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Shellac for a table??

jmc's picture

Shellac for a table?? (post #108765)

Help- I am attempting to finish a curly cherry table top.  When I applied oil/varnish the appearance was very blotchy.  I applied shellac (super blonde) and like the look but was concerned about the durability.  Can I apply oil/varnish over the shellac?? Could I just rub out the shellac and use that.  Its a coffee table so not subject to real hard use  - but I do have kids.  Any help would be appreciated.



byron's picture

(post #108765, reply #1 of 25)


I am not sure why you got a blotchy appearance on your top with just oil and varnish.  I would guess (just because I can not see the problem) that you missed removing glue or you might of had some type of residue on the surface from your tools.  Did you stir up the oil/varnish mixture before application? 

Second question.  I do not think you would have good success applying oil over shellac.  Shellac seals the wood and would not allow penetration.  You can apply shellac over most anytype of stain or oil after they have cured.  Oil usually needs a good 24 hrs to dry in most cases.  Also, you can apply most any topcoat over the shellac to add protection. 

Suggestions for 'Natural look' on Curly Cherry try this: 

1) Apply Tried and True Danish oil (or other BOL-boiled linseed oil), let it sit for about 5-10 minutes.  Then wipe off with a clean rag.

2) Let the project dry over night or at least 6 hrs.

3) Apply Blonde or pale shellac. ( use 3 or 4 coats if you just want the shellac look)  Shellac, although asthetically pleasing, is not the most durable of topcoats 


4) Use a topcoat of your choice.  Lacquer or Varnish.

I would suggest that you contact Jeff Jewitt at Homestead Finishing.  He can answer any questions you have on finishing.  He also carries a full line of finishing supplies. 

wop's picture

(post #108765, reply #2 of 25)

   you can put anything on top of the shellac with no problem or you can finish with just shellac if you build up a thick enough finish to be resistant to water . I have tables that were french polished 10 years ago and that wet glasses are set on regularly with no problems.


PelhamPete's picture

(post #108765, reply #12 of 25)

Hi Phillip,

Did I misunderstand or did you say that if you put enough coats of shellac on a table top it becomes resistant to water?  I am not disagreeing, just that EVERYTHING that I have ever read leads me to believe that no matter how many coats of shellac you put on- it will still get water spots ... that it is just ####part of "the nature of the beast."  To my mind it just makes sense; if a material such as shellac allows water vapor stain to penetrate into the finish (the white ring left by a glass with condensation), it ought not matter how thick the finish is.

Did I misunderstand your post?

-Peter T.

wop's picture

(post #108765, reply #15 of 25)

   As I stated in another post my tables are french polished, which also contains drying oil. As I have been told the oil is only to facilitate the application of the shellac. If this is true the shellac on my tables doesn't have moisture ring problems. If instead the oil constitutes a part of the final finish this could be the small factor that avoids the moisture problem. And as I said in the other post for other people I spray on a top coat because I'm sure not going to take the time to french polish for someone else (unless they are willing to pay by the hour for it).


Gretchen's picture

(post #108765, reply #16 of 25)

I suggest an experiment--put a wet glass on your table.  There is no doubt that shellac is a gorgeous finish.  It is just not the best finish for a tabletop, as you have basically said yourself by what you do for others.  The oil in your French polish has a lubricating effect and is spirited off as I understand the process.  And as someone pointed out on another thread shellac is easily repaired--IF it is in the home of someone who does finishing.
And for a warmer topcoat try a non-poly varnish.



Gretchen's picture

(post #108765, reply #3 of 25)

Shellac is not a durable finish for a table top--you will have water rings, etc. You can apply varnish over the shellac--if you use poly your shellac needs to be dewaxed.  A number of coats (at least 8)  of 50/50 varnish wiped on will give a durable finish for the top.



wop's picture

(post #108765, reply #4 of 25)

   I'll tell ya you and I seem to contrast on surfaces. Well like the old Italian saying " the world is beautiful because it varies" (rough translation but you sort of get the idea)


jcousins's picture

(post #108765, reply #5 of 25)

another $.02.

cherry is very blotchy by nature - but there are some wipe-ons that help level things.

everything can go over shellac - but i too think that shellac is not very durable. have had great luck with 5 coats of shellac and 3 coats of lacquer.


Gretchen's picture

(post #108765, reply #11 of 25)

I'll tell ya you and I seem to contrast on surfaces. Well like the old Italian saying " the world is beautiful because it varies" (rough translation but you sort of get the idea)

I guess you are saying that shellac IS a good finish for a coffee table.  I don't think many would agree but as you say----



wop's picture

(post #108765, reply #14 of 25)

   My coffee table and two end tables are all french polished . I have never had a water ring. But I also must admit that when I make a top for someone else I spray on a two part polyurathane top coat to avoid any problems.


forestgirl's picture

(post #108765, reply #6 of 25)

Cherry tends to be blotchy because different parts of the wood absorb stains and liquids differently.  One of the methods used to even out absorption is to apply a wash-coat of shellac before applying stain.  One would assume (at least this one would, LOL) that applying a wash coat of shellac before applying oil/varnish mix would help that problem also.  Along with the others above, I'd not recommend using shellac as a final finish on your table.  It's just not durable enough, especially with kids around.

You can use regular oil/varnish with standard shellac, or as mentioned use dewaxed shellac if you go with poly.  Zinnser's Seal Coat is a ready-made and excellent wax-free shellac.

forestgirl -- you can take the girl out of the forest, but you can't take the forest out of the girl   ;-)

forestgirl -- you can take the girl out of the forest, but you can't take the forest out of the girl ;-) 

Lar55's picture

(post #108765, reply #8 of 25)

FG - I believe your are correct.  First apply the shellac then the stain or oil and/or varnish.  The Shellac goes first to prevent the blotching.


hmltnalan's picture

(post #108765, reply #7 of 25)


Whether or not shellac would be durable enough depends on the use and abuse to which the table would be subjected.

Shellac is not a good choice for a dining table, coffee table, or anything else that will have wet things sitting on it, spilled on it, or where it would likely be abraded.  If it's an end table, a smoking table, a lamp stand, or the like--so long as no one will put a plant or a wet glass on it--shellac, with a good hard wax on top, should work very well.

A garnet shellac with a good wax on top of it is one of my favorite finishes.  It gives a warm glow to wood without a film on top; the wood has the finish in it, not on it.

I have an old (early 1800s) blanket chest that I refinished many years ago.  It is made from a single, twenty inch wide (sigh) pine board that must have been about twenty feet long before it was cut up to make the chest.  I put on five or six coats of an about one pound cut garnet shellac, with one coat of a dark Bri-wax, and then a good coat of my own carnuba wax concoction.  I've had no problems at all with it--even though for about a year I used it as a coffee table (I always insisted on saucers and/or coasters, and I immediately wiped up any spills).  But there were the inevitable disasters--or would be disasters--but with prompt attention to any spills, and faithful re-waxing, I've had no problems at all.  I try to re-wax it once a year, but frankly I usually forget.  No matter; it still looks great.

As someone else wrote, you can put just about anything over shellac--no matter what the manufacturers say.  You need to experiment.  Try out all the finishes you're considering and see how they look.  Try everything--on scraps, of course--and see what look you like best.  But also bear in mind how you're planning to use the table, and choose a finish that will give you the best combination of looks, durability and low maintenance.

Alan (going on much too long--as usual)

TJW's picture

(post #108765, reply #9 of 25)

Shellac is a very nice finish, but I  don't use it as a final finish on table-tops, for several reasons: the aforementioned susceptibility to water-staining and because of possible damage from alcoholic drinks and, worst of all, ammonia.   Picture this:  next week or 5 years from now, someone who just finished cleaning the windows decides to give that dirty table-top a few spritzes of Windex.  That could completely remove the shellac.

I do use shellac for legs and carcases and as a sealer coat only for table-tops, followed by varnish.


Edited 4/3/2003 7:59:42 AM ET by TJ

garth060's picture

(post #108765, reply #10 of 25)

Cherry happen to be my wood of choice I almost never use oil or stain. I put on a 2# cut of dewaxed garnet shellac if the piece is not going to have adult drinks near it I will rub out the shellac. In your case a coffee table I would put about 6 coats of wipe on alkyd varnish over the shellac. I perfer the alkyd varnish as IMO it has less of the plastic look. Put on 3 coats let set over night then rub down with gray scotch brite and put on 3 more coats let set over night and rub down with white scotch brite and enjoy.

Scott T.

jmc's picture

(post #108765, reply #13 of 25)

Thanks for everyone's help.  More information than I could have ever hoped for.  I think I will try the Shellac / varnish combo.  It seems to be a popular choice.



DawnHC's picture

pine dresser top (post #108765, reply #17 of 25)

Re: shellac/varnish combination.  

What  varnish product should I buy to top coat Bulls Eye Amber Shellac on a pine dresser top, to provide excellent durability for water/chemical resistance?

Bought Broyhill Fontana furniture used. Dresser-top in rough shape so sanded down to bare wood.  Had to replace a piece of knotty pine veneer inlay on top. Shellac amber (pre-mixed in can) was recommended by woodworking shop to match stain of furniture.  It does, perfectly!  However, dresser belongs to teenage girl. Need to top coat it to enable it to stand up to yrs of expected water/chemical "abuse" (ie nail polish, perfume,water glasses, etc).  (Have oil based poly on hand, but that won't work over the waxed shellac.) Please, tell me what to do! The more I read, the more I don't have a clue!  Prefer a natural, non-toxic product like Shellac, but one that offers more durability.

ps. I know nothing about woodworking. This all started when we took on the project of re-doing my middle-schoolers bedroom.  It seemed all the new furniture we looked at at Rooms to Go and City Furniture was "junk," and all was imported from Vietnam. We wanted quality wood "Made in USA," to last through high school/college. Kudos to you woodworkers who build from scratch! Please share your expertise before turn this project into "scratch!"  Thank you!

HowardAcheson's picture

Limited Choices (post #108765, reply #18 of 25)

>>>>  What  varnish product should I buy to top coat Bulls Eye Amber Shellac on a pine dresser top, to provide excellent durability for water/chemical resistance?

You have limited choices.  The shellac you used in not dewaxed and applying a polyurethane varnish will result in reduced adhesion.  You will need to use a non-poly varnish.  Waterlox Original, Behlen Rockhard, Pratt & Lambert 38 (being discontinued but still availlable in some Sherwin Williams stores) and Shewin Williams varnish.

Let me add that almost any finish will be damaged by some chemicals.  The acetone used in nail polish and nail polish remover is particularly aggressive.  You might want to consider having a glass top made.

roc's picture

Ah that's easy . . . (post #108765, reply #19 of 25)

Two choices . . .

1.  Get a sheet of glass, ( or plexy glass ? ) cut to sit on top of the dresser.  She can even put photos etc. under the glass for fun.


2.  Spray the top with a two part epoxy auto body clear coat.  Bad chemicals !  Don't breath this stuff.  You mix it like epoxy from two containers, spray the surface then dispose of the rest because it is going to set up into a solid in a short while.  The old guys say " If you can smell it through your respirator it is killing you ".  Great stuff.  Holds up to being soaked repeatedly with various kinds of fuel for powering internal combustion engines it should stand up to a little nail polish remover.


Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. Abraham Lincoln ( 54° shaves )

DawnHC's picture

Howie and Roc, Thank you. (post #108765, reply #20 of 25)

Howie and Roc,

Thank you. When I bought the dresser, I thought a glass top was the best idea. But they run in the $100 range in my area, so I hesitated.... Now I agree with you both--glass is really the only way to go for long-term preservation of the piece, considering how and for whom it will be used.  Guess it would be  "penny wise and pound foolish" not to make that investment.  Roc, love the photo idea! That's perfect! Thanks!

Howie, I didn't apply the Shellac yet.  I didn't want to commit to that part of the process until I knew for sure how I was going to do the whole thing. Honestly, because I'm not a woodworker, and all I was trying to do was restore the top of a used dresser, I figured I'd just use Minwax products from Home Depot--a Pre-Stain Conditioner since the wood is soft pine, and a stain, followed by the oil-based poly I had on hand. When I contacted the manufacturer to find out what color stain the furniture is, they advised me to take a drawer to a woodworker to match the stain.  So that's what I did, (when I purchased the piece of veneer) and that's where the Shellac came in.  I've never used Shellac before.  After researching it, it seems like a good product.  I appreciate that it's natural and non-toxic. (Just won't tell my daughter it's from beetles from India!) The woodworker guy said the Shellac would do the whole job--seal and finish. 

Do you guys think the Bulls Eye Amber Shellac with a glass top on the dresser will be sufficient? Or should I invest in the varnish as well? (I checked and found all three are available from stores in my general area.)

As mentioned,  the dresser is down to the bare wood and ready to start finishing.  (After I pick it up from the "Professional" who attached the veneer!) 

Yes, this old used furniture truly cost me hundreds less than the new, furniture-gallery bedroom sets...What I saved in acquisition costs, I've spent getting a woodworking education!!  (From making mistakes and fixing them!) This education yields surprising bonuses.  Like yesterday, when my daughter was working on a geography project that required little plastic iquanas to be hot-glued on.  They refused to stick.  I thought about all the adhesion stuff I've learned, so I said to her, "Lets sand the bottoms of the iquanas with steel wool and try gluing them then."  It worked! The Project:  Iquanas Invade So. Florida Backyards."  Who wood have thought iquanas had anything to do with woodworking?!

Thanks again for your advise.  I'll be asking more questions when it comes to actually brushing/rubbing the finish. Have a great afternoon! :)

roc's picture

Glad I could help (post #108765, reply #21 of 25)

$100 for glass !  Ouch.

I wonder out of curiosity  and in this slow economy what it would cost if an auto body guy when he was going to spray a car anyway would wrap the dresser with a sheet of paper and tape it down then spray the dresser top.


You know, if he is already mixing up a batch of epoxy clear for a car and already going to have to clean the gun after ward. . .  the paper, tape and clear coat wouldn't cost him anything.

If glass is afordable that would be more fun.  A bit scarry to transport to school though.


Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. Abraham Lincoln ( 54° shaves )

DawnHC's picture

Roc, that's a good idea, too, (post #108765, reply #22 of 25)

Roc, that's a good idea, too, about the auto body guy.  But what did you mean by your last line?--"a bit scary to transport to school?" Oh, I must not have explained right.  The school geography project was making a mobile to describe a particular issue and present a solution.  My daughter decided on a local problem here with over-population of iguanas and their invasion into So. FL backyards. She designed her mobile with various independent scenes, all containing party-favor size iguanas. When she hot-glued them on, they kept falling off. That's when I suggested sanding their bellies to help them adhere.  She asked where I got that idea and I told her, "Your furniture."   She just shook her head and with a smile commented, "Oh Mom." ( I have a habit of overthinking projects.)  Anyway, the glass nor the dresser will be transported to school; just in case that was how I made it sound--whoops!

By the way, the dresser top is 19x70.  Best price I found for the glass was $77.  Without contacts at auto body shops, people here aren't known to do "favors" (unless your Hispanic!) Sometimes I think I've bitten off more than I can chew, but then I thank God for the opportunity to learn something new! 

Thanks for your insight. I'll see what options I can get on the table.Table top.  Ha ha

roc's picture

Just imagining; I don't have kids; what do I know. (post #108765, reply #23 of 25)

I was recalling when you wrote : 

>We wanted quality wood "Made in USA," to last through high school/college.<

I was picturing you sending her off someday to college in another town, dresser packed in the Volvo / Uhaul or some such and having to move the dresser glass without breaking it in the move.  That is why I mentioned plexiglass.


Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe. Abraham Lincoln ( 54° shaves )

resoamp's picture

Boiled Linseed finish (post #108765, reply #24 of 25)

Oil finish! Seems everyone has forgotten the art of a BLF   Boiled Linseed Oil. The technique i learned years ago was......

once a day for a week, once a week for a month then once a month for a year.

It was called an English gunstock finish. The secret that seems to escape everyone is you DON'T wait for it to dry. You rub a very small amount of oil onto, say a raw walnut gunstock. Rub oil briskly with your palm until  the friction generates too much heat. Rub till the oil is dry. Wipe off with soft dry cloth. Some grain will seem to 'pop' into 3d. Follow recipe. The friction induced heat polymerise the oil  into long chain molecules, causing it to harden into a durable beautiful finish. The more handwork you put in, the deeper the grain highlighting gets. It's addictive. There will be no odour, as the oil is dry! It seems that the 'instant finish' mentality wants the effect without the elbow grease. A bonus, is that you can touch it up with one drop of oil rubbed in briskly at any time. It's waterproof, and has kept gunstocks in the best condition for a very long time. You can use a small cloth rubber, but only a few drops of oil at a time. Watch where you store your oiled rags, they can spontaneously combust. I use this method on my aaaa grade curly maple muzzle loader gunstock, and a host of others.....and guitar bodies as well, but Ya Gotta Rub till it's HOT.

SteveSchoene's picture

There is a good reason for (post #108765, reply #25 of 25)

There is a good reason for the neglect of the pure Boiled Linseed Oil finish.  A more protective and virtual identical appearing finish csan be achieved with an oil varnish mixture instead of BLO. The method of application is similar,but you don't need the more than dozen applications (not counting the annual refreshing required with the BLO),  Heat from hands is only going to have a modest impact on the polymerization.  (A dramatic increase in the hardness of the film increases when the temperature of the polymerization process increases to 200 degrees C compared even with 180 degrees C.  Such temperatures are not remotely achievable by hand friction.) 

Alternatively, commercially polymerized linseed oil, such as TruOil is also a very tradtional choice for items such as gunstocks, with the advantages of controlled thermal processing. 

Test your finish on scrap, FIRST, or risk having to scrap your finish.