"best" brush for shellac?

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optimist

New User
Joel
First non-greeting post (so please be kind!).

I've never used shellac before but I'm studying up to try it on an old buffet I just stripped and stained. Trying to find the right technique has left me confused as to what type of brush to use. The more-conventional suggestions are for white china, badger or other quality natural bristle brush, but then I ran across a post by Donald Williams (http://www.shellac.net/brushes.html) where he says he uses a nylon brush.[FONT=Times New Roman,Georgia,Times] I'm ignorant enough that I don't even know enough to be embarrassed by not knowing who Donald Williams is, but in the best internet tradition of believing the last thing I read, now I'm confused.

Can someone make sense of this?

Joel
[/FONT]
 

nelsone

New User
Ed
I haven't worried too much about the type of brush. I think I have been using a brush made for oil paint and it seems to work fine.

I took a class last night in french polishing which is great in the luster that can be achieved.

One thing I will suggest is try the shellac over stain on a test panel to make sure it doesn't affect the stain.
 

DavidF

New User
David
I am certainly no expert, but Contrary to when I was more of a cheap skate, I started buying the best brush I could afford, whether it was for water based (man made bristle) or oil based (natural bristle) and I have certainly noticed the difference in quality. The natural bristle brush loads up better with most finishes and produces a great result, but cannot be used with water based finish because the water swells the bristles. The more expensive brushes have "flogged" ends, a bit like "split ends" in your own hair and produces a much better finish. You can see this flogging quite easily when you examine the brush. French polishing is a whole other technique completely and is not something to try without training first. I spent a year of classes learning it and it is not easy to do right. Hope that helps a bit.
 

ScottM

Scott
Staff member
Corporate Member
I would use a Purdy or Wooster brand brush that are made especially for varnishes and oil paints. Do not use the ones that say for all paints.

That is my 2 cents worth.
 

Howard Acheson

New User
Howard
The "best" brush for shellac is an artist's taklon brush. However, they are expensive and relatively small. But, they do the best job of flowing out shellac when you know the proper techniques for applying shellac. Second best is a good, top quality natural fiber brush. Spend the money and only use that brush for shellac. You don't need to clean it. Just soak it for 5-10 minutes in denatured alcohol before using it the next time. The DNA will dissolve the shellac and soften it right up.

The best way to apply shellac is by padding it on. First brush on a coat and let it dry. Lightly sand with 320 paper and vacuum off the dust. Make a crease-free pad from clean, lint-free cotton cloth. Charge it with some 2# cut shellac and swoop it down to the wood so it touches already moving in the direction you want to work. Start at one end and continue in one smooth motion to the other end and swoop up. Think of a pilot practicing "touch and go" landings. After the first stroke, do the same to the adjacent area until you have applied a coat to the whole width of the surface. Re-charge the pad when it begins to stick. Now go back and start another coat in the same way. After about the third layer, let the whole thing dry overnight. Do it again the next day and you will end up with a very nice, smooth finish. No other "rubbing out" is necessary with this process.

This "padding on" is the way that pro's will apply shellac. It's also used by finish repair folks.

In all, brushing on shellac is the least satisfactory way of applying shellac. Because it dries so fast, it is very difficult to get a smooth finish on larger surfaces.

In order of preference for applying shellac, "french polishing" will give you the best finish closely followed by the "padding" process explained above. Next would be spraying and taking up the rear is brushing.

Finally, don't learn the process whether padding or brushing on your project. Use some scrap and learn how to apply shellac. It's not like applying an oil based finish.
 

Tarhead

Mark
Corporate Member
If I have to use a brush, I get great results with a Taklon brush. It has gold colored bristles. Got it here:
http://www.utrechtart.com/dsp_view_product.cfm?item=33400
You can find these in most art supply areas of places like Micheals, Ben Franklin, Hobby Lobby, etc.
I normally use a folded up piece of old Tee shirt or even a folded up blue paper towel and pad it on.
 

timf67

New User
Tim
The "best" brush for shellac is an artist's taklon brush. However, they are expensive and relatively small. But, they do the best job of flowing out shellac when you know the proper techniques for applying shellac. Second best is a good, top quality natural fiber brush. Spend the money and only use that brush for shellac. You don't need to clean it. Just soak it for 5-10 minutes in denatured alcohol before using it the next time. The DNA will dissolve the shellac and soften it right up.

The best way to apply shellac is by padding it on. First brush on a coat and let it dry. Lightly sand with 320 paper and vacuum off the dust. Make a crease-free pad from clean, lint-free cotton cloth. Charge it with some 2# cut shellac and swoop it down to the wood so it touches already moving in the direction you want to work. Start at one end and continue in one smooth motion to the other end and swoop up. Think of a pilot practicing "touch and go" landings. After the first stroke, do the same to the adjacent area until you have applied a coat to the whole width of the surface. Re-charge the pad when it begins to stick. Now go back and start another coat in the same way. After about the third layer, let the whole thing dry overnight. Do it again the next day and you will end up with a very nice, smooth finish. No other "rubbing out" is necessary with this process.

This "padding on" is the way that pro's will apply shellac. It's also used by finish repair folks.

In all, brushing on shellac is the least satisfactory way of applying shellac. Because it dries so fast, it is very difficult to get a smooth finish on larger surfaces.

In order of preference for applying shellac, "french polishing" will give you the best finish closely followed by the "padding" process explained above. Next would be spraying and taking up the rear is brushing.

Finally, don't learn the process whether padding or brushing on your project. Use some scrap and learn how to apply shellac. It's not like applying an oil based finish.
+1 on the padding method. Do a google search for Jeff Jewitt padding shellac and you get a nice long write-up on it.
 

CarvedTones

Board of Directors, Vice President
Andy
I guess I am the +2 guy since Tim beat me to posting, but I strongly agree with Howard about the pad being best and the brush being the worst. The only time I brush shellac on is as a sealer when I am planning to sand most of it right back off. Even then, it is mostly because open grained woods are rough on pads and brushing is faster.
 

Mike Davis

Mike
Corporate Member
I still have a few long squirrel hair brushes left over from my sign painting days. The only thing better is a red sable brush. My 1 1/2 inch wide squirrel hair brush cost me $60 in 1975, don't have any idea what it would be today or if they still make them. At the time a red sable in that size was $110. It is still just as good as the day i bought it and I worked it hard for over ten years.

The natural fiber brushes I have seen lately are about half as good as the ones I had back then. But, for average varnish usage they are probably still the best answer.

I never tried padding shellac, but we used to do a similar technique with oil paint on glass. It takes a little practice to get the motion down so I would agree to work on a scrap board first.
 

araldite

New User
araldite
In my opinion, high quality natural fiber brushes, like white china, are better for shellac. Synthetic fiber brushes intended for lacquers and water base finishes, such as Taklon, are good general purpose brushes and are easier to clean, but not quite as good as a good natural brush for shellac.
 

optimist

New User
Joel
Collectively this is great input from everyone, but obviously no consensus. That's okay, sounds like I just need to pick a technique that suits the tool and follow it well.
 

shopsmithtom

New User
SST
I've been using shellac for a while now & my technique will probably fly in the face of conventional wisdom, but it's cheap, easy, and (I think) the results are great. I've mostly used cheap Harbor Freight synthetic brushes (usually on sale for under 2 bucks) This probably doesn't give me a perfect finish as applied, but I've always finished by rubbing out with 0000 steel wool & then buffing with a soft cloth. The result is a smooth lustrous finish
I love to use shellac because it's easy & doesn't need to be sanded between coats. The one thing you didn't mention was if the top of the piece might be subject to occasional contact with water since it's a buffet. A shellac finish won't hold up to that very well.
 

optimist

New User
Joel
The one thing you didn't mention was if the top of the piece might be subject to occasional contact with water since it's a buffet. A shellac finish won't hold up to that very well.
The wife thinks it will be used as a buffet, but my intention is to facade the drawers, hinge the top and turn it into a pop-up flat-screen cabinet, if I can ever justify the expense of the pop-up mechanism. I'd been shopping antique stores for a used buffet/chest/dresser on the cheap that I could rationalize tearing apart that way and I found this mahogany-veneer-over-mystery-wood buffet for $150.
 

Howard Acheson

New User
Howard
Actually, shellac is more susceptible to heat than to water. If the water--and even a martini--is wiped off in a reasonable time frame, no damage should result. But, a hot dish will damage shellac pretty quickly. If you have a trivet or pad under the hot dish, you will be fine.
 

Mike Davis

Mike
Corporate Member
Collectively this is great input from everyone, but obviously no consensus. That's okay, sounds like I just need to pick a technique that suits the tool and follow it well.
I think the consensus is a white bristle brush is the best brush to use for shellac.

But, padding is better than brushing.
 

CarvedTones

Board of Directors, Vice President
Andy
I have a funny follow up to this thread and actually to a couple of others where I was showing a nice looking spalted maple bowl in progress and getting advice on getting it smoother. I got some good advice on using sealer to stabilize the punky grain and then scraping and sanding would leave a much better surface.

Anyway, I had the bowl to the point where I was pretty pleased with it when one of my kids came out and admired it and asked me what I was going to do with it. He wanted it to put on a shelf in his room. I was happy to give it to him but told him I would have to finish it first. He spotted my sealing shellac - some SealCoat, which is premixed amber/blonde dewaxed shellac, in a glue jar (one of those short wide plastic cups with the tight fitting lid that has a built in brush). I told him I might use shellac, but that mix was too thick and I would probably use a pad.

He said he wanted to finish it and he didn't think there was anything wrong with the shellac in the jar. After trying to convince him for a couple of minutes, I figured I was better off letting him find out for himself. Besides, it is easy to clean up shellac later with straight alcohol.

I watched him for a couple of minutes and kept suggesting he move faster and try to spread it further because it would leave some very pronounced brush strokes other wise. His reply? "I know. I am making a pattern." :rolf:

I will have to get a picture later and will probably start a different thread. I am not touching it; he made something I try to avoid into art.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. My youngest daughter had me hand carve a lion crest onto a poplar shield one time and I used a pattern with a lot of detail. As soon as I finished, she brought out acrylic paints and slopped it on nice and thick...

The "customer" is always right, I guess. :gar-Bi
 
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