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Shellac

Discussion in 'Wood and Canvas' started by Dave Osborn, Mar 19, 2016.

  1. Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    After somewhere north of 120 canoe and rowboat restorations, I have my first customer that prefers a shellac hull. I'm looking to shorten the learning curve.
    I've read lots of posts on the subject, but never really found out if it is best to paint above the waterline first or shellac below the waterline first.
    Maybe it doesn't matter, but does one way makes better sense?
     
  2. Dave Wermuth

    Dave Wermuth Who hid my paddle?

    I'll be watching this thread closely for the answer.
     
  3. MGC

    MGC Scrapmaker

    Potayto - potahto....me thinks.

    I mark the water line, mask and paint before shellacking. That lets me mask over the paint which (I think) resists getting lifted by the tape better than fresh shellac. I also think it's easier to remove wayward shellac than it is to remove paint. The shellac is pretty thin and you will be moving pretty fast applying it. Some will inevitably run down over the paint. It cleans up with alcohol and is very easy to remove if it does run.

    A word to the wise if you have never done a hull with shellac. You need to adjust your expectations about how it will look before you start or you will make yourself crazy trying to get it to look perfect. I find that I can get the best result by using a large brush and moving quite quickly stem to stem. I try not to go over an area twice (until a subsequent coat) and I do not apply it across the hull. Always move the brush in a straight line with minimal overlap if you can. You don't need to wait very long before putting the next coats on. Attempts to put on too much at once will just give you big blotched looking areas.

    I suppose that it might be possible to spray shellac? That would be an interesting thing to try. It might be easier to achieve a uniform finsih that way.

    Hopefully Rollin will come along and comment. The boys up in Maine have been putting shellac on boats for a real long time and they seem to have the process down well enough that their boats look great when they leave their shops. It might be worth a phone call if he doesn't reply here.

    I will also be watching this thread closely to find out if there is a better way than what I have been doing.
     
  4. OP
    OP
    Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    Thanks Mike
     
  5. 1905Gerrish

    1905Gerrish LOVES Wooden Canoes

    Dave,

    My only to Mike in addition is try to find the freshest shellac you can. It goes bad quickly. Make sure you check out the use by date and go by it.
     
  6. Larry Meyer

    Larry Meyer Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Fitz and I have batted back and forth the shellac going bad issues quite a bit and I hope he chimes in here. What I learned from him was that, yes, indeed, shellac goes “bad,” which is to say that premixed versions (such as Zinsser’s amber shellac, the only premixed version out there) are further into a chemical process called esterification.

    To quote a technical discussion

    “Shellac degrades. As soon as shellac comes in contact with alcohol, which is its solvent, it begins a degradation process called esterification in which the shellac resins convert to shellac esters. The more esters are created, the slower the shellac dries and the softer and more prone to water spotting the final film is. This process occurs whether the can has been opened or not.”

    Now how do you know you have fresh shellac?

    That can be tricky too. At my small local owner operated hardware store, the owner told me that he stopped stocking Zinsser’s Amber because demand had dropped off quite a bit. Mind you, he’s speaking from the perspective of a guy who has been operating the store for several generations. He special orders it for me. So popular demand for Amber shellac is quite limited and if the shelf life truly is six months, then the maker has quite a problem, if they have to pull the product back every six months.

    What does “more prone to water spotting” mean? My prospector has a shellac bottom and its first coats of shellac have (in some areas) crazed, that is, looks like alligator skin, and tends to white-out (look milky) when water stands on it. I put on a new coat of shellac maybe twice a year which cures the areas that look milky.

    If you’re doing this for a customer, and there is a chance the customer will be displeased with the result, I would suggest you buy shellac flakes and mix your own. I think Fitz was experimenting with this and I think it’s what Rollin and Jerry do. Because the coats of shellac you put on will have to be refreshed by the customer in the not distant future, you should alert the customer to the esterification problem.
     
  7. Fitz

    Fitz Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    Yeah, I did Larry's bottom awhile back and it crazed. The general consensus was that it was a combination of old shellac and heavy coats. Because the stuff dries so quickly, I think it is easy to put too much on at a time. Try and keep your coats thin. I like MGC's application tips above. I think the crazing can be addressed with a little sanding, alcohol wipe down and new coats though.

    I buy flakes now and there seems to be a big improvement. It seems to go on better, looks better etc. You can mix your own "cut" too. There are also a large variety of colors to choose from.

    I once had an shellac can or sealer can "pop" in my basement. Blew the cover right off the can! Apparently, shellac generates some gas as it gets old. The can may have been sitting there for 8 or 10 years.
     
    Last edited: Mar 20, 2016
  8. Larry Meyer

    Larry Meyer Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    The bottom of my canoe, that is. I like Fitz, but there are limits. Other parts of me are crazed but not my bottom. There are scads of options in shellac flakes. I never did figure out whether waxed or dewaxed was better.

    Mind you I am perfectly ok with it, as it is. It’s just that if you have a paying customer to keep happy, it might be a little dicey.
     
  9. OP
    OP
    Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    Good info guys! Thanks for the insight...
    It will be a couple of months..plus before the shellac goes on.
    I will report my experience...
     
  10. Todd Bradshaw

    Todd Bradshaw Sailmaker

    If you're doing the boat for a customer it's probably a good idea to make sure they understand that shellac was not used for its cosmetic beauty. It was/is a workboat finish for practical reasons. If the customer himself will be periodically refreshing it, it's probably not going to get any more beautiful either. The first shellac bottom I ever saw was on one of Jerry Stelmok's boats. My initial reaction when approaching it was "What's wrong with the paint on the bottom of that boat?"
     
  11. Larry Meyer

    Larry Meyer Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    For a water line (a narrow white line dividing the shellac bottom from the painted sides) you have a choice between white tape (automotive or boat racing line tape) or painting a narrow line yourself. Fitz painted a line but I think for ease of maintenance I prefer automotive tape. It’s easier to repair, restore, and redo than a painted white line. I had no problems with the tape detaching after ten years. The lines, whether tape or paint, can get scuffed, especially when you roll the boat on the side to get ready for a lift to your shoulders.

    As to paint first or after you shellac, I suppose I would first do the water line with tape. Then, with the canoe upside down, paint. If you’re going to paint several coats, with wet sanding between coats, painting with canoe upside down would keep the paint and wet sanding from getting on the bottom of the canoe.

    Painting will go much faster because you are only painting like 25% of the surface area of the canoe.
     
  12. MGC

    MGC Scrapmaker

    Shellac was very commonly used on the canoes (mostly Whites) that were used by Moosehead Lake guides and also by the Maine Forest service. Growing up I thought that all White canoes were grey with yellow bottoms.

    Here's an old beast from up that way who's charms I managed to resist (because I already have a 20). It had been shellacked and when that failed, the canvas was tarred...

    I am going to guess that anyone asking for a shellacked boat is quasi familiar with how it looks and also why it makes sense. What they might not know is that it needs to be done annually. Even just hanging in the garage the shellac seems to fade away.
    It doesn't take long to restore it though. A quick sand, mask job and a couple layers of shellac can easily be done in an afternoon.
     

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  13. cwhitehe

    cwhitehe Cwhitehe

    I think Mike Elliot adds a small % of lacquer thinners to prevent shellac from hazing.
    His new book on restoration is now available in the States. Here in Canada were he is from it come out a little latter.
     
  14. OP
    OP
    Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    Has anybody used a foam roller to apply shellac??
     
  15. Larry Meyer

    Larry Meyer Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    I use a foam brush. Throw it away after, as its toast.
     
  16. OP
    OP
    Dave Osborn

    Dave Osborn LIFE MEMBER

    I used a foam brush today, Larry. It was better than a badger brush.
     
  17. Larry Meyer

    Larry Meyer Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    With shellac, low tech is the way to go. I wonder if stale beer could be used instead of denatured alcohol as a thinner?
     
  18. MGC

    MGC Scrapmaker

    Hm...where do you get stale beer? Ohh..Canada-------Labatts.

    I am a bit curious about rolling shellac. It goes on really well with a cheap brush. I would expect it to gum up a foam roller....
    I am also curious if a roller puts enough down at one time. Rollers have a tendency to reduce the amount you are laying down, at least with paint. I may need to try it just to find out. I have one hanging that is due for it's annual touch-up.
     
  19. Rollin Thurlow

    Rollin Thurlow member since 1980

    If you apply the shellac first and then paint, you will be taping off on very fresh shellac. Even if you wait a week for the shellac to cure the tape residue will leave an impression in the shellac. Its not too big of a deal but its unsightly after all that work to get a uniform color. So I normally paint first and then shellac, but then you have to very careful not to let any shellac run off on to the fairly new paint. After about 30 seconds its almost impossible to clean it off without messing up the paint.
    Fresh shellac is much easier to work with but I find the mixed store bought shellac will stay "fresh" for months.
    Shellac still has a mind of its own and you have to remember it is not paint and will not look or act like paint.
    Rollin
     
  20. Larry Meyer

    Larry Meyer Wooden Canoes are in the Blood

    The kind of “finished” product you are going to get with shellac is so soft, temporary, and naturally variable that it’s scarce worth giving a second thought to methods, means, and the art of the thing. It’s like trying to get your wife to make up her mind – it won’t stay the same. A shellac finish on a canoe bottom is mortal. Here today, gone tomorrow. If your conscience can’t live with that, think of it as like Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, which, while known as a great work of art, is hardly there any more in original materials and honored more in memory and reputation than current appearance. That’s the beauty of the stuff. If you run out of canoe work to do, you can always go out and re-shellac your canoe bottom. You can do it when you’re sick, drunk, or senile and your frame of mind won’t degrade the artistic outcome. The shellac will make up its mind and do that for you soon enough. This stuff comes from the excretions of Asian beetles, after all.
     

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