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I'd like to learn to use shellac. From what I've heard it's one of the more difficult finishes to achieve. Why? I plan to practice on a few pieces before I use it on something I really care about. What should I be watching out for?

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    Not sure why someone would call it more difficult ... it's a fast-drying varnish (since alcohol is the solvent) but brushing/padding /wiping techniques are much like those foe other varnishes. In fact, according to recent tests, one of the inexpensive premixed brands of dewaxed shellac (seal-cote) worked surprisingly well for both wiping and brushing. – keshlam May 9 '15 at 18:56
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    We're not supposed to ask questions in Answers so could you expand a bit on the surface finish you want to achieve? Also, why you want to use shellac specifically to do it. If you're after a specific look only, e.g. the gloss of a full French polishing job, and don't really mind whether shellac is the material used for it there are much more user-friendly ways to get that look these days. – Graphus supports Monica May 9 '15 at 22:50
  • @jzx Could you elaborate on why you were told it was difficult? Were those people talking about French polishing, mixing your own shellac, or just applying it in general? – rob Jun 10 '15 at 0:59
  • I don't recall the words "french," "polish," "shine," or "gloss" being mentioned. They did mix their own, but that doesn't seem to be very difficult. – jzx Jun 10 '15 at 5:49
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I am very much an amateur woodworker, but I love shellac. If you are after a perfect finish, then yes, it is hard to get right.

If you are after something good enough (As I am), then it is really easy. You sand it back smooth (I use 180 grit) then start with light coats. You let it dry, sand it again and repeat. After 4-5 you should start to feel and see the smoothness. A few more coats and you have a high gloss finish.

On a nice sunny day, you can get 2-3 coats an hour so it takes no time all all. The real trick is to use light coats.

Additionally it is pretty cheap. The flakes are ~ $30 AUD and a 4L bottle of metho is $5. A bottle of flakes generally lasts for quite a few work pieces.

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From what I've heard it's one of the more difficult finishes to achieve. Why?

That's a lot like saying that spray paint is one of the more difficult finishes to achieve. If you're finishing a Rolls Royce with half a dozen coats and lots of polishing, sure. But you can also just spray on a coat or two and call it a day.

So it is with shellac. If you want the deep, rich, glossy finish created by French polishing, there a lot of work and more than a little skill involved. That would be appropriate for fine furniture or a musical instrument. But if you just want a good looking, non-toxic finish that's easy to repair for, say, a baby crib, you can wipe on a coat or two of shellac and do a little sanding with very fine paper.

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