‘The Shellac Archive’ from Don Williams

Just add Everclear.

Just add Everclear.

Don Williams – conservator, historian and woodworker extraordinaire – was in town a couple weeks ago to shoot a video on historic transparent furniture finishes, for which he brought a truckload of examples and props (the video will be available in mid-August). He was kind enough to leave some of his stuff behind for us to try out, including the “lemon shellac flour” pictured above.

Now Don cares about shellac the way I care about my cats…which is to say he cares about it almost too much. And he knows more about it than anyone else I’ve met. “The topic of shellac and its uses and performance has been a near-constant focus of my curiosity for the past four decades,” he writes.

And he’s eager to share his 40 years of research with you. Don is in the process of digitizing 400 (possibly more…he hasn’t actually counted as far as I know) historic documents on the subject, as well as his own work, and is sharing it – free – on his blog at donsbarn.com; you’ll find it on “The Shellac Archive” page. Plus it’s well worth your time to tool around his site and look at his other work too – the “Writings” page and his blog in particular.

So what gives with the picture above? (I can’t imagine it would make a tasty cake…)

Shellac flour is simply a ground version of the product, the great benefit of which is that it dissolves quickly (in just minutes) and is ready for use. Don recommends Everclear as the alcohol.

— Megan Fitzpatrick

p.s. Read more about Don in this post about his pre-retirement job as senior furniture conservator at the Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute. I’m so glad I got to visit him there before he retired to the Barn on White Run (where I still need to visit).

 

7 thoughts on “‘The Shellac Archive’ from Don Williams

  1. 66hawkeye

    Megan:
    For whatever reason I can’t conect with the links shown above. I’ve tried both an IPad and a PC and continue to get the same error message. Any ideas?
    Thanks

    1. Megan Fitzpatrick Post author

      Don’s site is experiencing an outage – he’s aware of the issue and is working to get it fixed (so try again in a day or two?).

  2. DanWyant

    Don can recommend Everclear as the alcohol…but at over $1 an ounce and not available for sale in Ohio, I’m sticking with regular denatured alcohol at $6.50 a quart. It dissolves shellac perfectly fine and evaporates just as fast as the 195 proof stuff. I have had no problems with it in my experience.

    1. rwyoung

      Everclear (rectified spirits) is 95% or 190 proof, not 195. And short of ordering lab grade ethyl alcohol, as pure as you can get. Go ahead and try ordering a gallon of lab grade ethyl alcohol without it turning into (literally) a federal case.

      As I’ve understood Don’s recommendation, it has more to do with getting a consistent product and thus consistent results. In recent years, the manufacturers of denatured alcohols have gone from 10% denaturent content to as much as 50%. And in some cases, changing the “recipe” leaving you with the possibility of the can you bought last year being the right stuff and what you buy tomorrow, the wrong stuff.

  3. Bernard Naish

    Very nice blog Megan. Thanks for the links to Dons’ wonderfull work. Shellac is my favourite finish. From a quick dusting to keep drawers clean to a full-on French polish. I keep trying other ways of showing the beauty of wood but always come back to shellac. Just as I always use hide glue either hot or with urea to keep it liquid at room temperature. You cannot beat these two.

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