This is How to Mix Shellac Flakes With a Mixing Chart. Shellac is a really fun woodworking finish that you can mix yourself. I’ll show you just how to do that, as well as several great tips and tricks along the way. Enjoy.
How to Mix Shellac Flakes
There are two primary types of shellac that you can buy for wood finishes. One of them is already mixed, and you buy it in a can. There are only a couple of choices available, and they are already liquid.
The other type is shellac flakes, and these look more like crushed up caramel colored chips, and they come in a bag or a can. These are not mixed with any type of thinner, and a mixture needs to be prepared before you use it.
This is were lots of woodworkers struggle with their shellac, because it’s easy to assume that it’s a difficult process. In reality, it’s not. Coming up, I’ll show you everything you need to know to be successful mixing your own shellac.
Choose Your Shellac Color
The first thing that you need to do is choose your shellac flakes. More importantly, you’re actually choosing your color. Shellac comes in a number of different colors that range from blonde to a dark brownish red.
There are also a lot of colors in between, and in particular the amber variety is very popular among the woodworkers that like to create a traditional look to their pieces. Whichever one you choose, you’ll need a bag of shellac flakes, at least half a pound.
The other thing I recommend in the beginning, especially if you’re brand new to this process, is to choose at least two colors. You can go with a lighter color, and then go with a darker color. This will give you a little bit of both, and you can have more to experiment with.
You can also combine some of the darker flakes with some of the lighter flakes to achieve different tones, which will open up even more colors for you.
Choose Your Shellac Thinner
After you pick out your shellac flakes, you need to pick out your thinner. The thinner is the vehicle which you will use to apply your finish. Basically the wet part. This is also pretty easy, because there are only a few options.
Shellac thins with alcohol. This doesn’t have to be fancy expensive alcohol, though you could absolutely do that if you wanted to create a surfice that could contact food. Most of the time, denatured alcohol is going to be your weapon of choice.
Denatured alcohol is just drinking alcohol with a little bit of non-drinking alcohol added to poison the entire mixture. This way, you don’t have to pay liquor taxes in order to sell it in the hardware store.
One standard size can of denatured alcohol is plenty for mixing up your own shellac, so pick up a can of denatured alcohol and you’ll have the second half of the recipe for making your own shellac finish.
Using Glass Canning Jars
Now that you have both of your ingredients, or all of the ingredients if you prefer, you need something to put them in to create your finish. This is the perfect job for glass canning jars that you can get from the grocery store.
Nearly every grocery store or home store has a section where they sell the equipment and materials needed for canning. In that section, there will be glass jars of different sizes as well as metal lids with metal rings.
For mixing of shellac finish, I recommend 16 ounce glass jars with the lids and rings. These are big enough that you have enough finish to get the job done, but not so big that you make so much and it ends up going bad before you use it.
How to Mix Shellac Flakes
The actual process itself of turning shellac flakes and denatured alcohol into a solution that you can use for wood finishing is not super complicated. Essentially, it’s just a matter of combining the two of them together and letting them mix.
There is a tiny bit more to it, and I’ll cover that in the next section. However, the basic process is using the alcohol solvent to dissolve the shellac into a mixture where there are no more solids. Everything will be in a colored liquid.
This process doesn’t happen instantly, in fact it can take several minutes to several hours depending on how long you want to sit there and swirl the mixture. However, it will eventually happen, and there will be no lumpy shellac flakes at the bottom.
It’s a good idea to swirl your mixture every so often, just to prevent the flakes from forming a solid mass at the bottom of the jar. This makes it take a lot longer for the flakes to dissolve fully into the solution of alcohol.
See Also: Dye Stain Tips
Shellac Mixing Guide
There’s a really nice mixing chart that can help you when it comes to figuring out how much shellac and alcohol you made in your batch. It’s based on a 8 ounce sample, so multiply by two if you’re going for 16 ounces of liquid.
The amount of shellac in a mixture is referred to as the cut. The cut is all based off of 1 pound of shellac in 1 gallon of alcohol. This is referred to as a 1 pound cut. If it was 2 pounds of shellac and 1 gallons of alcohol, then it would be considered a 2 pound cut.
Since mixing up a gallon of shellac is quite a large amount, the chart reduces everything down to a smaller volume while maintaining the same ratios. For starters, I recommend a two or 3 pound cut of shellac finish.
See Also: Mixing Shellac
Filtering Your Shellac
Once you create the liquid, you then strain it to remove any foreign debris that might’ve been collected in the process of drying the shellac and making it into flakes. You put that strained and filtered substance in a new jar, and you’re all done.
Straining and filtering don’t need to be that much more complicated than using a little bit of cheese cloth, or even a piece of a T-shirt to pour the shellac through and into a new jar. Anything that is not supposed to be there we get stuck in the material.
The filtering process is very important, because you don’t want any of the little dirt, debris, and bug parts to end up on your finish. It’s very easy to take a second and make a filter, and that’s all you need to do for a gunk free finish.
Storing Your Mixed Shellac
Mixed shellac can store for quite a while as long as you keep it in a sealed container, and you keep it out of extremes in temperature or direct sunlight. Any of these things will shorten the lifespan of your mixture, so keep that in mind.
Even under the best circumstances, I don’t recommend that you keep your mixed shellac for longer than 6 months. The mixture will last a bit longer than that, but it’s best not to take chances and just make a new batch.
Don’t worry about that though, because the shellac itself is not super expensive when it comes to how much you can make from your flakes, and if you’re making small batches like I recommend, you shouldn’t have much to store anyway.
Keep your shellac in the same jars that you use to mix the finish. Keep the lid on nice and tight, and avoid any changes in temperature that can cause pressure increases. Next time you are ready to finish, it will be ready for you.
Advantages to Mixing Your Own Shellac
There are several advantages to mixing your own shellac flakes into a woodworking finish:
- When you mix your own shellac, you get to control every aspect of the process.
- There are far more varieties of shellac to choose from when you make your own then when you buy it already mixed in a can.
- When you control how much shellac is in the mixture, you have the ability to apply as much as you want in a single coat.
- Make sure that you strain the mixture to remove any foreign objects or impurities before you use the finish.
- Jars are the best place to store your finish, and canning jars are inexpensive and last a long time.
Tips and Tricks for Making Shellac
Here are a few more tips and these have to do with the actual mixing process itself:
- Swirl the jar often when you mix your shellac and alcohol, that way the flakes dissolve into the alcohol faster.
- Don’t rush the process too much, and don’t do anything silly like heat the liquid or shake it to violently.
- Your shellac should be a translucent liquid when finished, and it should almost look like colored water.
- For most instances, you want to mix a 2 to 3 pound cut of shellac as a finish.
Your Action Assignment
Now that you know how to take shellac flakes and make your own woodworking finish from them, it’s time to take action on what you have learned. Buy some shellac flakes online, and get at least two different shades of flake.
Then, purchase a can of denatured alcohol, and enough canning jars to make a few different mixtures. Try a couple of different cut ratios, and a couple of different colors, and then apply them to pieces of scrap.
It’s only through experimentation and working with the materials that you determine how something will work for your particular process. I think you’ll enjoy working with shellac, just as I do.
If you have any questions about turning shellac flakes into a liquid shellac finish, please post a question in the forum and I’ll be glad to answer it. Happy building.
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