Shellac Wood Finish Review: The Pros and Cons

By MWB-Team •  Updated: 04/15/23 • 

Shellac is one of the most user-friendly wood finishes out there. It has a warm or clear color and can easily be applied using a rag, brush, or sprayer. It is also fast drying; you can apply different coats in one day.

If you want to try a shellac wood finish, you’re in the right place. Here, I’ll talk more about shellac, how to shellac wood, and its pros and cons.

What is Shellac?

Shellac is a natural product that combines a naturally secreted insect resin with a solvent such as alcohol. The Lac bug secrets shellac and it is scrapped off tree branches, melted, and strained to remove impurities.

You can buy shellac in flake form and dissolve it yourself with alcohol. You can also buy it when it’s already dissolved and packaged.

In its natural state, shellac resin is dark orange and contains about 5 percent wax. However, you can also get it bleached out (called clear shellac) with its wax removed or included.

Shellac Finish on Wood

Shellac wood finish is mainly used these days more of a sealer under another finish and French polishing. Its sealing properties on the wood are unmatched by most wood finishes.

Once applied to wood, shellac leaves a fine and mellow finish that enhances the wood’s natural grain. For better results, you can use darker shellac on darker woods and lighter to clear shellac on lighter woods.

Because shellac dries very fast, several coats can be applied to a piece of wood in a day. Mistakes made when using shellac are also easier to fix and can be easily rubbed out and stripped.

However, the durability of shellac could be better. It scratches easily and can also be damaged by heat, acids, solvents, and alkalis. Although it could be more durable, it is still great for most household objects and furniture.

Unlike other wood finishes, shellac will not darken much with time, has no bad odor, and brings out the natural grain in wood.

How to Shellac Wood

Shellac can be brushed, sprayed, or padded onto the wood. It is an evaporative finish, which dries once the solvent and alcohol evaporate completely. It will also redissolve when it comes into contact with alcohol.

Shellac vs. Polyurethane

Polyurethane is one of the most used wood finishes today. However, shellac has long been used as a finish for furniture through most of the nineteenth century into the twentieth century. Down the line, as polyurethane became widely available, it replaced shellac because of its superior durability.

Polyurethane is more durable than shellac and is recommended for heavily used areas and as a better moisture barrier. However, it is more difficult to apply and dries longer compared to shellac.

When applied to wood, shellac will have a more natural shine and enhance the wood’s beauty. Polyurethane has a plastic-like look on wood, which is more visible as you apply it in thicker layers.

Pros of Shellac Wood Finish

Cons of Shellac Wood Finish

MWB-Team

Hello there! This is the Make Wood Better Team. Here, we share informative how-tos and guides focused on making wood better. Whether it's finishing wood, maintenance, or restoration, there's something on this website for you to learn and improve your skills.