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A good shellacking

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I've used shellac for some small things over the years, but it's been a long time since I used it to finish a major piece. I did that this week, and I'm glad I did.

After years of being entrenched into either/or finishing – either I use polyurethane or I use BLO (boiled linseed oil) – I'd forgotten just how much I liked shellac. I have a small HVLP setup which I've used exactly twice in the nearly 10 years I've had it. If I'm going to spray something, I'm far more likely to buy an aerosol can, but I don't even use that much. I'm strictly a brush guy.

And being a brush guy, I always have it in my head that shellac can be a pain to use. It's true, it can be, but not that much really and not if you pay attention to what you're doing and apply it in a nice and steady manner. I used it to finish a large oak chair, which I had first stained dark with a walnut pigment stain. On top of that I applied amber shellac, which contributed just exactly the right amount of additional color I wanted for a mellow, old-timey look.

Because I went carefully and steadily, I had no problems and the finish came out near-perfect. As a benefit, it's dry to the touch in minutes, and ready for some fine sandpaper in an hour before adding another coat. Cleanup was effortless – far easier than using poly.

And there's something about the nostalgic way shellac smells that takes me back to younger days in grade school when we painted designs on rocks and then shellacked them to give as Mother's Day or Father's Day presents. In fact, "smell" isn't the right word. Polyurethane smells; shellac has an aroma. That's a distinct difference.

If, like me, you've made a habit of using polyurethane or other coatings on just about everything, or even if you like BLO as much as I do, I'd be willing to guess that you've forgotten the pleasures of using shellac, too.

Take my advice and give it another try. I'm betting you'll like it all over again.

Till next time,


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