This 11-minute video excerpt, featuring the one and only Don Williams, is a fairly complete answer to a common question – what is shellac?
I say “fairly complete” because the video generated a couple follow-up questions in my mind. Fortunately, there’s WIA – our annual woodworking conference. Don spoke for 4 hours at the conference this weekend, covering shellac and a lot more. It was a real pleasure to sit in the audience and take it all in.
What Shellac is Not
Shellac is not lacquer. Both are high-performance, clear wood finishes originating in Asia, and both have names that derive from the same Sanskrit word (laksha), but lacquer is made from tree resin. Shellac, on the other hand, is made from bug excretions. Yes, the bug excretions are themselves made from tree resin, but that’s a big difference.
OK, Then What is Shellac?
Shellac is a processed form of a bug exudate (various types of excretions), specifically the Indo-Chinese bug laccifer laca. Woodworkers in North America and Europe have imported it for use as a clear finish for a couple centuries.