How To Make Your Own Shellac

Learning how to make your own shellac is an efficient way to supply yourself with this finishing product. Commercially available shellac has a shelf life of roughly six months. Brewing up your own batch when it is needed will save money while giving you control over the product.

What Is Shellac Anyway?

Shellac is a gift from the insect world to woodworkers everywhere. It’s a natural resin secreted by insects in areas of India and Southeast Asia. The resin is dried into a flaky substance that is sold based on its color and qualities. It is either purchased as a “kit” to be mixed with alcohol (ethanol preferably) or commercial distributors mix it, can it, label it and sell it to woodworking enthusiasts. Since a mixed product has limited shelf life, serious users should make their own shellac following this recipe:

Measure Mix

Make sure to measure your mix so the ratio of shellac to alcohol in pounds, known as the “cut.” One pound of shellac to one gallon of alcohol is a one-pound cut. Heavy cuts will be very thick covering less area. Commercially available mixed shellac is usually a two-pound cut. It’s a good idea to mix an amount needed for your current project – a pint will cover 50 square feet. A one pint amount of a two-pound cut would require four ounces of shellac flakes mixed with a pint of alcohol.

Make the Mix

You need to use a glass container with a lid. Pour the pint of alcohol (use denatured such as ethanol) into the glass container and stir in the flakes. Close the lid. Shake the jar every 10 minutes continuing for an hour. Let the mixture sit overnight so all the flakes dissolve properly. The newly created shellac will be ready to use the following day and if properly stored will last six months, maybe longer.

Filter the Mix

Not all of the flakes will dissolve. There will be some left over undissolved bits that you should filter through an old cotton T-shirt to remove the unwanted particles before using the shellac.

Grade of Shellac

Shellac is graded by color and wax content. Shellac flakes that are golden in color with little (1 percent) wax content are most expensive. Shellac flakes that are green in color with 3 to 5 percent wax content are least expensive.

Things to Remember

Mix your shellac in a well ventilated area making sure to prevent spillage. Once your shellac is mixed and you have finished a project with product remaining, store it in a container with an airtight lid. Make sure to wipe the rime clean before tightening the lid. Use of glass Mason jars are a popular choice to store mixed shellac. Make sure to keep it in a cool, dry place.