All Natural: Can Shellac Be Marketed As All Natural? - Popular Woodworking Magazine

All Natural: Can Shellac Be Marketed As All Natural?

 In Flexner On Finishing, Flexner on Finishing Blog

Hemlock plant.

I got a question from a professional woodworker wanting to know if he could market the shellac he used as “all natural,” or if Zinsser put non-natural ingredients in their shellac that didn’t evaporate.

Great question, because it brings up the issue of the safety of “natural” substances. This term is used a lot to indicate that the substance is safe for humans. But there are all sorts of poisons that grow in nature and so are “natural” but not in the way this woodworker is intending to use the term.

The most famous is probably hemlock. It was given to Socrates in ancient Athens to carry out his death sentence. Other natural poisons include castor beans, oleander, tobacco leaves and many types of mushrooms. This is without even mentioning the venom from some types of snakes, which is also natural.

So be wary of using the term “natural” when you mean safe to ingest.

– Bob Flexner

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  • emptyb

    The MSDS indicates that Zinsser Clear Shellac is mostly ethanol (50-75%) and 2-propanol (2-10%). These aren’t particularly evil solvents but they’re not good for you. It always helps to go to the source.

  • Kelly Craig

    M&M’s don’t melt in your hands. . . .

  • IrritableBadger

    The only time shellac is in a liquid state (lacquer) is when it’s inside the bug. Zinsser doesn’t strike me as the kind of company that’s going to milk billions of wee bugs to get their liquid shellac into cans.

    I don’t know what what’s in the Zinsser stuff, but it isn’t water and it’s not ethanol or even mostly ethanol. You also can’t remove the solvent from their shellac like you can with dry shellac flakes or buttons that have used ethanol/denatured alcohol as the solvent. The Zinsser shellac also has adhesion problems if you add any significant amount of ethanol based solvent; it balls up like the surface you’re applying it to has not been cleaned properly.

    Safety aside, Zinsser shellac isn’t a natural product nor is it derived entirely from natural products. It’s the result of complex man made chemical processes and treatments. That said, once the solvent has evaporated one could argue that the shellac film that remains is all natural but not while it’s liquid.

  • delong1974

    Arsenic is natural, as is uranium. Im not ingesting either.

  • keithm

    I am convinced that 95% of people who want an “all natural” product cannot pass an 8th grade science test. I will occasionally get someone who does not want me to use “chemicals” when I clean their upholstery. One of these I told I would use a “Natural Fiber Cleaner” That was OK with her, but I didn’t bother to tell her “natural” was the adjective for “fiber” and not for “cleaner,” i.e., it’s made to clean Haitian cotton. And since even water is a chemical, I’m only left with light and energy. Yelling “Out Damned Spot!” does not seem to work very well.

    The USDA has a legal definition for “natural”, but it applies only to meat and poultry.

    Natural? So is opium.
    Organic? So is poison ivy.

    • MikeV

      “matter can not be created, nor destroyed”.

  • C. Stanley Plane

    Apples are sometimes coated with shellac to help seal out oxygen for long term storage. So, we have all ingested lac bug secretions at one time.

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