Ok guys, let’s have a little discussion about Shellac.  Every single furniture flipper should have this little gem in their arsenal! It’s inexpensive, easy to apply, and takes care of a lot of issues we deal with daily. First of all, what is shellac?

Shellac is made from the secretions of the Lac bug.. ewww am I right?  But this little bug is actually doing us a favor! Shellac has been around for 100’s of years!  We recognize it more in a can, like pictured, or a spray can. Shellac in the can has a shelf life of approximately one year, but if you decide to mix your own as you go using shellac flakes, it lasts much longer.  But seriously who wants to do THAT??

Over the years, shellac has been used for many purposes.  Everything from base coat to top coat! Nowadays, for top coats, it’s been replaced with better, more strong materials.  Shellac is very easy to scratch, and not too durable, so it’s not a good choice for a topcoat anymore.

A GREAT alternative to shellac is a Dixie Belle product called BOSS (Blocks Odors Seals Stains).  BOSS is a water based product that mimics shellac when used as an under coat. Sometimes, using shellac may not be ideal.  Shellac has a pretty strong smell, and even though it dissipates quickly, no one wants to be using it in their homes. Also, since shellac is alcohol based, it doesn’t clean up as easily as a water based product.  Dixie Belle BOSS comes in both clear and white (GREAT for using less white or light paint) and cleans up with just soap and water. Also, it doesn’t smell nearly as bad as shellac. I use shellac with chip brushes that I just toss in the trash.  However, when using BOSS, I can use one of my ‘good brushes’ and just clean it up with soap and water.

For this discussion, we’re going to talk about the things that shellac and BOSS are Super Heroes in taking care of! Here are two of my faves!

SMELLS- So… someone gives you a dresser to re-do and it smells.  Bad. Like it’s been sitting in a barn for years. I recently had one like this.  It had been in storage, and it reeked like mildew. First, I cleaned out the dresser (insides and outs) with bleach water.  Be careful not to sand if you see mold or mildew spores. Sanding causes them to become airborne and you breath them in! Yuck! So after cleaning well, I coated EVERYTHING with 2 coats of shellac. Of course, had I been in my house or an enclosed area, I would have used clear BOSS.  Don’t forget the drawer bottoms, backs, everything, EXCEPT the drawer glides. This usually takes care of the smell.

TANNINS – This is my favorite!  First, what ARE Tannins? So, the actual definition of tannins is crazy chemistry, having to do with alkaloids and acids.  Let’s skip that and just put it in terms we care about. Basically, tannins are water soluble plant compounds that, for our purposes, reside in some of the woods we refinish, kind of like colored wood juice.  Hardwoods tend to have more tannin, and darker hardwoods have the most, while softer woods tend to have less. Some notorious wood species are mahogany, cherry and walnut. Pine, which is a softer wood has knots which will also bleed. These compounds can be drawn up and out of the wood by your water soluble products.  That’s why when we spend a lot of time, painting our client’s mahogany vanity white, but don’t block those tannins, big blotches of pink start showing through our paint. Any time I’m working with any wood I think might have tannin bleed through, I brush on a couple of coats of shellac or BOSS before painting. Both shellac and BOSS act as a sealant and keeps those tannins below them, and out of your amazing light colored finish.  Sometimes, I get forgetful and start painting without shellac or BOSS, or get surprised with bleed that I didn’t think would happen. Here’s the cool thing about that! You can put a couple of coats right over your paint, let dry, and then paint again.

Tannin bleed shows up as pink or yellow staining.  It’s pretty hard to photograph.  This image is courtesy of Amie Horn from ‘The Attic Finds’

I hope this answers any questions you may have about a couple of the most common problems with painting vintage or antique furniture.  Come back next week for another episode of ‘Strickly Speaking’.

If you’re looking to get either of these products here are my links:

Shellac and other application and finish products can be found here.

Dixie Belle BOSS can be found here.

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