Trying to get a mirror finish with shellac

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Forum topic by Purrmaster posted 10-14-2012 09:34 PM 25571 views 1 time favorited 43 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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915 posts in 3431 days

10-14-2012 09:34 PM

Topic tags/keywords: shellac finishing gloss sheen finish


I’ve recently began working with shellac. And while I’ve been able to achieve a finish that is pretty smooth to the touch but still hazy and not all that glossy.

I’ve tried the following so far: FFFF pumice, rottenstone, wet or dry sandpaper (up to 2,500 grit), 3M micro finishing film, and an automotive polishing compound. With the pumice and rottenstone I’ve used paraffin oil and mineral oil as lubricants. I’ve tried a felt pad, old t-shirt, cotton rags, and muslin. I’ve also tried Minwax finishing paste wax and that seemed to scratch it as well.

None of this has worked so far. I can still see the scratches in the shellac in the right light and it’s more satin than glossy.

So I’m looking for how to get it to a very glossy mirror finish.

I’ve run into a couple of ideas but I wanted to solicit feedback and suggestions.

First, I could get micro mesh up to 12,000 grit. After using the 2,500 grit sandpaper I’d probably switch to 4,000 grit micro mesh and go up through the grits to 12,000. I’ve heard mixed reviews on this process.

I try using different car polishing compounds. The kind I used was, I think, too rough. It was Turtlewax premium (silicone free) polishing compound. I’ve read about people using certain Meguiar’s products such as show car glaze and Scratch-X.

So how do you folks get to a really high gloss on shellac? What technique or products do I need?

What I’m trying to end up with is a very high gloss finish that is kind of mirror like. I’ve heard this is possible with shellac.


The shellac I’m using is Rockler blonde shellac (de-waxed). At the moment, a 3 pound cut.

43 replies so far

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 5465 days

#1 posted 10-14-2012 09:48 PM

I use the French Polish technique.
It’s a centuries old technique that has stood the test of time, but I’ve only been doing it for about 40 years. :)

Google “French Polish” for a plethora of possibilities.


-- 温故知新

View Purrmaster's profile


915 posts in 3431 days

#2 posted 10-14-2012 11:11 PM

I did. I am going to try french polishing at some point but what I’ve read says that it is very difficult to do. I’m going to need to practice on scrap wood first.

And right now I’ve got a bookshelf with shellac already on it that I need to shine up.

View Clint Searl's profile

Clint Searl

1533 posts in 3699 days

#3 posted 10-14-2012 11:41 PM

French Polish has its place, but I don’t know where. With finishes available that will produce the desired results without the drawbacks of shellac, I can’t appreciate the incentive to learn the process.

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

View shipwright's profile


8781 posts in 4136 days

#4 posted 10-14-2012 11:58 PM

French polishing has a place precisely because it is traditional.
It has taken a lot of flak, not unlike hot hide glue, over the years from people who haven’t bothered to try it.
Also like hide glue, most of these criticisms are unfounded.
It does have a learning curve but when did “easy” become a synonym for “best” or even “good” for that matter? Another important advantage of french pohish is that it produces a fantastic reversible finish.
Ever try reversing a “modern” finish?

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View MNgary's profile


318 posts in 3755 days

#5 posted 10-15-2012 03:24 AM

Just a thought, Purrmaster. Are you seeing scratches formed between coats of the finish or are scratches underneath the finish (on the underlying wood surface) becoming more pronounced?

-- I dream of a world where a duck can cross the road and no one asks why.

View Loren's profile


11371 posts in 4986 days

#6 posted 10-15-2012 03:52 AM

I think this is an application problem. Maybe with your brush
or spray method.

I recommend french polishing. It is something you can do
sort of halfway, like a wiping varnish, to build up coats.

That said, you can french polish over any shellacked surface
and the alcohol will “melt” the layers together. It’s the
pressure of the “rubber” (fr. “tampon”) than compresses
the finish and makes it smooth and lustrous. As more
coats build, friction happens and the finish can tear
up, which is a hassle to repair. So we add a little oil
to lubricate the rubber and this helps it slide and not
tear the finish. Then when the polish is done the
oil finds it way to the surface as the shellac cures
and after awhile you can “spirit off” the oil with
alcohol on a clean rubber.

It’s really not that hard to do but it does take time
and when you are learning you will not have a feel
for when to add some oil and you’ll tear the finish
sooner or later.

This is my understanding from experience. While I
don’t consider my skills at french polish any more than
capable-level, I learned pretty quick how not to
tear the shellac and that is the major hazard. Everything
else about it is forgiving.

View Woodknack's profile


13585 posts in 3718 days

#7 posted 10-15-2012 07:05 AM

Either your technique is badly flawed or you have super unrealistic expectations. It isn’t that difficult.

-- Rick M,

View Purrmaster's profile


915 posts in 3431 days

#8 posted 10-15-2012 07:45 AM

I believe the scratches are appearing between sanding/polishing of the finish. The wood underneath is not perfectly flat and blemish free. I spent forever planing and sanding the stuff and at some point had to just start building. Madrone doesn’t have a lot of open pores so I think I got lucky there in not needing grain/pore filler (which I don’t have).

I have no doubt that this is an application problem. This is my first time using shellac and it shows. I’m going to try out french polishing on the next project. Or rather, practice first. At this point I was looking for a way to put a super high gloss on the shellac already laid down. Sort of like paint on a new car.

My expectations may also be insane, I grant you that.

I’ve been able to achieve a high gloss with polyurethane. That didn’t even require sanding between coats. But the tradeoff I noticed is that the poly seems to make the piece look it was dipped in plastic.

I’m trying out finishes that are new to me to try and get some experience and skill with them.

I don’t have spraying equipment. Finish gets put on by brush or by pad.

View Jorge G.'s profile

Jorge G.

1537 posts in 3813 days

#9 posted 10-15-2012 07:54 AM

If you are applying finish with a pad, then french polish should not be a problem for you. The trick is to make a nice good pad and have two bottles for application, one with the shellac and one with alcohol. If the pad starts sticking to the shellac, apply a couple of drops to the pad surface. I have seen people sand in between coats, but like Loren said, you can just apply one on top of the other layer until you get the desired gloss.

For lacquer I use 3M polishing compound, it leaves a mirror surface. Maybe it will work for shellac.

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

View Purrmaster's profile


915 posts in 3431 days

#10 posted 10-15-2012 10:25 AM

Do you get the 3M compound at the auto parts store? I saw some rubbing compound the other day but not their polishing compound. What do you use to apply and remove the polishing compound?

View shipwright's profile


8781 posts in 4136 days

#11 posted 10-15-2012 04:39 PM

Here’s a decent series of videos on French polishing. It really helps to see it done as it’s not easy to just describe in words.

-- Paul M ..............the early bird may get the worm but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese!

View Builder_Bob's profile


161 posts in 4397 days

#12 posted 10-15-2012 05:02 PM

Can’t you get a glossy surface with just wax and elbow grease? Multiple coats of finishing wax and buffing with the right material?

Works on cars.

Maybe dewaxed shellac is detrimental in this case.

-- "The unexpected, when it happens, generally happens when you least expect it."

View Purrmaster's profile


915 posts in 3431 days

#13 posted 10-15-2012 06:37 PM

That’s an interesting idea. Perhaps dewaxed shellac doesn’t take as good a shine.

Cars are kind of the world I come from as well. I’m not an expert detailer or anything but I’ve polished/waxed/buffed up the paint on my car many times.

When I put the final coat of wax on I’m using Minwax paste finishing wax. Buffing out the wax seems to damage the shellac. It’s as if the shellac coating is too soft… Perhaps I need a softer wax to use as the final protective coat.

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5362 posts in 5298 days

#14 posted 10-15-2012 06:40 PM

Shipwright, I applaud your post.

-- [email protected]

View gfadvm's profile


14940 posts in 4028 days

#15 posted 10-16-2012 01:01 AM

Paul, Cool series of videos

-- " I'll try to be nicer, if you'll try to be smarter" gfadvm

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