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Getting Shellacked: Preparation

March 28, 2012

The doors are hung and stained. I used Minwax red mahogany with a natural bristle brush. You know the routine:

  • Sand door smooth with successive grits of sandpaper: 80, 150, 220, 240
  • Remove all dust
  • Condition (more on this in the tutorial)
  • Stain (brush on and wipe off)

So this is where the process halted…..what to use for a top or finish coat?

I have refinished a lot of beat up antique furniture and I always use polyurethane. Poly is great if you have a controlled environment with no dust or DOG HAIR, floating around in the air. Why? Poly is a thick sticky finish that takes hours to dry and any point in that process can be sabotaged by a shedding dog, a windy day (pollen, dust etc..) or a sneaky cat who likes to put her paws in everything.

Basically, it’s really difficult to use poly at my house with the menagerie running us in circles. Also, you normally need at least two coats af poly applied 8 hours apart with sanding in between. My most recent project, the front door was finished this way and it was very difficult to keep it dust and hair free.

Well, this time I have 3 doors to do, not 1. We also have a tiny garage (the only controlled environment we have) and I would only be able to do one door at a time. I started to research different kinds of top coats to see what my other options were and stumbled upon this:

What a nice break down this video gives! Oil, shellac, lacquer, and varnish. Poly is a varnish I didn’t want to go that route. Oil will not give the sheen I want, and lacquer sounds kind of difficult to apply correctly….leaving shellac.

The more I read about shellac the more excited I get!

  • non-toxic
  • low odor
  • dries in minutes
  • cleans up with alcohol
  • can be used as a  base coat or primer for any other finish
  • comes pre-mixed (phew!)
  • has a warm tint that adds an antique color to wood

Why haven’t I used this before? Sounds like the perfect product, especially if you are going to do it inside like we are. It seems no one else has used it either? I tweeted for help, but no one replied. My Old House Web buddies, definitely have experience, but are all mum for the moment. My carpenter has no clue.

So I went on an internet instructional video and resource hunt and found this other helpful information.

If you want to make your own shellac, or learn about the different cuts, wax or no wax, watch this:

If you want to learn more about the process, what materials you need, where and when to use shellac read up here:

I am off to buy some seal-coat shellac tonight. The last step before the door tutorial will be ready. Wish me luck!

14 Comments leave one →
  1. htyen1 permalink
    June 1, 2015 11:41 AM

    does this work with exterior doors?

  2. htyen1 permalink
    June 1, 2015 11:40 AM

    does this work for exterior doors?

  3. saaraahsaaraah permalink
    March 30, 2012 3:25 PM

    Thanks for such an informative post! I don’t know anything about shellac. I’ve only used poly on one project and I had (have) such a problem with dust particles in it. ugh. It drives me batty.

    • March 30, 2012 7:41 PM

      You ahould try shellac, it was so easy and dried in minutes. I don’t know why I was intimidated before. The tutorial is almost done. Check back Monday.

  4. johnny51 permalink
    March 29, 2012 2:23 PM

    Shellac is a great finishing product. I’ve used it as a first coat almost as a sealer before a couple coats of poly. Although, I have seen people use like 5-10 coats of it for fine furniture. Oh, and if you get a compressor, you can use a cheap attachment to blow the saw dust off of the project. Works really well.

    • March 30, 2012 7:43 PM

      I actually have used a white shellac primer on knotty pine before. It makes sense to use a clear sealer on wood. Especially with soft woods like pine. I will look into that.

  5. 1house1couple permalink
    March 29, 2012 1:47 AM

    ooh my gosh, this is really good to know. Yes, polyeurethane takes forever to dry and anything in the air will ruin it forever!

    shellac sounds like a good solution 🙂

    looking forward to your tutorial


  6. March 28, 2012 5:32 PM

    You have the most informative posts! I love reading them and I could bookmark every single one. I’m eager to see the results – the doorknobs are purty, by the way.

    • March 28, 2012 11:27 PM

      That’s just about the nicest thing anyone has said to me all week, heck all month. Thank you! I just love to share information, so that next project is easier for someone than it was for me. The shellac is turning out awesome! I have so much to post about 🙂

  7. March 28, 2012 1:44 PM

    I saw your post on Old House Web this morning – I’ll definitely be checking back in to see what sort of answers you get.

    I think for our bathroom door we’re going to use poly – especially since it’s fairly close to the bathtub and shellac does discolour/deshine when hit with water.

    I’m hoping beyond hope that the top coat on all of our faux-boised woodwork is shellac, because it’ll be an easier rehab job!

    • March 28, 2012 11:30 PM

      Totally right about the water. Cool thing is, shellac can act as a base coat for any other finish. So you could do the doors in shellac and then ad a single layer top coat of poly. I am doing this with the basement bathroom. The interior side of the door and the outside of the bathroom closet with get an additional layer of poly top coat.


  1. Tutorial: Refinishing Antique Doors « A Home In College Hill

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