How it’s Made: Shellac

December 2, 2023 | 18 min read | By: Parkerville

Shellac on a Tree

If you’re a woodworker, you’re probably familiar with shellac.  I remember first encountering shellac back when I was a Boy Scout and whenever I catch the unique smell of shellac, it transports me back to Boy Scout Camp.  In this edition of our “How it’s Made” series, we’ll give you an overview of this very interesting process.  

Quick Overview

Shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac bug and deposited on trees in the forests of India and Thailand. The deposits are harvested, processed, and sold.  As the resin is processed, there are steps along the way the shellac is set aside to make the different types of shellac. 

Shellac has been used for centuries as a means to finish furniture and wooden musical instruments like violins or cellos.  Today, pre-mixed shellac can be purchased in a variety of retail outlets, and dry shellac products, such as buttons or flakes, can be found in woodworking stores and, of course, online.

Shellac Bug

Harvesting and Processing

This video, courtesy of Shellac Finishes, provides an excellent overview of what it takes to produce shellac.  As you’ll see in the video, the process is quite labor-intensive and has not changed much over the centuries.

Shellac may be used in pharmaceutical applications, as a fruit coating, in cosmetics, and printer’s ink, among many other uses.

Learn More about Shellac

Shellac is an extremely versatile finish.  It can be used simply as a sanding sealer or with the French Polishing technique to create a beautiful and durable finish.  There are many resources available on the internet that can help you learn more about the use of shellac.  Did you know that by using shellac flakes and alcohol, you can easily create a mix of finish that is specific to your needs and only in the amount needed?  We encourage you to take time to learn more about shellac and its uses.  You won’t be disappointed.

We hope you appreciate these “How it’s Made” articles.  We welcome any suggestions you may have for future topics.  We hope to see you in the shop!

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