Wednesday, May 4, 2011
How much do we love SHELLAC?
Shellac.....shellllllac....sha-lack.....sh-lac. It is just so fun to say! And it is so fun to use, most of the time. (Shellac is a coating that is really shiny when dry. Either clear or amber and has many uses and dries really fast. Look it up) But I really messed up recently when using one of my favorite liquids; shellac. I made another three tiered plant stand, like the one in the picture above. The one pictured was my first, and the plan came from a book my kids got me for Christmas several years ago called "The Big Book of Weekend Projects". Great book! By the way, that plant stand sold at Eastlake Flea Market, but that's another story.
Anyway, back to my mess with the shellac. The one I am working on now is for my craft show season, which will start whenever we have enough products to make a good showing from me and Debbee. Debbee is my wife of 30 something years (kidding, I know the exact number) and she is really into the decorating of all kinds of craft show stuff, like the foot stools I make or the yard decorations for holidays such as Easter, Halloween, Christmas, etc, that I cut out of plywood. And she decorates items such as small wooden boxes (jewelry) and wooden trays that Pat Catans sells unfinished. She makes them attractive with soft pastel colors or perhaps staining then adding rub-ons or working from her large collection of stencils, before sealing it with shellac. Funny thing about her. She never thinks the end products are good enough and she will spend hours going over and over an area until it is just right. Which is a good thing; right? But it was good three hours ago. Oh brother!! What are ya gonna do with them? "C'mon", I tell her, The proof is in the sales. Last year at the Richmond Heights Craft Show in the fall, (and it is a good one if you happen to go to it) her stuff out sold mine by 2 to 1. Oh sure, my stuff is larger, and in most cases more costly, but her stuff really shines under the lights and looks great on the display table and really would look nice on someones shelf or given as a gift. And its what people want! Things for their table or their mantel, stuff like that. Why we even had a man and woman fighting over a set of trays. Not fighting like "that", but the woman had one in her hand looking at it, when the man comes along and picks up the other two and tells her "if your just looking, I'm buying the whole set". She replied, "still deciding"! To which he responded with "but I have two thirds of the set and I am buying the whole set"! She turned over the third piece to him and walked off. I was anxious to see how that would have played out further. The only fighting I see is when the customer offers a really low amount and practically wants it for nothing and I tell them to just forget about it. Customer relations is my strong suit.
Ok, back to our story. So! I got the plant stand cut, sanded, put together to be sure it will look right when complete. I take it apart to stain it because it is easier to stain, or paint, when it is in pieces. Its only four pieces, but experience taught me to do it this way. So stain is no big deal. You put the sealer on first, then put the stain on, wait a few minutes then wipe off the stain. You can do it again with the stain and it may get slightly darker the longer you leave it on, but you still have to wipe off the excess. Now wait until the next day and finish it with a nice top coat, like lacquer or polyurethane or, my favorite, shellac. I have used shellac on lots of stuff and it always turned out great. But nothing this big. The bottom shelf is 36 inches across and 6 inches wide. The middle is 24 inches across and the top is 12 inches across. So I get my can of Bulls Eye Shellac ready, get my brush, clean everything , and get started. Top shelf, no problem. Set it aside. Middle shelf, start brushing on the shellac. Putting it on lightly, it is dripping over the edges. I take my brush to touch up the edges and by the time I get back to the flat surface, it is drying and getting real sticky. So I hurry and try to finish the flat surface, but I make the mistake of going over a spot or two to "touch up" an area that looks not quite right. But this in not paint. You cannot do that. Ever! Leave it alone! Too late. There will be brush marks that will not fill in because it starting to set up completely. Ok, move on the big bottom shelf and work quickly. No good! The brush did not have enough shellac on it at times, and was too full other times. It is supposed to run together like most liquids, but this was setting up to fast and did not have time to "run". Oh brother!! Nothing to do but leave it set completely, which only takes a matter of hours, and see what it looks like. A couple hours later it looked awful. The middle and bottom shelves had places that looked untouched and other places had too much thickness. The top shelf looked great, but that was the smallest one.
So I was listening to Triv on the radio and he was getting under my skin as usual, but it is the only station I can get on my junkie radio in the basement, plus this situation in front of me and it is a rough day for the brain. Shellac is supposed to be so forgiving, that all you have to do is go over the whole thing again. Just go right over! So I did! Double brother!! I just do not understand. I have used this before, so what is different? Is the piece too large? Should I not do the whole thing at once? There is a show on PBS called "Rough Cut" starring Tommy MacDonald (Tommy Mac). Great guy, great show from Boston and he has that accent that you know where he's from immediately. Reason I mention him is, I saw him do an entire dining room table in shellac and it was gorgeous. But I do remember that he sanded it afterwards and then waxed it. I think I had better watch that episode again, because I definitely have done something wrong.
So now, in order to get it done and be nice like it should be, I will sand away all the shellac, because it has a waxy base and polyurethane and shellac do not play well together. So I power sand it with a vibration sander, being careful not to stay in one place too long because it will get gummy from the friction. This would happen even if you did it by hand because the friction between the paper and the piece gets pretty hot and melts the finish no matter what it is, so we have to keep moving around and just take your time. Finally, after getting all the shellac and a lot of the stain removed, we will stain it once more and the apply the polyurethane, let dry overnight, lightly sand again and put on one more coat of polyurethane. That should do it, then we can put it back together for the last time and it should look really nice and be very functional. But it should not have been that difficult! Something I did made it harder than it should have been. I will make something smaller, like a step stool, slap on some shellac to make sure I still know how and take it from there. So, if you will excuse me, I have to go find Tommy Mac on PBS and see where I went wrong. God Bless America!