As a resin, shellac creates a tough, shell-like exterior to furniture.

How to Apply Shellac to a Maple Table

by M.T. Wroblewski

If you’ve been reading about furniture restoration, it’s no wonder that you’ve chosen to apply shellac to your maple table. Long the choice of furniture artists who wish to protect gilded and bronzed surfaces, shellac is known for creating an extra tough and hard surface. Shellac is actually a sealer rather than a finish; it deeply penetrates wood. As such, after applying several coats of shellac, many people protect it with a coat of varnish. If you’ve never worked with shellac before, you’ll appreciate how quickly it dries, but you’ll also have to work quickly to keep up with it.

1 Organize your work area. Shellac emits few fumes, but since you’ll probably apply at least three coats to your maple table, set up your table in a large area in which you can freely move around. Consider placing the table on a raised platform so that you can easily apply shellac to the legs. Avoid applying shellac on a humid day; the moisture will make the application difficult.

2 Dust your maple table with a microfiber cloth. Remove dirt by cleaning the table with a mild soap and water. Let it dry.

3 Dip about two-thirds of your bristle brush into the shellac. Apply the shellac in long, flowing strokes from the ends of the brush.

4 Keep an eye on the wet edge as you work, slightly overlapping a new layer with the previous one. You can level shellac that is applied unevenly with another stroke of the brush, but you have to do so quickly and should do so only once. Since shellac dries quickly, working it too much will result in brush marks; any thick lines could form ridges on your table.

5 Apply the shellac to the top of the table first, then work your way down the legs. Move around the legs quickly to avoid creating vertical lines.

6 Allow the shellac to dry. It may take several hours, but check the instructions on the can.

7 Inspect the table carefully. Each layer of shellac will virtually melt into the one before it, but any imperfections in the finish can be removed by lightly sanding the table with steel wool first. Dust the table with a microfiber cloth.

8 Apply at least two more coats of shellac to your table, allowing for dry time in between. Three coats should be ample for a close-grained wood like maple. Apply a finishing coat of varnish, if you wish, to protect your maple table.

Items you will need

  • Microfiber cloth
  • Mild dish soap and water (optional)
  • Shellac
  • Quality bristle brush (fitch or china bristle brush)
  • Steel wool
  • Varnish (optional)

Tips

  • Shellac is delightfully quirky in the sense that it dries to a hard finish and yet is relatively simple to repair if it becomes damaged. Simply sand the damaged area gently with steel wool -- especially if you have applied a top coat of varnish -- and reapply another coat of shellac.
  • Shellac is also somewhat odd in that it is sensitive to heat. In fact, it can actually soften, so keep hot items off of your maple table.

Photo Credits

  • Hemera Technologies/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images