you’ll end up with a gummy mess. If you cut the shellac and use a foam brush in broad strokes, I think you’ll be happy. Good luck!

-- My dad and I built a 65 chev pick up.I killed trannys in that thing for some reason-Hog

View DLCW's profile


530 posts in 3714 days

#6 posted 07-07-2011 06:11 PM

The other secret to shellac is to apply very light coats. A lighter cut of shellac runs very easily. A heavier cut won’t run as easily.

For brushing I use a 2lb. cut – for spraying I use a 1lb cut.

-- Don, Diamond Lake Custom Woodworks - - "If you make something idiot proof, all they do is make a better idiot"

View WudWrkr's profile


32 posts in 4780 days

#7 posted 07-08-2011 02:21 AM

Well, I’ve been working most of the day trying to remove the shellac from the shelf. I started with the razor blade for the thicker runs and then tried to use a ‘pad’ with only alcohol in it to soften and blend the remainder. The blending didn’t work out too well because, I think, the areas without the runs were still too heavy. So I got the bright idea of saturating the surfaces with the alcohol and scraping off as much as I could with the razor blade. This was largely successful in that the flat surfaces were more evenly blended. However, the surfaces between the slats (about 1/4” spacing) were nearly impossible to deal with. After too many hours I decided that a painted country shelf was better than what I was going to end up with (I know, I hate to hide wood with paint too.) I’ve got two other shelves that are going to be shellaced correctly.

Right now I’m running a test on the older shellac, cut 1 part shellac to 1 part alcohol. According to the can that gives me a 1#-2# cut. I applied the first coat with a foam brush and it looks pretty darned good. I’m waiting for that to dry and I’ll sand and apply another coat. I’ll probably do this for four or five coats and I’ll be keeping an eye out for the coats to harden – apparently that is the test as to whether or not the shellac is really out of date. I guess I should run a test on the new can with it cut the same way and see if they really meant “Do Not Thin” – I hate to throw $15 away, but I’m not ready to chance using it straight out of the can again either. I feel like I’ve learned quite a bit and that is priceless.

Thanks again for all your input, it is really appreciated.

-- Steve - "Dang, no matter how many times I run it through the planer it's still too thin!"

View ChuckV's profile


3371 posts in 4587 days

#8 posted 07-08-2011 02:53 AM


After I read your post, I took a look at a can of #704 that I bought not too long ago. And sure enough, it says “DO NOT THIN”. I do not understand why this would change. I will be watching to see if you try it anyway. You could try putting a small amount into another container and thinning that small amount as a test.

I too have had problems with the painter’s pyramids leaving marks. Now I pad them slightly with some masking tape.

Good luck.

-- "Join the chorus if you can. It'll make of you an honest man." - I. Anderson

View WudWrkr's profile


32 posts in 4780 days

#9 posted 07-08-2011 04:17 AM

Thanks Chuck. Right now I’m running two concurrent tests, one with the old can of #704 cut 50/50 w/alcohol and one with the new (Do Not Thin) can cut 50/50 also. It seemed to me that the solution from the new can went on a little thinner than that from the old can, but we shall see what happens.

On the bright side, the first coat from the old can seemed to harden up properly as the sandpaper didn’t load up when I gave it a light sanding before applying the 2nd coat.

This is a heck of a way to get started back into woodworking after giving it up for a couple of years because of my job. I was just getting my shop where I wanted it, but now that I’ve been downsized and decided to retire things are getting back on track and I’m loving it! Now if I can servive the finishing OJT I’ll be in my happy place!! :)

-- Steve - "Dang, no matter how many times I run it through the planer it's still too thin!"

View NathanAllen's profile


376 posts in 4204 days

#10 posted 07-08-2011 05:01 PM

I’ve had good luck using a batt to apply shellac by hand. Take some cotton wadding, wrap it in a clean piece of old t-shirt and charge, squeeze out, rub on light. Since the shellac melts into the layer below you can build up slowly after waiting about an hour.

View mtenterprises's profile


933 posts in 3753 days

#11 posted 07-09-2011 05:12 AM

Well I’ve got a can of 00704 dated 10-27-09 and it says nothing about thining or not thining. As long as it was factory cut with alcohol you can thin it all you want. I’ve used OLD shellac with good results sometimes it just takes a bit longer to dry hard. Shellac is easy to work with don’t let it get you down if all else fails strip it completely with alcohol and OOO steelwool and start all over. I don’t know if anybody else does it but I spray it and I remember years ago they said not to spray it. Works fine for me I love using shellac because it’s so easy to use. Ah a freshly shellaced hardwood floor looks soooooo beautiful!!! Oh yes and this padding you speak about is correctly termed French Polishing, read about it here on Wikipedia –

-- See pictures on Flickr -[email protected]/ And visit my Facebook page -

View JimDaddyO's profile


666 posts in 4139 days

#12 posted 07-09-2011 04:36 PM

Shellac is great to work with. A good french polishing method is shown on you tube.

I used this method for my guitar, although I substituted Methyl Hydrate as the thinner, I used olive oil as the lubricant.

-- my blog: my You Tube channel:

View SST's profile


790 posts in 5255 days

#13 posted 07-09-2011 05:50 PM

I’ve used out of date shellac with success but I usually add a small amt of alcohol, not necessarily to thin it as to add back a little of the volatile carrier that has evaporated from the can being open in previous use. I too, like the look of amber shellac, but as you see with any transparent, but colored, finish, the drips really show.

If you like the look, but aren’t hung up om using amber shellac, you could play with some wood dies to get to tone you want, and then use a clear shellac or poly finish for durability.

And don’t get discouraged. Play around a bit. Experiment. There’s a lot of ways to get great looks on projects, but do the experimenting on scraps, it’s less frustrating. -SST

-- Accuracy is not in your power tool, it's in you

View WudWrkr's profile


32 posts in 4780 days

#14 posted 07-11-2011 03:28 AM

Thanks fellas for all the good advise and encouragement. Here’s a couple of pics of the first shelf with that new ‘white’ shellac we’ve all been hearing about. ;^)

As you can see I decided to paint over the first attempt. Actually, it doesn’t look too bad in person, but the next two are going to be shellacked for sure.

The test I ran on the “out of date” can of #704 and the “Do Not Thin” can of #704 were both successful in my eyes. I put on four coats of each, thinned 50/50 and I believe either one is acceptable. The “Do Not Thin” can was somewhat darker, but for the test I used two scrap cutoffs and they weren’t from the same board. In retrospect I should have used one longer board for the test instead of the two separate ones.

Tomorrow I am going to start finishing the other two shelves and I am trying to make up my mind wheather to wipe it on or use a foam brush – which I used for the test and liked the way it went on. Of course the test boards didn’t have the narrow gapped slats which are going to be a bit of a challenge with either method I think. Hmm, I may wipe all the flat surfaces and just use a tiny foam brush for between the slats. How’s that for deciding not to decide?!! :^)

At any rate I will post pics of all three in the project area when I have completed them.

Thanks again for all the great input.

-- Steve - "Dang, no matter how many times I run it through the planer it's still too thin!"

View kkaiser's profile


15 posts in 3607 days

#15 posted 07-13-2011 03:45 AM

shellac can get old in cans, the best shellac is uusally bought by the pound, and comes in flakes and its not particularly expensive. you mix your alcohol with your flakes and it disolves them. pure linen (lint free cuts out streaking and scratching) wrapped around a ball of padding and saturate the pad, if you are french polishing, its a learned skill to get that glass like appearance with no ridges, many hours of figure 8s in micro thin layers. you are basically driving the shellac in to the pores of hte wood in thin layers and the heat and pressure of your figure 8 stroke is what gives it that depth look, especially in book matched mahogonay veneers, lots of patience. sanding too in betwwen coats, with a 600 paper can be good to to ehance the look as well..I used to do it for a accomplished antique man. Its all i did, after he made the repairs, i did the refinish. giant armours from the 1840s take many many days of 8s, If you get runs, of blotches, the nice thing about shellac is you can use alcohol and sort of dilute it and wipe out the messes and sort of fix it to start over. Its not just a topical finish, it goes into the grain.

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