Shellac, for the Natural Look

From on June 09, 2008 in General

shellac trimThe shiny appearance given to many decorative wood trims is obtained through sealing the wood with a clear finish. This finish can either be polyurethane, varnish, lacquer, or shellac. Shellac is a natural and non-toxic material that has been used to protect wood paneling and furniture for over a hundred years.

Overtime, damage can occur to shellac, requiring repair. Surprisingly, despite its age, it can actually be easier to repair than other finishes. Because each new coat is absorbed into the previous one, it doesn’t require sanding and stripping before re-application. If the finish is especially damaged and rough beyond simple repair, you can apply alcohol to remove all shellac, allowing you to start with a fresh surface.

Shellac comes in various colors. It can be easily damaged by moisture, and humidity causes it to become sticky. Because of this, it works better on furniture rather than large areas such as wood flooring. It should only be cleaned with a soft, dry cloth or a specially designed polish. Avoid using water, oils, or regular furniture polish.

There’s a simple test you can do to determine if your piece has a shellac finish. Do a test spot with either alcohol or acetone. Shellac will bubble with acetone and dissolve with alcohol.

Although it has been enjoyed for several years and will probably continue to last for several more, the widespread use of shellac has been replaced by more modern finishes. Part of this has to do with the wood being used in furniture production, as well as advancements in the properties of varnishes. However, if you want more of a natural product, shellac is definitely tried and true. Talk to your contractor about comparing the various finishes available.