Scary discussion on using Shellac

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Scary discussion on using Shellac

Post by vintage frames » Wed 01 Dec, 2021 2:20 pm

Let's see if we can explain how to use shellac without making it sound too high falutin'.

Shellac is great stuff in that it can be painted over nearly everything - bare wood, painted wood, even waxed wood. It is a varnish, very fast drying and finishes to a beautiful glassy polish if applied correctly.

Most people will understand that shellac is constituent to French Polishing. That is where experienced craftsmen can build up a beautiful polish on tables and furniture using a 'cotton rubber' to create a high gloss finish.
You can also do that on a picture frame, but that is best left to a more zealous enthusiast.

For a framer using relatively narrow mouldings, the shellac can be easily painted on with a dedicated brush.
And there are two types of brush to choose from.
One is a Squirrel Hair Polishing Mop and this is best suited to wide flat mouldings. In using this brush, the operator will soak it in shellac, press out the excess polish with gloved fingers and shape the brush into a wide chisel. When pulled slowly across the moulding, the shellac will form a smooth wet varnish completely free of any brush marks.
The only downside here is the price, The most useful brush size, no.10 is £50 or so.

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A cheaper alternative is to use a flat 3/4" 'One Stroke' watercolour brush. A Pro Art Prolene is a good reliable brand. This will serve well on narrower mouldings.

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Now if it's just to paint on a coat of shellac to act as a barrier, then any sort of brush will do the trick but if the idea is to achieve a flat faultless finish, then the quality of the brush equals the quality of the finish.
One reason to note is that shellac dries within seconds, so that unlike oil varnishes, the brush marks do not have any time to level out.

The shellac finish most people will be familiar with is Shellac Sanding Sealer.

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This product is basically a strong solution of transparent shellac with a soapy like solid called Zinc Stearate floating about in it.
The zinc stearate is quite translucent in the polish and is released as a white powdery deposit when the sealer is sanded.
Because the powder is quite slippery, it lubricates the sand paper and prevents it tearing into the polish.

Sanding sealer provides an excellent base foundation for any finish on bare wood. The zinc powder also contributes to a degree of grain filling.

To use the sealer best, brush on two coats, allowing 15min drying time between.

After allowing the sealer to dry hard, best over-night, sand back the surface of the sealer flat with 600grit wet n'dry.

Doing this will release the zinc and result in a white powdery deposit on the polish.
DO NOT press down hard with the sand paper. Let the grit in the paper do all the work. The paper should fill up with white zinc only. If you see streaks of melted polish on the paper then you are pressing too hard and tearing into the finish.

When you're finished with that, all you need to do is wipe the powder away with a cotton pad and you should have a dull matt but perfectly smooth layer of polish.

If the shellac sealer has been painted over bare-wood which has been stained and topped with a glaze of earth pigments, then rubbing on two coats of wax will give a lovely finish with a good depth of colour.

A note of caution is not to buy Sanding Sealer from building supplies like Screw Fix or other. These are construction grade only and are adulterated with synthetic resins. Use the more familiar brand like Liberon.

The next post moves on to using Shellac Polish and mixing in with earth pigments and spirit stains.
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Re: Scary discussion on using Shellac

Post by bookmark » Wed 01 Dec, 2021 4:54 pm

Thank you Dermot for posting. I for one look forward to further posts

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Re: Scary discussion on using Shellac

Post by vintage frames » Wed 01 Dec, 2021 5:07 pm

Thank you for appreciating it.
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Re: Scary discussion on using Shellac

Post by Justintime » Wed 01 Dec, 2021 5:40 pm

We're here with baited breath. Erica said " where's the next post?" I said you hadn't written it yet... :roll:

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Re: Scary discussion on using Shellac

Post by vintage frames » Wed 01 Dec, 2021 7:21 pm

A happy future awaits you.
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Re: Scary discussion on using Shellac

Post by prospero » Fri 03 Dec, 2021 4:37 am

Shellac has the property of being able to accept water-based paints. As it sticks to virtually anything it's very useful as a
primer. I use it a lot for re-finishing factory mouldings. I've only ever had one that even Shellac wouldn't stick to. :D
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Re: Scary discussion on using Shellac

Post by Not your average framer » Fri 03 Dec, 2021 11:56 am

I have read that shellac, when used for french polishing needs to be finished with wax to stop it from absorbing moisture and getting that bloom developing on the surface. I can't be bothered to do this much of the time so instead of doing that I simply add a small amount of danish oil. Too much danish oil can take a long time for the finish to set, which is very unhelpful. So I only add about one teaspoon of danish oil to a 250 ml bottle of ready made shellac. I give the shellac and danish oil a quick blow over with a hot air gun and the finisih sets in seconds. I've never tried painting over this shellac and danish oil mixture with water based paints, but I am not convinced that it would be greatly sucessful.. For me shellac is mostly just a quick and easy surface finish which only very ocassionally gets used on bare oak frames. I more often use water based stains and finishes on oak frames and also do likewise on my pine frames as well. I've been using water based stains and finishes, for almost everything for a really long time now and I don't remenber exactly why I ended up going this way at the time, because it was so long ago.

I used to use shellac sanding sealer on pine to seal the surface and prevent water based finishes from raising the grain. I no longer need to do this as I apply my water based stains quite sparingly and dry them very quickly with my hot air gun. If the grain rises at all it's not very much and is not really detectable. I make a lot of my own water based stains using my normal stock colours of acrylic paints and water, which is not only very convenient, but is also economical as well. I used to use shellac quite a lot at one time and it's great stuff, but over time there has been pressure on me to keep pace partly with increasing workload and the need to create my own prefinished lengths of moulding for stock. I've also been in and out of hospital quite a few times and to be able to continue working as an active picture framer has not been easy. Being tied to a lease, when the credit crunch and trade was severely hit by the foot and mouth epidemic in Devon, had a very bad effect on local people spending money and also the number of holiday makers virtually disappeared completely and I had to rely very heavily on refinishing old stock to survive. It was a very bad time!

Dermot's advice on the forum has been extremely helpful down the years and often helpful to me, with my efforts to produce some of the really high class and up market stuff. The up market stuff seems to be the main part of what is left of much of the market around here. At one time, there was some business producing some of the more basic stuff, but Ikea, The Range and the cheap shops have pick up most of the demand for that stuff and a prices, which are not worth producing things for. The area which I am in is quite sparcely populated, so the available market was always limited. Many of us are either in very busy locations in larger towns a cities, or in much quieter often more rural locations. For those in the quieter locations, the better quality and more up market end of the market may be really helpful to you and much of what Dermot has to say may be very helpful to take notice of. For myself, I would also like to offer my own word of thanks to that of those others who have alreadt expressed their own thanks to Dermot.

It' is not easy to attract a worthwhile level of customers for more exclusine and up market framing, or related items. My approach has been to pursue niche market items and with a degree of empasis on older style items. This was not initially something which was planned at all. I am based in a very old fashioned town, with very old housing stock and lots of old villages and housing stock in the surrounding area. So the was a bit of a demand for things which looked old and over the years I have got better at doing this stuff. I deliberately pursue the niche market stuff and make every effort to make items that are noticably different and visually attractive and classy. It is a good thing to make things which are really stunning, but not in a modern way. I avoid modern style glossy finishes and particularly like traditional, rather subdued and subtile finished. True antiques, don't necessarily look like you might think, but the sort of look which you find on genuine older antique items really will command the better prices. I hope that some of this might be helpful to someone.
Mark Lacey

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― Geoffrey Chaucer

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Re: Scary discussion on using Shellac

Post by vintage frames » Fri 03 Dec, 2021 3:13 pm

Thanks Mark for your kind comments.
These posts are just simple pointers in how to use the tools which are available to all framers, should they want to make their own frames.

Creativity can only be expressed by having a basic knowledge of the craft and the materials.

'Secrets of the trade' is just a myth pedalled by finishers who are insecure in their abilities.
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Re: Scary discussion on using Shellac

Post by Not your average framer » Fri 03 Dec, 2021 10:09 pm

Thank Dermot,

As you can already see from how I use shellac these days, I cheat quite a fair bit. Oak frames sell quite easily, just because they are oak and I generally produce such oak frames in batches as an extremely efficient method of production. Shellac with a small proportion of danish oil is a very simple to apply, but fighly durable finish as well and it works very well for me. However in more recent times I have taken to using water based finishes as this also works very well.

I produce some frames from left over pieces of oak, which include knots and other defects. These are also easy to sell, but I often need to stain these frames to compensate for variations in the background colour of some of the pieces of oak. Since I stain these with my own home made acrylic based stains, it sort of makes sense to seal these stained finish with Polyvine dead flat acrylic wax finish varnish, as this not only produces a nice dead matt finish, but also contains a lot of colloidial silica, which is extremely tough and durable.

This is a simple way of re-using what would be otherwise wasted materials to create saleable product. The resulting rutic oak frames are actually are really nice high class product, which looks really special and is just great. These rustic frames are one of my best sellers.
Mark Lacey

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Re: Scary discussion on using Shellac

Post by Oldgrumpyface » Sat 04 Dec, 2021 7:21 am

Dermot, thanks again from me for sharing your knowledge and experience in such a clear way.
Looking forward to the next post
:clap: :clap: :clap:

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Re: Scary discussion on using Shellac

Post by vintage frames » Sat 04 Dec, 2021 2:47 pm

Thankyou, - a man of good taste.
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Re: Scary discussion on using Shellac

Post by Framerpicture » Thu 16 Dec, 2021 2:21 pm

Thanks Dermot! look forward to the next instalment :D

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Re: Scary discussion on using Shellac

Post by Framerpicture » Thu 16 Dec, 2021 2:21 pm

Thanks Dermot! look forward to the next instalment :D

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