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For a recent project I wanted the look of shellac but needed the strength of polyurethane. Couldn’t get it quite right, so I cheated.

When I do reproduction pieces for my Civil War books, I use only authentic ways of building and finishing the items in order to keep them period-correct. My readers, all of whom insist on period authenticity, absolutely demand it. For my own use, however, I’m not so picky: So long as it looks period-correct, I’m not that fussy about what’s under the hood, so to speak.

If I’m completely positive that they can’t ever be seen, I’ll use anachronistic things like Phillip’s head screws for example. Wouldn’t do that for a piece I was making for someone else or a project I was doing for publication – like the table I talked about a few weeks ago – but I’m fine with it if the end result looks the same.

I recently made a piece for my own use for which I wanted a nice period-looking amber shellac finish. The specific look I was going for was amber shellac on top of oak for which I’d already used a walnut stain. You’ve probably seen lots of old pieces with that look, and that’s what I was going for. In fact, that table I discussed a few weeks ago was exactly like that. However my intended use of this new piece would subject it to a lot of non-period abuse, so I needed a much stronger finish.

Why not just stain the oak and shellac it like I did with that table, but then top with poly? That would give me the look and additional protection, but I wanted all poly and no shellac at all.

What I ended up doing was staining the oak as always. I then mixed up an amber dye and used that on top of the stained oak. It took a few tries to get the dye mix right, but I finally got it perfect. I then thinned my poly to make a wiping varnish to get the right surface look, and coated the piece. The end result, side-by-side with that table I’d done with stain and shellac only was a near-perfect match.

I’m not an advocate of cheating, but sometimes it’s the perfect way to get the honest appearance you’re going for.

Till next time,


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