How to easily make wood shellac yourself!

Making your own shellac from dry flakes and alcohol is simple, fast, and economical. It’s shocking how few people attempt to make wood shellac themselves anymore.  A little pre-planning can save you money in the workshop and who doesn’t like that.  So roll up your sleeves and get mixing. Follow the step by step instructions on how to make this natural resin finish yourself and I promise you will never go back to store bought. 

 

Psst…. If you are new to shellac wood finish, make sure you start here. 

Table of Contents

Pros of Making Your Own Wood Shellac

Shellac wood finish on wood, makes wood grain pop
Clear Shellac makes wood grain stand out

Making your own shellac at home offers several advantages over buying premixed.

Cost Savings

The main benefit of mixing your own is the cost savings. By buying dry flakes and denatured alcohol separately, you can mix shellac at a fraction of the cost of pre-mixed options.  I made a cost breakdown in 2023; which included any additional shipping costs.  

 

Dry Flakes – The cheapest I could find was 500 grams for  49.05 Euros / 2.45 euro per 25 grams. 

 

Ethanol Alcohol – 49.92 Euros / 100 ml is approximately 1 euro

 

Therefore, I can make a small batch of approximately 100 ml for 3.45 or 34.50 per litre. 

 

Compare this to the options I have available locally of Pre-mixed from Labshop, which was 53.14 euro (including shipping).

 

34.50 vs 53.14 euros; It’s a no brainer for me!  Check out your own local prices and compare for yourself. 

Control Over the Thickness

When you make shellac yourself, you have control over the ratio of shellac flakes to alcohol. This allows you to customize the shellac to your preferred thickness. You can mix thicker or thinner coats of shellac based on your needs.  

Adjust the Colour Tones

With homemade shellac, it’s easy to adjust the colour. This flexibility lets you fine-tune the colour tone for your woodworking projects.

My Simple Metric Wood Shellac Recipe

As a kid brought up in the metric system, I get rather confused with the imperial weights. Therefore, I rely on this simple metric recipe. Forget about the traditional 1-pound cut and 2-pound cut ratios – with this recipe all you need to remember is 25g flakes to 100g of denatured alcohol.

 

The 25g to 100g ratio creates a nice 2 lb cut, which is a good middle-ground concentration for most furniture projects. However, the beauty of this metric recipe is that it’s very easy to adjust the concentration if needed.

 

To make a lighter 1-lb cut, use 12.5g flakes to 100g of denatured alcohol. For a heavier 3-lb cut, use 37.5g flakes to 100g alcohol. It’s that easy to tweak!

 

The 25/100 ratio is a great starting point that will work for most needs. Simply mix 25g of flakes with 100g of denatured alcohol, shake and stir regularly until dissolved.

Denatured Alcohol

Denatured alcohol is ethanol that has been treated with chemicals to make it unfit for human consumption. This makes it inexpensive and widely available.

 

Denatured alcohol is also the best method to dissolve shellac flakes. It typically comes in 95% and 99% strengths. Either one will work, but 99% is preferred. Caution: Denatured Alcohol is very flammable so keep it away from any open flame or heat source. 

Mixing Instructions

Super simple, step by step how to make shellac instructions. 

Tools Needed

Kitchen Scale (in metric)

Ethanol Alcoho, also known as Denatured Alcohol (99%)

Glass Container with Lid (save those jam jars)

Shellac Flakes (waxed or dewaxed depending on what you will use it for)

Turkey Baster (if you are a messy pourer like me)

Coffee filter or paint strainer (if required)

How to make your own shellac - tools required

Easy Metric Recipe

My super easy recipe is approximately 1 part flakes to 4 parts alcohol.  

 

Therefore; 25 grams flakes into 100 grams of ethanol alcohol. That’s it! It can’t get any simpler.   

 

If I need a larger batch of shellac, I then double the recipe to 50 grams of flakes to 200 grams of ethanol alcohol.

Recipe in Ounces

A simple recipe conversion is 1 ounce of dry shellac flakes to  4 ounces of denatured alcohol. This will produce a classic two-pound cut of shellac. The ratio of flakes to alcohol remains 1 to 4.

Step-by-Step How to Make Shellac

The process can be broken down into 5 simple steps.

Step 1

Place your glass jar on the kitchen scale that measures in Grams (or Ounces).

Press the Tear button to Zero out the weight.

Kitchen Scale for making shellac

Step 2

Add your shellac flakes. For a single batch I add 25 grams of flakes.

If you require more, double your recipe.

Pour Shellac flakes into the jar

Step 3

Reset your Kitchen scale to zero and keep it in grams. I now add 100 grams of denatured alcohol to the shellac flakes.

 

Note: if your ethanol jar doesn’t pour well, like mine, I use a turkey baster to suck up the alcohol and release into the glass jar. Do not use this turkey baster again for cooking. It’s now your shellac baster.

Add Ethanol Alcohol to make shellac

Step 4

Close the glass jar tightly and shake it.  Allow the shellac to sit for 24 and wait for the shellac flakes to dissolve.

Tip: to speed up the dissolving process, shake the jar regularly throughout the day.

Shellac flakes melting in ethanol

Step 5

Shellac is ready to use when there is no flakes floating or sitting on the bottom of the jar.

TIP: you can also strain your shellac mixture through a coffee filter in order to strain out any shellac flakes which did not dissolve. 

Shellac flakes are dissolved, shellac is ready to use
Brown shellac

Video Make your own Shellac Step by Step

Shelf Life of Homemade Shellac

Once mixed, homemade shellac has a relatively short shelf life compared to many other finishes. This is because the flakes dissolve in the alcohol solvent, rather than forming a chemical bond.

 

Properly stored, it will last approximately 6 months before starting to lose its effectiveness. The shelf life depends somewhat on the ratio of flakes to alcohol, with thicker mixes lasting slightly longer.

 

To get the longest shelf life possible, store in an airtight, sealed glass jar out of direct sunlight. 

 

Once it starts to gel, thicken, or becomes stringy, it’s time to dispose of it. Don’t try to rejuvenate old shellac past its prime.

 

Mix small amounts which you can use up well within this timeframe to use at its optimal freshness and performance.

Traditional Wood Shellac Colors

Shellac comes in a variety of natural colours depending on the type of lac bug it is extracted from. Some of the most common traditional  colours include:

 

Amber – This is the most common colour of shellac flakes and produces a warm, amber-orange coloured finish. Amber has a classic, traditional look.

 

Blonde – Blonde shellac is lighter in colour than amber and produces more of a golden-yellowish finish. It provides a brighter, lighter look than amber.

 

Garnet – Garnet shellac has a deep, dark reddish look. It produces a rich mahogany or cherry-coloured finish. Garnet is less common but provides a dramatic, bold look.

 

Orange – As the name implies, orange shellac has an orange hue. It is warmer in tone than blonde but lighter than amber. Orange gives a bright, vibrant orange tone.

 

Ruby – Ruby shellac is a brilliant, bright red colour. It produces an intense, rich red finish. Ruby makes a striking bold statement.

Painted vs Staining - both techniques are completed on this piece
Brown Shellac top coated glossy.

Waxed vs Dewaxed Shellac

Shellac is originally a product with wax in it. Therefore, before you start buying and mixing your own, you will need to consider what type is right for your project.  If you plan on top coating shellac with a water based product or using water based paints, you will require dewaxed shellac.

 

I only use dewaxed shellac for all my projects.  It’s just as clear as any waxed shellac and I have never had an issue with adhesion. 

Cathedral walnut veneer, coated with clear shellac and varnish
Clear shellac with satin top coat

Waxed Shellac

– The wax helps the shellac flow and brush on more smoothly.

– It gives a bit more working time before the shellac starts to set.

– The downside is that multiple coats can end up with a slight wax build up or cloudiness.

– Is best used on its own as a finish.

Dewaxed Shellac

– Dewaxed shellac brushes on a bit thinner and soaks into the wood better.

– It dries faster and hardens more completely between coats.

– Dewaxed shellac is ideal as a sealer or sanding sealer under other finishes like oil, varnish or lacquer.

– It can also be used as a standalone finish but needs to be brushed on carefully to avoid lap marks.

Dewaxed Shellac
Brown shellac flakes

Applying Homemade Shellac

shellac being brushed on a wood veneer inlay table
Shellac can be applied easily with a brush

There are a few different methods for applying your homemade shellac finish. I personally prefer the brushing method and have dedicated information on how to brush shellac. It’s super simple to brush on a coat of shellac and it leaves little to no brush marks.  Sanding lightly between layers with 220 grit sandpaper or these finishing pads, makes a buttery smooth finish. 

Sanding between coats of shellac
These finishing pads are great for in-between coats of shellac

Topcoating

Multiple thin coats of shellac (typically 3-5 coats) are needed to build up a protective finish. As shellac “melts“ in alcohol, you will need to protect the surface from encountering any type of alcohol.

 

The cocktail bar’s I have created all have an additional topcoat added over the shellac base. This is one of my favourite finishes.  The shellac highlights the wood grain while a water based top coat provides long term durability. 

 

You can coat over shellac the same way you would topcoat paint or any other finished surface. If the shellac was dewaxed, there is no issue. I can safely inform customers that the wood grain they fell in love with, is protected, water resistant and will require no regular maintenance.

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Hey, I'm Sarah, the owner of Bold Wallflowers.

I'm on a self-taught journey through furniture refinishing and restoration, loving every experiment in my workshop.

Join me as I share my discoveries and gained knowledge with our vibrant community of fellow refinishers!

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