Instructions thinning canned shellac

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Forum topic by HorizontalMike posted 10-23-2012 05:19 PM 13163 views 1 time favorited 27 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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7804 posts in 3481 days

10-23-2012 05:19 PM

Topic tags/keywords: shellac finishing thinning soft maple amber

I read somewhere the above is a “3lb mix” of Shellac. Having never used shellac before, I will be finishing a soft maple Shaker tall chest. Side panels are 3/4in veneer maple and the rest is milled maple.

  • Should I thin the shellac for the “first” coat, or just on later coats?
  • If, by how much?
  • What can I expect with the “amber” colored shellac?

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

27 replies so far

View Lifesaver2000's profile


556 posts in 3679 days

#1 posted 10-23-2012 05:51 PM

Are you spraying, brushing, or something else?

For the color, check my project here. It is on oak, not maple, but with multiple coats I would expect the color would come out pretty close to the same.

View Bill White's profile

Bill White

5235 posts in 4527 days

#2 posted 10-23-2012 05:53 PM

I usually go with a 1# cut on sealing when using Zinsser Seal Coat. Add 1/2 to 1/2 DNA.
Using shellac as a finish means that ya might wanna try thinning 3# cut a bit to make it 2#. 2 parts shellac to 1 part DNA. Will make it an easier shellac that will flow better.
Amber will give ya a much “warmer” color. Be sure to test on light colored woods before you commit to a final finish ‘cause color is a VERY subjective issue.
Are ya gonna spray or brush?

-- [email protected]

View HorizontalMike's profile


7804 posts in 3481 days

#3 posted 10-23-2012 06:43 PM

I am used to wiping on with a rag Think Minwax Tung Oil Finish. I saw a YouTube where the guy was wiping shellac on with a rag within a rag (pad) and the shellac was really thin. Is thinner/runny better for wiping? If so, how thin? Would I ever go down to a 1# mix?

FWIW, I do not have a spray booth. I do have a sprayer, however, my two times at trying it (deck stain) turned out to be a disaster.

I like that warm color, thanks for the example. 8-)

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View Fred Hargis's profile

Fred Hargis

5843 posts in 3060 days

#4 posted 10-23-2012 06:51 PM

Padding it will be fairly easy, but I do like a thinner cut to pad. I usually try to stay close to a 1 1/2# cut, others might be able to work with the thicker cut but shellac is intended to be a very thin finish anyway. I’d thin it, probably 50/50 with DNA. Only thin a pint or so, if you get it too thick, you can add more DNA, if it’s too thin add more shellac.

-- Our village hasn't lost it's idiot, he was elected to congress.

View MedicKen's profile


1615 posts in 4029 days

#5 posted 10-23-2012 07:04 PM

Maybe try different cuts on some scrap first?

-- My job is to give my kids things to discuss with their [email protected]

View HorizontalMike's profile


7804 posts in 3481 days

#6 posted 10-23-2012 07:10 PM

And is it possible to use, say a Minwax Tung Oil finish first, and then shellac on top of that? Or am I defeating the purpose of using shellac?

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3725 days

#7 posted 10-23-2012 07:37 PM


That can contains a 2# cut. That means its mixed 2 lbs. of flakes to 1 lb. of alcohol. I always do my first washcoats at 1# or thinner, so you’ll want to dilute it again 1:1 with alcohol.

For finishing coats, you normally use 2# or 3# cuts, but nothing says you can’t keep doing thin coats.

As far as padding on, the more solvent, the faster it dries. I find that it’s no easier to pad on if thinner since we are working more against the clock. Remember, this stuff dries fast in Texas. It does go on easier when thin, so you have to find your preference there.

Just work it fast…don’t dally with shellac. Remember that the next coat will melt the previous coat anyway. So be careful not to linger with your pad.

You can add a drop or two of oil (BLO, tung, whatever) to the pad to make gliding the pad easier and to slow down the drying a little bit. This would be French polishing, though you don’t have to do an entire French polish piece just to add a little oil to make life easier sometimes.

-- jay,

View lumberjoe's profile


2902 posts in 2815 days

#8 posted 10-23-2012 07:41 PM

I’ve been practicing this quite a bit lately (french polish). One tip with the pad. Do not ever let it rest on the piece. Start and end off the piece (think spraying). Don’t ever leave the pad in contact with the surface when it is not moving. I had to sand down and start over a few times because if that mistake


View shampeon's profile


1900 posts in 2750 days

#9 posted 10-23-2012 07:44 PM

My understanding was that the dewaxed Zinnser SealCoat was 2 lb, and the regular Zinnser shellacs are 3 lb cuts.

I do keep a can of SealCoat around for ease of use. But the beauty of mixing your own shellac from flakes is that you can mix only as much as you need (shellac will go bad over time), you can mix your own cut, and you can fine-tune the tone by combining different colored flakes.

I get my flakes from Luthier’s Mercantile:

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

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3725 days

#10 posted 10-23-2012 07:46 PM

Awh, shucks…thanks Ian. I did a quick glimpse and thought that was Sealcoat. That is indeed a 3# cut.

-- jay,

View Cosmicsniper's profile


2202 posts in 3725 days

#11 posted 10-23-2012 08:00 PM


Amber shellac will make that maple look like a good amber ale when finished. If that’s what you want, that’s cool. I don’t like doing that to maple, but oak would be pretty.

If you are just finishing with shellac, then you are just using it instead of poly or whatever film finish you normally use. Shellac is actually very hard and durable in that regard, but you normally avoid using it where a drink might be set on it.

So, I’d just use your Tung Oil finish, let it dry really well, and then chase it with full cuts of shellac. I would apply the shellac quickly with a brush…just get it on the wood. Then, I would lightly sand away any dust moats when dry, though there probably won’t be any as fast as it dries. Then I add progressive thinner coats as I go up. The final coat would be a “spiriting off” coat, which is pure solvent. This method will produce a very even finish. It’s a method similar to French polish, only without the oil and with a brush.

There’s a certain amount of trust you must have with shellac. It will melt the undercoats and does some self-leveling. Just let it build up and resist the tendency to “fix things” when it’s wet on the wood. Let the brush touch the wood only once. If you miss something, it’s better to wait until the next coat.

It takes some practice to build up that confidence.

-- jay,

View WhoMe's profile


1568 posts in 3810 days

#12 posted 10-23-2012 08:06 PM

Mike, +1 on MedicKens suggestion on trying the amber on some scrap. I have used it on Home Depot style plywood and clear pine and after 2 coats it gets pretty orange. In my case, I used a foam brush full strength and it is difficult to get an even coat. Any variation on thickness really shows.
From what I remember, this is 2 coats of Amber and one coat of clear shellac (all full strength)on the Clear pine you get at Home Depot.

The white portions of the photos are white copy/printer paper for a color comparison.

-- I'm not clumsy.. It's just the floor hates me, the tables and chairs are bullies, the wall gets in the way AAANNNDDD table saws BITE my fingers!!!.. - Mike -

View HorizontalMike's profile


7804 posts in 3481 days

#13 posted 10-23-2012 08:11 PM

The chest goes to the bedroom, so no drinks. OK, I’ll just do the shellac in reasonably thin coats. I like the idea of “spiriting it off” at the end.

I looked for the SealCoat at HD, but it looks like they do not carry it.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View HorizontalMike's profile


7804 posts in 3481 days

#14 posted 10-23-2012 08:13 PM

Oh yeah, I have PLENTY of scrap to test with for sure. Will do guys.

-- HorizontalMike -- "Woodpeckers understand..."

View a1Jim's profile


117801 posts in 4144 days

#15 posted 10-23-2012 08:18 PM

As you probably know Mike I’m a Charles Neil fan ,he is a full blown finishing expert here are a video he’s done on the subject.

You should make sure you use the Seal coat (dewaxed) versus the waxed variety. Almost anything will go over dewaxed shellac but some finishes can be affected by shellac with wax still in it.

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