Can You Apply Lacquer Over Shellac? (Explained)

Shellac is one of the most commonly used finishes in woodworking, known for its qualities of versatility in colors, being non-toxic, being easy to work with, and being easy to remove, making it the favorite finish of many woodworking enthusiasts.

On the other hand, lacquer, another commonly used finish, comes with its unique set of advantages, primarily in terms of water and scratch resistance, that make it an excellent topcoat for almost any project that requires protection from external factors.

Today, we will find out whether it’s possible to combine shellac and lacquer together to obtain an even better surface coating with the two materials complementing each other to compensate for their individual weaknesses.

So, can you apply lacquer over shellac?

Of course, you can apply lacquer over shellac. Shellac is an excellent protective coating product, and lacquer works very well on top of it with the advantages it brings, which makes using lacquer over shellac much more effective than just applying shellac.

However, before applying the lacquer, you should examine the surface for any problem areas in detail and fix these problems, such as cracks or scratches preventing you from applying the lacquer correctly and hindering its ability to provide liquid and scratch resistance.

In the next section, many different tips will be discussed, such as the application of lacquer over shellac and fine details. Therefore, to achieve the desired results in your project, you should have a deep knowledge of all the features of the product you will process.

Can You Apply Lacquer Over Shellac?

While shellac is a fantastic sealer, it falls short in areas such as water and scratch resistance, which calls for another layer of finish on top of it.

You can easily apply lacquer over shellac, and as the shellac is usually a thin surface that is prone to scratching and liquid damage, using the lacquer on top gives a better quality of work. However, before applying the lacquer over shellac, you need to sanding paste to get a smooth surface.

Shellac is a practical, environmentally safe substance and is easy to repair. But this also requires more repairs, which isn’t suitable for anything that you could expose to alcohol or even water. Refrain from using it as a topcoat for any material, and apply lacquer over it instead.

If you are planning on applying lacquer, you should use dewaxed shellac. On the other hand, if you’ve already used waxed shellac, you will need to remove the wax before applying the lacquer.

Should You Sand Shellac Before Applying Lacquer?

Some argue that you shouldn’t sand shellac before applying lacquer. But that’s not true!

Because shellac dissolves in previous coats, you can usually sand it carefully before applying lacquer (be mindful of the risk of sanding by coating). Then, continue the application and repaint if necessary.

Remove any staples and repair any loose or damaged wood before sanding. Fill holes and cracks with wood putty. Close the pores with wood filler. Drive-in or remove protruding nail heads.

In general, sanding wood requires three types of sandpaper: You should use coarse sandpaper first, medium sandpaper in the next pass, and fine sandpaper at the last moment. For worn wood, use very thick paper. 

Before applying shellac, you must clean the wood. Sweep or vacuum up any debris. If you want to change the color of the wood, you can use bleach or colored wood dyes. Shellac comes in a variety of shades, from light to orange-yellow.

How to Apply Lacquer Over Shellac?

Pour the shellac on the floor. Go over it with a synthetic bristle brush. Don’t immerse the brush in the can, as this may clog the product. Instead, load it from another container if you need to put it on your brush. Spread the substance using long, smooth strokes.

Follow the grain direction of the wood. Try to do this quickly because shellac dries quickly. Wait at least half an hour and then follow up with another round of sanding each coat. For best results, cover the floor after a few hours.

Thoroughly clean the sanded area before reapplying. Two to four coats of shellac are usually sufficient. You can also skip the sanding bit and coat the surface a few times. Allow the topcoat to dry for 24-48 hours. Finally, you can apply lacquer over it.

You can polish anything you have applied lacquer over shellac to with a pumice stone or steel wool. For additional protection, you can also use a thin layer of wax.

How Long to Let Shellac Dry Before Applying Lacquer?

Some think that the shellac dries out after a long time before applying the lacquer, and they do the process accordingly, and while this may be true to some extent, it’s false in general.

Typically, the drying time of shellac before applying the lacquer is between 30 minutes to 4 hours. Before applying shellac, you should clean the item you will process—dust with a clean, soft, lint-free cloth. A dirty material containing debris can scratch delicate items, especially furniture. So make sure it’s smooth.

Spray the cloth with a dust-repellent agent and use it to remove dust. Using your paintbrush, apply the shellac to your product. Wait 30 minutes to 4 hours before applying the second coat. In the next step, you can easily use lacquer.

How Long Does Lacquer Take to Dry After Application?

First, let’s start by saying that lacquers are resin-based solutions emulsified (liquidized) by solvents (oils) that dry into a hard transparent film when exposed to air, which is a critical piece of information for the context of this question.

It’s no secret that lacquer and varnish are often confused and sometimes used synonymously with the term lacquer. 

However, where the lacquer hardens by evaporating liquid solvents into the air, varnishes harden through the oxidation process, meaning that they must capture oxygen atoms in the atmosphere to solidify their chemical structure. 

Therefore, the lacquer dries in a short time. After application, the lacquer dries on average in 5-15 minutes, but it may take 2-3 hours to dry entirely in some cases.

As lacquer doesn’t require any additional molecules to harden, when the solvent evaporates, the resins solidify. On the other hand, when using this material, you must allow it to dry correctly, as many different factors can cause the lacquer not to dry or interrupt the drying process.

Conclusion

Lacquer over shellac is a tried, appropriate, old, or highly respected practice. Besides the critical mystery surrounding lacquer over shellac, there’s plenty of room with a bit of science to develop your favorite mixes and methods personally.

To summarize briefly, it’s possible to apply lacquer over shellac in almost any project, and while there’re myths about the best or most efficient method, the ways we recommend are applications that have been tried before and have received positive results.

However, we invite you not to get carried away with complex explanations: shellac is forgiving of many things, it can easily retouch indefinitely, and if the result is truly terrible, it can be removed easily and without damaging the wood. So at worst, it’s just a matter of time and patience.