Brew Your Own

“…You got the hot wax residues, you never lose with your razor blade shoes, stealing pesos out of my brain, hazard signs down the Alamo lane…”

Hotwax, Beck

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Mixing 2lb cuts of garnet and blonde shellac

Finish can be an incredibly personal element of a piece of furniture or musical instrument. I know people who have been put off furniture instantly due to the type of finish applied, before they have even had an opportunity to look at the lines and form of the piece. Now I’m quite a simple soul when it comes to finishes – I like finishes which are durable, look good, and which are easy to apply. Preferably without too many health warnings. For these reasons, shellac and wax is a combination I rate pretty highly.

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Melting down bees wax and shellac wax

For the Policeman’s Boot Bench I had originally discussed a shellac and wax finish wih the client, which will work nicely in the period hall where the piece will sit. What the client had not settled on was the shellac tone and type of wax top coat, so I decided the best way to bottom this out was to make up a sample board of possible finishes to allow him to make an informed decision on one of the most subjective elements of the build.

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Home brewed hard wax, garnet shellac, and blonde shellac

To make the sample board I mixed up batches of blonde and garnet shellac (both 2lb cuts), using the excellent tiger shellac flakes from Tools for Working Wood. These are my two preferred tones, depending on application, and a 2lb cut is thick enough to give good coverage after only a couple of coats, without being so thick that it becomes overbearing. The shellac went into a couple of mason jars, into which I poured the required volume of meths, and sat on the side with the occasional vigorous shake to keep things dissolving. After  24 hours both jars contained a perfectly dissolved mixture with no sediment or undissolved flakes.

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A quick sample board from the same oak as I used for the top and end pieces of the boot bench

I also wanted to give the client two choices over the type of wax. The first option is Liberon black wax, which I’ve not used before but which Chris has written about in glowing terms a number of times. The second option is a hard wax recipe I got from Derek’s book on French Polishing, which I have wanted to try ever since I used his soft wax recipe to great effect on my Anarchist’s Tool Chest. Home brewed wax is is easy to make and equally easy to apply. In this case a mixture of bees wax (I used Cornish beeswax from Workshop Heaven), shellac wax, turpentine, and white spirit (if you want the proportions then you’ll have to buy Derek’s book, which is well worth reading). The wax was melted in a ban marie, and then mixed with the turps and white spirit before being decanted into a mason jar to set.

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The sample board, shellac but no wax. Blonde shellac on the left, garnet shellac on the right

The sampleboard itself was the end of the oak board from which I had harvested the top and end pieces of the boot bench. I prepared one face with my smoothing plane to give a good finish, and then divided that face into quarters. Two quarters received two coats of the blonde shellac, while the other two quarters were treated to two coats of the garnet shellac. Once the shellac had dried, one quarter of each shellac tone was given a good coat of the hard wax, while the other two quarters were rubbed over in the Liberon black wax. I left the waxes to dry then buffed them out.

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The finished sample board – clockwise from top left: garnet shellac with hard wax, blonde shellac with hard wax, blond shellac with black wax, and garnet shellac with black wax

The result is a sample board giving four very different options. It is striking how changing the wax topcoat can make such a profound difference to the appearance of the shellac. And hopefully this will give the client a good range of options from which to choose. The hard wax has a higher sheen than the black wax, although it is still an antique style sheen rather than a high gloss. Both both top coats work very well, and I definitely have my favourite combinations from the sample board. It will be interesting to see what the client selects.

2 thoughts on “Brew Your Own

  1. As someone with several hundred pounds of each (shellac in numerous grades, shellac wax, beeswax) you are obviously speaking my workshop love-language. Thanks.

    Don

    • Thanks Don! It sounds like you’ve got an impressive stockpile of finishing products. My current horse is much more modest, as I hate to waste good shellac and rarely get through a full jar before it is past its best. Glad you enjoyed the article.

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