How Durable is Shellac Wood Finish?


Shellac is a resin secreted by female lac bug to form a cocoon on trees in the forests of India and Thailand. It is processed and sold as dry flakes, which are dissolved in denatured alcohol to make liquid shellac. This liquid shellac is then used as a brush-on colorant, food glaze and wood finish. Shellac functions as a tough all natural primer, sanding sealer, tannin blocker, order blocker, stain and high gloss varnish. Shellac was also used in electrical applications as it possesses good insulation qualities and it seals out moisture. It remains the only historically appropriate finish for early 20th century hardwood floors, wooden wall, and ceiling panel. From the time it replaced oil and wax finishes in the 1800s, shellac was the dominant wood finish in the western world until it was replaced by nitrocellulose lacquer in the 1920s and 1930s London French Polishers. It continues to be a popular candy glaze for pill shaped sweets such as Skittles.

Shellac was the finish to use prior to the 1950s, but became less popular when newer finishes surfaced. It regained a position as a floor finish and is used as a sealer coat under certain finishes or as a finish over older, antique wide plank flooring. Shellac does better with antique flooring giving it a beautiful look, along with its fast drying feature, usually 1-2 hours between coats. It bonds well over other type of finishes. Although shellac is not as durable as other type finishes, when dry forms an excellent barrier for protection against moisture. Shellac used as a topcoat is susceptible to water spotting, so it is not recommended for use on kitchen or bathroom floors. Directions call for 3-4 coats with a 4-6 inch polyester-nylon bristle brush. For best results, allow1-2 hours drying time with light sanding between coats. After 24-36 hours, apply a good paste wax using a high-speed buffer for added protection. This finish would then require periodic waxing once the sheen is worn off.

A woods finish plays a big part in its protection and durability. For many years, finishes have been applied to flooring. Wax, varnish, shellac, and lacquer are finishes that people used during earlier times. Because of its low durability and high maintenance characteristic, these waxes are rarely used today. However, the more durable finishes such as oil-modified urethanes and water based finishes are more popular and widely used on flooring today. With the many different manufactures who markets numerous types of wood finishes, it can be very confusing to someone who wants to purchase the best finish for their floor. This information is aimed at helping you decide what would be the best finish for your application.

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