Full Chisel Blog

August 2, 2012

A Coat of Shellac

Filed under: Alchemy,Finishing,Furniture,Historical Material,Of Interest,Restoration,Techniques — Stephen Shepherd @ 9:24 am

Sometimes all that is needed is a coat of shellac and the case of the Oak Sewing Machine Cabinet is indeed one of those times.  Here is a picture of the applique on the small drawer front that was repaired here.

This is what it looked like after a coat of shellac.  I will need to do some additional touch ups.  The damage was caused by water.

Here is what the drawer sides looked like before and after just one coat.

I applied a small amount with a bristle brush and then use a dry brushing technique to imitate French Polish in the carved areas.  The original finish on the cabinet was shellac.



  1. I use shellac all the time been useing it since 1951.

    Comment by Richard E. Reimers — August 2, 2012 @ 2:29 pm

  2. Shellac can produce a very beautiful finish, but it just sorta sits on top of the wood. Perhaps if it was a more penetrating finish the damage would not have happened to this extent in the first place. I do however understand why you chose to restore it in the manner in which it was first created. -wayne

    Comment by Wayne Anderson — August 2, 2012 @ 3:00 pm

  3. Wayne: I beg to differ. film finishes will penetrate only so much as the wood allows them to. It’s the nature of the particular wood species, the cut of the wood, moisture content, age, etc. that dictates how much or how little a finish, film or otherwise will penetrate. If you apply shellac cut heavily to very dry, open cell wood you will get more penetration.

    Wipe on and oil finishes are a different story. The physical nature of the beasts increases the capillary action of the fluid motion within the cellular structure of the wood, aka, penetration.

    Comment by Gary Roberts — August 3, 2012 @ 8:50 am

  4. Thank you for sharing one of your beautiful projects, I always look forward to seeing a notification in my mailbox that you’ve made another blog entry. Anyway, here’s another spinning wheel question. I am in the process of refinishing 19th century wheel which had numerous coats of modern enamel paint over the original (presumably dark) finish. As the previous owner had tried to strip it down to bare wood in numerous places, making any attempt on my part to somehow salvage the original finish pointless, I went ahead and had the whole thing professionally stripped. My question now is this: would a wheel from around the time of the Civil War or earlier have been finished with shellac or varnish? Ebonizing is another option which I’ve researched, but I’d like to see if I can bring this graceful old beauty back to something resembling her original life. Would you have any ideas about which would be more appropriate, shellac or varnish?
    Thanks in advance for any insight you’d be willing to share!

    Comment by Chris Durrill — September 13, 2012 @ 5:30 am

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