Guidance on shellac finish

Discussion in 'Finely Finished' started by matmosphere, Jan 19, 2020.

  1. matmosphere

    matmosphere Tele-Holic

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    6FF65D8D-2435-4C87-8807-D46FE886D2BC.jpeg A20D7492-D24D-4615-BC3E-C5E8985068E4.jpeg 19D4073D-ABA8-482C-9680-D99A04F6689F.jpeg I’m trying shellac for the first time on kit tele. The goal is not a French polish or anything like that, just a quick finish for now.

    I bought some dewaxed shellac flakes on amazon and found some ethanol (96%). Does anyone know if I can use this ethanol with shellac flakes or would I do better to try and find some high proof vodka?

    mostly worried about minimizing fumes and toxicity. Working in an apartment and have small kids around, so has to be nontoxic.

    Couple of years down the road this one might get sanded down and redone, but right now I just want to do something relatively quick and play it
     
  2. Boubou

    Boubou Doctor of Teleocity Gold Supporter

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    Your alcohol should be fine.
    You know shellac is going to wear pretty fast. If not damaged it doesn’t need to be sanded, the second layer will blend (dissolved) the first one.
    I remember shellacking mouldings, Daisy was happily sleeping right under the mouldings, I miss my shop dog
     
  3. jhundt

    jhundt Doctor of Teleocity

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    don't set any glasses of whisky down on your guitar!
     
  4. old wrench

    old wrench Tele-Afflicted

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    Keep in mind that your 96% ethanol alcohol is the the equivalent of 192 proof :).

    I know there are some bad-ass varieties of vodka out there, but I doubt you'll find any that exceed the potency of what we call PGA (pure grain alcohol) here in the States, which clocks in at 190 proof ;).

    I've used the WellerMart shellac myself and it seems to be pretty decent stuff; dissolves readily in either 190 proof PGA, or the "green" variety of DNA (denatured alcohol) sold as "fuel", or the more industrial variety of DNA sold as "fuel". It's pretty clean shellac, but it helps to strain it through a filter after dissolving so you get any foreign matter out of it before using it on your project.

    As far as toxic elements in the alcohol go, I would rate them in the order as listed above, with the PGA as least toxic and the industrial type of DNA as most toxic.

    I'm not sure where your ethanol falls in the order of toxicity - I do know there are "food grade" ethanols, but I don't read whatever language your label is printed in so I have no way of knowing exactly what you've got there :).

    A little tip that will help your shellac flakes to dissolve more quickly: If you have one of those little coffee bean grinders, you can throw your shellac flakes in there and grind them to dust in short order; the shellac dust will dissolve in alcohol very quickly.
     
  5. ndcaster

    ndcaster Poster Extraordinaire

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    you can add Mixol white and get a translucent blond finish
     
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  6. matmosphere

    matmosphere Tele-Holic

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    Thanks for all the advice guys!! How did I manage to post this in the wrong subforum.
    Any thoughts on brushing on vs wiping on?
     
  7. Maroonandwhite

    Maroonandwhite Tele-Meister Silver Supporter

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    I sprayed mine on as a sealer coat and to add a little color. I only used a finishing pad throughout the whole process after spraying. That was only if I could feel little nibs.
    Covered with lacquer afterwards which may it be an option for you if you don’t have a ventilated area.
    Maybe think about a tru oil rubbed finish after the shellac. Still soft but may help a little bit if layered.
     
  8. ndcaster

    ndcaster Poster Extraordinaire

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    I used a pad, and, if I had to do it over, my movements would be more circular
     
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  9. old wrench

    old wrench Tele-Afflicted

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    I've found brushing to be kinda tricky if I was trying to build up more than just a very thin coating of shellac - it was pretty hard not to leave brush marks in the finish. I know there are specialized brushes for shellac, but I don't have one of those - just a good quality natural bristle brush.

    I've had my very best results after putting in the practice time to learn how to apply shellac by the french polish method with a pad.

    It results in a absolutely beautiful finish :).

    Of course, the down side of a shellac finish is that it's more susceptible to damage by many of the dangers that a "player" type of a guitar is going to encounter in it's everyday life.

    By more susceptible I mean compared to a guitar with a more durable finish like lacquer or poly or urethane.
     
  10. RottenTheCat

    RottenTheCat Tele-Holic

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    Look up french polish and have your tampon handy
     
  11. harold h

    harold h Friend of Leo's

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    If I were to use shellac, I would mix a color in with it, and then I would do a wipe on poly finish over it.
     
  12. matmosphere

    matmosphere Tele-Holic

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    I don’t mind that it’s not as durable. I don’t like artificially relic stuff but if a guitar comes by it naturally I won’t seat it.

    plus It’s my understanding that shellac isn’t hard to repair, so I figure if it bothers me I can fix it and then do a wipe on poly later.

    Really doing this thinking it’ll be a decent finish for the next couple of years until I’m back home with outdoor space and my tools again. (Job has the fam elsewhere for the time being)
     
  13. matmosphere

    matmosphere Tele-Holic

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    Thank you mods, for moving this thread to the right place
     
  14. matmosphere

    matmosphere Tele-Holic

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    Sanded everything smooth, started to mix the shellac. Mixed about a 2lb cut figuring I can dilute or add more shellac but it seemed like a decent place to start.

    do I want something thinner than that?

    How much volume do I need per coat? How much surface area would a cup of shellac cover.

    I was thinking a pint would coat a tele several times over, but I realized that’s just an uneducated guess.
     
  15. Meteorman

    Meteorman Tele-Holic

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    i use 1# cut from WellerMart flakes almost exclusively. But then, I spray shellac 100% of the time.
    As noted above, brushing is tricky.... Resist the temptation to go back over areas after your initial strokes - I think the thicker 2# mix would make this even more problematic.
    Again, if you're gonna brush, avoid trying to fix brush marks while it's wet - just wait - it dries in 30 minutes and you can easily sand them out and apply another coat.
    A cup should do a whole body - depending how porous your wood is.
    The first seal coat gets absorbed pretty well - after that a little goes a long way.
    Ideally, spray or french polish.
    And I suggest you filter your raw batch - I always have amorphous floaties in shellac from flakes.
     
  16. epizootics

    epizootics Tele-Meister

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    I'll chime in, since I use shellac pretty much every day at work as an antiques repairman. I am by no means an expert but I do go through a LOT of that stuff. The stuff below is my method, not the right method by any means :)

    My method is a hybrid French polish - I don't use any oil, and my cuts are lighter than what the literature describes, but it's a very easy and forgiving process. I still use a pad though, but that's honestly a lot easier than trying to get it right with a brush.

    If you want your shellac to go on easily and dry fast, go for a very diluted cut, ie. a 1lb cut or lower. I've always found a 2lb cut to be too thick a mixture, resulting in very long drying times. Remember shellac dries by evaporation only, and that the thicker the mixture, the harder it is for it to dry. You want to build up a film with very thin layers that will melt into one another.

    Judging by that 'Spirt Etylovi' label, I assume you live in a part of the world where it's easy to find high-proof vodka, but you don't want to use that - even the really strong stuff will contain, well, voda (water for the non-Russian :)), which you don't want anywhere near your shellac. The water content would be trapped in by the shellac and never dry properly, which will in turn ruin your finish.

    You'll be fine with your ethanol (which should be voda-free), just open the windows once in a while if the fumes get too strong. Ethanol fumes are nowhere near as bad as other solvents.

    Back to the process. Start with a 1lb cut. Make sure the flakes are thoroughly dissolved. You can strain the mixture in another lidded container through a coffee filter if you can't to get rid of any impurity that might have gotten in. This can help depending the purity of your flakes. With a wide brush, apply the shellac liberally to the whole body. Don't try to get it perfect, just make sure every area is covered more or less evenly. This will soak the wood and prevent the stuff from sinking too much in subsequent coats. Leave that to dry for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the temperature. That should be enough for a 1lb cut. If you find it's still tacky when you come back to it, leave it be until it's completely dry, which might be overnight. In this event, you will want to add more ethanol, maybe one-third of the volume, to dilute it further. I use this stuff because it dries fast (on top of being period-correct for most of the furniture I work on), and I'm usually done in a day if the piece is not too large. A day should be enough for a guitar.

    Once dry, sand it back to almost bare wood with 220 grit. Remove any dust you get with a tack cloth. This will get rid of the brush marks. Don't worry about keeping any shine going - shellac will have penetrated enough of the wood and pores to seal them. Repeat the operation with your updated cut, sanding with 220 and 400 grit this time. It should dry significantly faster, since it didn't soak the wood as much as the previous coat.

    Now switch to the pad. You want to to use a 3"x3" piece of tee-shirt, or any kind of fine, lint-free cloth. Fill it with six or seven 1"x1" rough squares from the same tee-shirt, then close it like a dumpling by twisting the four angles together. The idea is to have a smooth, round-ish bottom with no overhang on the sides that would apply the finish to the areas around the pad.

    Keep adding alcohol to your shellac. It's hard to describe how much you need to thin it, but you'll get a feel for it quickly. It should dry almost as fast as you apply it after the two initial base coats. Soak your pad in your container, then squeeze it against the inside to get rid of the excess. It should be wet but not too wet.

    I never do the circular motion thing. It simply never worked for me. I takes passes along the grain, with each pass overlapping the previous one. Don't force the pad onto the surface, lightly skim over it whilst making sure your pad leaves a uniform 'slug trail' behind it. Don't go too fast. Make sure the pad always hits the surface once it's already moving (somebody used the image of a plane landing and taking off at the edges of your piece). The idea is to keep the pad moving so you don't burn into the previous layer. It should build up really slowly, but dry very fast. Just keep going over the whole body for about 20 minutes. You will see a shine building up as you go, and it should be dry to the touch almost as you go. Let it rest for 30 minutes. Feel the surface. If it's not baby-skin-smooth, give it some light sanding with 400 grit. Use a tack cloth once again. Keep adding alcohol. If your pad gets sticky, keep going with hardly any pressure at all, and go slower and slower. People give me funny looks in the shop when I get to the last stages of a shellac finish - "man, what are you doing? you look like a stoner trying to clean a window". I go that slow.

    You can keep going until you reach the shine you want. If you feel the surface is going tacky on you, let it rest until it's dry. When in doubt, I stick my nose close to the piece and smell it (more funny looks from my co-workers). If it smells too strongly like alcohol, I let it dry for a while.

    Once again, if your shellac is diluted enough and the passes are really thin, you can do this whole process within a day. That's pretty good as far as finish goes. You can do it over a longer period of time if you want to be on the safe side. It can't hurt, since shellac doesn't have a recoating window. It just melts into itself, as long as there's no contaminants on the surface.

    If you want your finish to be booze-proof, you can add one or two thin layers of Tru-oil (or any Danish oil you want) on top of the shellac. It'll stick without any problem to it and add an extra protective barrier. However, it'll make repairs harder, since any subsequent coat of shellac won't burn into itself.

    I hope the stuff above makes sense. It's still a bit early in France :)
     
  17. Chunkocaster

    Chunkocaster Poster Extraordinaire

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    Methylated spirits is dirt cheap here by the litre, I think that's what most people choose to mix shellac flakes with.
     
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