The Shellac hoax

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Forum topic by Clint Searl posted 10-07-2012 08:46 PM 6555 views 0 times favorited 103 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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Clint Searl

1533 posts in 2923 days

10-07-2012 08:46 PM

Topic tags/keywords: finishing shellac

Conventional wisdom has it that new wood should be “sealed” with shellac to start the finishing process. That’s pure baloney promoted by Zinsser to sell their products. Any kind of resin finish will “seal” itself. For an expose of the shellac hoax, check out Bob Flexner’s article in the September issue of Woodshop News.

-- Clint Searl....Ya can no more do what ya don't know how than ya can git back from where ya ain't been

103 replies so far

View NiteWalker's profile


2739 posts in 3138 days

#1 posted 10-07-2012 10:49 PM

It’s not a hoax when using waterborne finishes.

I’ve done plenty of finishing with zinsser sealcoat and without it before applying my choice finish, crystalac super premium. Much less, if any grain raising with the sealcoat. I realize I could use any number of oil based finishes first, but they take too long to dry for my preference, plus I can tint the sealcoat if necessary with transtint, which I’ve done before as well. Sealcoat dries in less than 30 minutes.

Even Marc (the wood whisperer) did a recent project (stepping stool) where he sealed the stool first with a coat of sealcoat and then went on to use minwax poly wiped on. He did this because he’d have to put more coats of the poly if he didin’t seal the wood first.

I like flexner’s book for the most part but I really don’t agree with some of his beliefs.

If sealcoat is baloney, why does it work so good?

-- He who dies with the most tools... dies with the emptiest wallet.

View Jorge G.'s profile

Jorge G.

1537 posts in 3037 days

#2 posted 10-07-2012 10:59 PM

Nor is it a hoax if you are going to stain. Then again any sealer would do, not just shellac.

-- To surrender a dream leaves life as it is — and not as it could be.

View bhog's profile


2238 posts in 3252 days

#3 posted 10-07-2012 11:04 PM

The only hoax I know of that involves shellac is that its not durable,etc.

-- I don't drive a Prius.

View OggieOglethorpe's profile


1276 posts in 2672 days

#4 posted 10-07-2012 11:27 PM

The huge beauty of shellac is that it’s a barrier. This is lost on folks who use typical home center products, as they dry too slowly to be used with the barrier.

As NiteWalker mentioned, it can prevent waterborne finishes from raising grain. It can also prevent oil based brush or wipe-on varnishes from moving oil-based stain pigment around.

Also, shellac can act as an “undo” between professional dyes and pigment stains. Dye the wood, coat with shellac, apply dry brushed pigment stain. Don’t like the pigment? You can wipe it off with mineral spirits without disturbing the dye! ;^)

Shellac is also a wonderful finish in itself. It dries super fast, wiping to a wicked fast, shiny build, and it wet sands nicely using mineral spirits as a lubricant.

View shampeon's profile


1900 posts in 2745 days

#5 posted 10-08-2012 03:12 AM

So you’re saying that a company is promoting the use of its product to accomplish a necessary task? Horrors!

-- ian | "You can't stop what's coming. It ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity."

View Woodknack's profile


12945 posts in 2941 days

#6 posted 10-08-2012 04:09 AM

Here is the article:

Basically he makes the wrong argument… that shellac is difficult to use. I don’t find it difficult to use. In fact I find it easier than poly or varnish and more durable than wiping varnish unless you build up a lot of coats. A sealer coat of shellac sanded smooth is much faster and easier than a sealer coat of varnish and much easier to sand. Plus I like the amber tint.

-- Rick M,

View Bob Kollman's profile

Bob Kollman

1798 posts in 3752 days

#7 posted 10-08-2012 04:20 AM

wormill, nice article the guy gave his opinion, good read. I think we all have our own stiles and preferences.
Quite frankly I love zinsser products.

-- Bob Kenosha Wi.

View oldnovice's profile


7511 posts in 3929 days

#8 posted 10-08-2012 04:37 AM

I have used Zinsser shellac and it turns out really beautiful on most any wood because it gives it a warm glow, which is desirable in some cases. I also use the wax free variety as a sealer for lacquer.

I use a larger variety of finishes and try to use a finish that enhances the look of the project instead of having a favorite finish …. or perhaps I am reading too much into the responses posted here?

-- "I never met a board I didn't like!"

View Woodknack's profile


12945 posts in 2941 days

#9 posted 10-08-2012 04:57 AM

Recently I found a can of Zinsser shellac that’s probably several years old. ‘It’s no good,’ I thought. Used it on a footstool project anyway and it’s as good as the day I bought… so far, hoping it doesn’t wrinkle.

-- Rick M,

View Loren's profile


10477 posts in 4209 days

#10 posted 10-08-2012 06:15 AM

Woodshop Newsw is worth reading, but the target readership
is shops with higher-volume spray setups and low-dust
spray booth setups. I reckon Flexner is advocating for skipping
the changing of finishes (and solvents) in spray equipment.
That’s fair, because shellac will gum up in the nozzle if you
aren’t spraying it in shorter intervals. If you are spraying
another finish on top you have to have another gun and
keep the flow-through on the shellac gun going too.

Sounds like multi-guy shop activity to me.

I use shellac a lot. I never spray it. It dries fast. It is compressible
and polishes out well. It seals pitchy woods like pine for painting
very well.

View NiteWalker's profile


2739 posts in 3138 days

#11 posted 10-08-2012 08:39 AM

@wormil: According to zinsser; their shellac products have a 3 year shelf life.

-- He who dies with the most tools... dies with the emptiest wallet.

View bluekingfisher's profile


1333 posts in 3541 days

#12 posted 10-08-2012 12:29 PM

Very interesting topic and useful to know the properties of Shellac

-- No one plans to fail, they just, just fail to plan

View Earlextech's profile


1162 posts in 3252 days

#13 posted 10-08-2012 01:08 PM

For me, shellac and/or sealcoat, are the easiest to use and get great results from, out of all other finishes. Sprays great right out of the can, brush, roller or rag it on, it’s hard to screw up.
Keep in mind that there are as many different ways to finish as there are finishers. Writing a book about finishing is problemary because once you get past the science, it’s all personal opinion and experience.

-- Sam Hamory - The project is never finished until its "Finished"!

View dhazelton's profile


2839 posts in 2858 days

#14 posted 10-08-2012 01:25 PM

Excellent sealer. As a painter I’ve used BIN and Bulls Eye primer for years on smoke and water damaged ceilings or knotty wood. It’s basically white pigmented shellac. Don’t bother with Zinsser’s latex based stain-blocking ceiling paint – it doesn’t and it isn’t. Need to go to their shellac or oil-based products to cover. Most wood pieces I refinish are done in clear shellac followed by rubbing with 0000 steel wool and clear paste wax. Wood should invite you to touch it – not look like a piece of plastic.

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5234 posts in 4522 days

#15 posted 10-08-2012 01:52 PM

The best part of this discussion is that I don’t have to quit using shellac.
It is kinda like my old C’man King Seely drill press. It still works very well even though its old school.

-- [email protected]

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