A Brushed-On Finish for a Wood Drum

Discussing the finer points of a brushed-on and polished shellac finish for a musical instrument. January 9, 2007

I am looking for a high quality high gloss product that dries hard and can be easily sanded and buffed to a super gloss finish. The thing is, I am going to be brushing or wiping this product. I was considering a 2k urethane, but it doesn’t seem viable since the pot life is so short (or am I wrong?). Also, what would produce a better overall finish, wiping or brushing?

Forum Responses
(Finishing Forum)
From contributor R:
What is it you're going to be finishing?

From contributor P:
I would suggest Epifanes high gloss oil paint. Also Ben Moore makes a nice high gloss oil as well. Thin out a bit with some penetrol and these products will flow great.

From the original questioner:
I am going to be finishing a set of drums wrapped in an exotic veneer. So I need a crystal clear top coat that dries hard and buffs out good, but can be brushed or wiped on. I usually wrap them in sparkle finishes, but a client wants something special.

From contributor D:
Zinsser Sealcoat pale dewaxed shellac. Brush it on in thin coats. When you have sufficient dry film thickness, sand it and polish it to a high gloss. There is no look from any other film-forming finish that compares to the special transparency of the shellac finish.

From contributor A:
Check out Target Coatings. They have a lot of waterborne products that are excellent for instruments. A number of guitar and drum builders use these coatings for the incredible results they achieve.

From contributor R:
As contributor D points out, shellac will give you a beautiful finish. Just keep the drinks on the bar, because it isn't alcohol proof.

From contributor T:
If you elect to use Seal Coat (which I agree is an excellent recommendation), do yourself a favor and buy a very good brush - Taclon 1 1/2" or 2" wide from your local art store. Once you get the pores filled, you can pad Seal Coat too, but I'd recommend thinning it with 1/2 to one part good denatured alcohol first. And if you really want deep shine, learn to French polish.

From the original questioner:
Some questions about shellac… Should I cut my own? Would it be superior in any way to the stuff bought in the stores? If so, can anyone direct me to a website that sells uncut shellac? Also, since multiple coats are necessary for the look I am going for, will it need to be sanded between coats? Does it dry hard enough to be sanded and buffed out with some type of polishing compound (such as the stuff 3M makes), or should I use a wax product? Thanks for the help and the patience.

From contributor M:
I would cut your own shellac. The store bought shellac does have wax in it (the spray does not, but the canned does). Try Homestead Finishing for your shellac - very helpful and informative.

From contributor O:
Note post from contributor D clearly references Zinsser SealCoat... dewaxed shellac. Available everywhere. I still buy and use shellac flakes, button shellac, but I sure use the SealCoat a lot more.

From contributor T:
You can get shellac powder and 200 proof alcohol as a kit from Touchup Depot to mix your own if you want. It is waxed and waxed shellac is a little softer than dewaxed. (It's easier to polish harder stuff if you want to polish.) Seal Coat is great stuff and that's what I'd stay with. You will want to sand occasionally to level things out.

From contributor A:
I know a lot about drum finishing. Seal Coat shellac is a good sealer to use, but it will not give you a thick film build (that deep glossy look) that you are looking for. Also, it will be very difficult to get a professional looking finish without brush marks with just shellac. It's also not a very durable finish for drums.

For a beginner such as yourself, I would recommend a higher solids product. Deft brushing lacquer is readily available and is easy to work with, builds enough that you can finish sand, and buffs out real nice.

You can also check out Target's waterbase finishes. They work okay too, but are not as clear at the higher film builds that musicians like on their instruments. Good luck - you're in for a big project - just take your time and don't rush it.

From contributor T:
A 2 lb cut of shellac (which is about what Seal Coat is) would be 32 oz of powder or flakes (solids) in a gallon (or about 128 oz) of alcohol. I think that computes to 20% solids and I think that's about where many finishes (aside from high solids) reside (20% - 25%, maybe 30%). So if you could build a 6 mil finish with say 8 coats of Deft, why couldn't you build a 6 mil finish with about an equal number of shellac coats?

You can get by with brushing a 2 lb cut, but most of us will get better results from a 1 1/4 lb or 1 1/2 lb cut and a good brush, which means a couple more coats, but hey - it dries so fast, what's the diff? And it doesn't stink, and the dewaxed sands so nicely and...

Now I'll admit it's not for beginners (and probably not for lots of folks who are not beginners), but if you've never seen a French polished finish, you've never seen what can be achieved in the way of depth and gloss - and it's with shellac! If you ever get the opportunity, check out the finish on a Don Ruseaus reproduction table: his folks were masters. If you're stuck with brushing/wiping/padding, it's very tough to beat shellac.

From contributor E:
Is there any difference between the quality of a French polish finish with shellac and a French polish with say rapid pad or padding lacquers?

From contributor T:
I learned to French polish with shellac, alcohol, pumice, and oil and that's the only way I've ever done it. I also learned to pad a variety of finishes, including shellac, but it's not the same thing. A padded finish is likely to be harder than a French polished finish (depends on the padding finish used), but I don't think you could duplicate the appearance of depth. There's just something about all of those ultra-thin layers of finish that I can't get any other way.

From contributor M:
My mistake, thank you for bringing that to my attention regarding the dewaxed shellac in a can. I just went out and purchased some. This certainly makes things easier. You learn something everyday on here.