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In the process of replacing methanol solvents (methyl hydrate) in my shop with arguably less toxic ethanol-based "denatured alcohol", I've encountered difficulty in finding any product labelled exactly as "denatured alcohol", and at a decent price. I suspect this varies from area to area, as ethanol sales are often fraught with legal constraints. I am in Canada, BC.

What is the best "thing" to use to dissolve shellac flakes, considering health side effects (fumes, spills, accidents, etc.), and price? I'll need to make a gallon (4L) of shellac.

My original question was here, but I wanted a place to share new findings about potential substitutes.

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    I'm glad you've found some potential candidates for mixing your shellac but just to note a user would never normally make up a gallon in one go. Unless you're going to be using it really heavily for large projects where this much will get used within a year! Shellac is best fresh, so best made in smaller batches that will last approx. six months. – Graphus supports Monica Jun 7 '18 at 15:29
  • Are you only interested in substitutes which could be used for shellac? Or was that just an example? (Assuming this would influence the answers, which might not be the case anyway) – DaveInCaz Feb 20 at 10:37
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I've found two products readily available in BC that one might not suspect to be denatured alcohol, but despite not having "denatured alcohol" written anywhere on the product, they are denatured alcohol.

  • BioFlame: 95.6% ethanol, and 4.40% ethyl acetate.
  • LV Lacquer Thinner: 91% ethanol, 4% butanol, %4 isopropanol.

I'm not a chemist (please step in if you are), so I can't assess which of the following is the safest, but I think they are fairly comparable, prices set aside.

Manufacturers are not obliged to list ingredients on labels for non-food items, so one must rely on safety data sheets to determine their content. These sheets do not accompany the products, so what is in the actual bottle might vary based on when and where it was purchased. I recommend you double check your sources.

BioFlame ($26CAD/3.78L)

BioFlame3.78L

I was recommended BioFlame, which is available at Canadian Tire. It is an ethanol-based combustible designed for alcohol burners. Bioflame's sales department affirms (in email) it is often used by woodworkers. At the time of this writing (early June 2018), its constituents are:

95.6% ethanol, and 4.40% ethyl acetate.

I've contacted CDNTire's hazardous substances team, and they've kindly provided an up-to-date safety data sheet from the manufacturer (Recochem).

Safety Data Sheet (SDS): p1, p2 (ingredients), p3, p4, p5 (toxicology), p6, p7, p8

(I also found an older sheet for the same product, and the product had different constituents back in 2010: 95% ethanol, and 5% 2-propanol.)

Shellac/Lacquer Thinner ($19CAD/946mL)

It's not labelled as such, but LeeValley's (LV) Shellac thinner ingredients would classify it as denatured alcohol:

91% ethanol, 4% butanol, %4 isopropanol.

Safety Data Sheet (SDS): p1, p2 (ingredients), p3, p4 (toxicology1), p5 (toxicology2), p6

I'm told "Isobutyl" is a mix of butanol, and isopropanol, and can be used as a flavor additive to make things taste extremely bad (and bitter) for non-consumption. I'll take their word for it. Do not taste it!

ShellacThinner

  • Interesting that Lee Valley would call that Lacquer Thinner. It sounds like another mix of Denatured to me. I think of Lacquer Thinner more along these lines woodworkingnetwork.com/wood-blogs/… – Chuck S Jun 5 '18 at 15:52
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    The bioflame is slightly more benign, but the difference is really marginal, since the rules for both are: don't drink it, work in a well ventilated space, and wear the right PPE (gloves, glasses). – aaron Jun 7 '18 at 12:15
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Isopropyl Alcohol (IPA) seems to be fine for shellac and isn’t as toxic as methanol. It should be freely available anywhere - I got it from a high street chemist in the U.K. years ago, or get it from amazon etc.

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In the UK and Canada, at least, so-called denatured alcohol is usually sold as "methylated spirits". The idea is that it is pretty much ethyl alcohol with some amounts of methyl alocohol and other additives (i.e., stuff like denatonium benzoate) so people don't drink it.

In the UK it is also often dyed a nice shade of Kool-Aid purple, which I'm told doesn't affect shellac colour or function.

I don't actually know anything about dissolving shellac, but if all you need is "denatured alcohol" then as other answers have suggested then you can use almost any low water content ethyl alcohol or ethyl-methyl alcohol mix.

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    FYI the colour in methylated spirits isn't an issue for its use with shellac, virtually everyone over here uses meths for diluting and making their own shellac from dry flakes. – Graphus supports Monica Apr 18 at 18:35
  • Updated my answer. – jdv Apr 18 at 19:01

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