How to Finish a Wood Table with Shellac

What You'll Need
Natural-bristle brush
Tack cloth
Fine steel wool
Denatured alcohol
Fine sandpaper
Lightweight oil
Felt pad
Clean dry cloth
Paste wax
Lambs wool polishing disk

For the person who wants to finish a wood table, there are a variety of products on the market that will work. One often overlooked, but which will provide a protective and attractive finish, is shellac. Shellac has properties that may require you to use special preparation, application, and storage so before deciding to use this product, you should evaluate all factors that might apply. Use the information below to learn more about these factors.

Step 1 – Making Preparations

Be sure the surface you plan to finish does not contain any moisture, as shellac has a tendency to cloud when it comes in contact with moisture. If the wood surface you plan to finish is of a lighter color, plan to use white shellac. Use orange shellac for a darker wood.

Step 2 – Choosing Your Shellac

In buying your shellac you should know about "cuts." This term is used to indicate the proportion of lac resin flakes added to a gallon of alcohol (denatured). Typically, you should use a two-pound cut for your first coats of shellac, and use a three-pound cut for your final coat. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on the shellac you have purchased carefully.

Step 3 – Applying Your Shellac

The first coat you apply will be a sealing coat, using a one-pound cut of shellac. When completely dry, rub the surface lightly with fine steel wool. Usually the drying time will be several hours. When the finish is dry, run you hand over it to determine the smoothness of the finish. If you feel any graininess, tiny bumps, or irregularities, you should remove them by lightly applying a fine grit sandpaper. Finish this application by wiping the finished surface with a tack cloth.

Step 4 – Final Finishing

After you have applied at lease four shellac coats and have sanded the necessary surface areas, apply your final coat with a three-pound cut of shellac. When this final coat is dry, use your fine steel wool and apply a light rub to the surface. Wipe the surface with a clean, dry cloth and then apply a paste wax and buff with a soft, clean cloth.

Step 5 – Hand Rub

Use an extra-fine sandpaper to smooth the surface of your table and clean with a tack cloth. Apply a small amount of mineral, in which you've added a sprinkle of fine pumice oil, to the surface of the table. Use a felt pad and rub the table surface with long strokes, always moving the pad in the direction of the wood grain. When you've achieved the polished look you want, wipe away all pumice and apply a small amount of oil. Then, polish gently. Finally, allow the oil to be absorbed by the wood and apply paste wax which you will then allow to dry. Polish the wax with a lamb’s wool polisher.