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post #1 of 22 Old 03-06-2019, 07:36 AM Thread Starter
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Question Problem with shellac finish

Howdy -

I just joined this forum, and I'm seeking some help with a shellac finish. I'm not a professional, but I'm hoping to get some guidance with this matter.

First though, I'll explain my forum handle, DaSOB. My actual initials are SOB, so it's a tongue-in-cheek thing. I'm not an SOB in real life, just online!

I'm retired, 67, and my hobby is collecting old military firearms. I'm refinishing the stock of one back to original condition, which involves a tinted shellac finish. I used Zinsser Amber Shellac cut to 1.5# with DNA, and Rit dye mixed to obtain the proper color (deep reddish-brown). The finish looks authentic, but the shellac doesn't seem to be curing all the way. It's dry to the touch, but in handling the stock, my body warmth eventually makes the finish take fingerprints and even fabric imprints. I've been able to "wash" it gently with a mixture of DNA and Amber Shellac and return it to the original finish, but now I avoid touching the wood lest the finish get marred again. This is problematic if I wish to take the rifle to the local range to shoot it.

The finish is three or four days old, and I thought it would have cured completely by now, but apparently it hasn't. I'm hoping that someone can educate me a bit on this, let me know if I need to let the finish cure longer, or whatever else I may need to do.

Any and all help will be appreciated!
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post #2 of 22 Old 03-06-2019, 09:06 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DaSOB View Post
Howdy -

I just joined this forum, and I'm seeking some help with a shellac finish. I'm not a professional, but I'm hoping to get some guidance with this matter.

First though, I'll explain my forum handle, DaSOB. My actual initials are SOB, so it's a tongue-in-cheek thing. I'm not an SOB in real life, just online!

I'm retired, 67, and my hobby is collecting old military firearms. I'm refinishing the stock of one back to original condition, which involves a tinted shellac finish. I used Zinsser Amber Shellac cut to 1.5# with DNA, and Rit dye mixed to obtain the proper color (deep reddish-brown). The finish looks authentic, but the shellac doesn't seem to be curing all the way. It's dry to the touch, but in handling the stock, my body warmth eventually makes the finish take fingerprints and even fabric imprints. I've been able to "wash" it gently with a mixture of DNA and Amber Shellac and return it to the original finish, but now I avoid touching the wood lest the finish get marred again. This is problematic if I wish to take the rifle to the local range to shoot it.

The finish is three or four days old, and I thought it would have cured completely by now, but apparently it hasn't. I'm hoping that someone can educate me a bit on this, let me know if I need to let the finish cure longer, or whatever else I may need to do.

Any and all help will be appreciated!
Given time the shellac may harden. I think the problem is the rit dye. It's a water based product I wouldn't recommend adding to shellac. There is alcohol based aniline dyes that could be used. https://www.mohawkproducts.com/Mohaw...ain-p/m520.htm
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post #3 of 22 Old 03-06-2019, 09:22 AM Thread Starter
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I dissolved the dye in DNA, as much as it would dissolve. I had used the amber shellac by itself, with no dye, previously on that same stock, and it never did harden. But I used it straight out of the can at 3#, before I learned to cut it to 1.5#.

I'm going to give it some time and see what develops. If it won't dry, I'll redo it with fresh shellac and some aniline dye. Thanks!
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post #4 of 22 Old 03-06-2019, 10:36 AM
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Welcome to the forum! When you get a minute add your location to your profile so it shows in the side panel. Add your first name to your signature line so we'll know what to call you.

I use Shellac often and it dries quickly enough that I can handle whatever I'm finishing inside of 10 minutes, 15 minutes tops. But I'm not adding anything to it and I usually do a French polish with a pad. It's rare for me to sand what I French polish but on the occasion I want to do that I still only have to wait about 20 minutes. I mix my own 1 lb. or 2 lb. cut with granules and Everclear or DNA.

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post #5 of 22 Old 03-06-2019, 10:37 AM
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DaSOB, Your shellac is too old.
https://www.shellac.net/faq.html

Gary
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post #6 of 22 Old 03-06-2019, 10:40 AM
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I had some trouble getting some amber shellac boxes to dry, so I put them out in the Sun on the picnic table and the Sun baked the shellac dry. I'm not sure that I would leave a gun or even just the gun stock out in the open that way, but maybe using some heat lamps would be a good alternative. Just be careful not to get them too close and burn the shellac and what it's on.

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post #7 of 22 Old 03-06-2019, 11:52 AM
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I've had this happen with old shellac. I highly prefer mixing shellac from flakes. I most recently got clear shellac powder from WellerMart that worked great with dye. If you need amber, they have darker flakes as well which can be ground in a coffee grinder for quick dissolving.
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post #8 of 22 Old 03-06-2019, 10:38 PM
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Originally Posted by DaSOB View Post
I dissolved the dye in DNA, as much as it would dissolve. I had used the amber shellac by itself, with no dye, previously on that same stock, and it never did harden. But I used it straight out of the can at 3#, before I learned to cut it to 1.5#.

I'm going to give it some time and see what develops. If it won't dry, I'll redo it with fresh shellac and some aniline dye. Thanks!
If you didn't mix the rit dye into the shellac then it sounds like the shellac is old. Premixed shellac normally has a shelf life of 6 to 9 months. Shellac in flake form can get old too but it takes about 3 years for it to get old. If you look there should be a manufacturing date on the can. I would start there.
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post #9 of 22 Old 03-07-2019, 05:33 AM
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Its either old shellac, or the dye. Shellac on its own has a shelf life, as mentioned, beyond that it wont dry hard like its supposed to. Adding Rit dye to the mix may have messed you up more though, Rit is meant to be a water-based dye and its very, very probable that its incompatible with the shellac and interfering with it.

Point of interest though, shellac doesnt actually 'cure'. Curing describe a finish chemically changing, think something like polyurethane that has cross-linking polymers responsible for its final properties. Shellac, however, doesnt have any of those, its just the shellac itself suspended in alcohol. One the alcohol flashes off, i.e its dry, thats it, finish it as done as its ever gonna get

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post #10 of 22 Old 03-10-2019, 08:32 PM Thread Starter
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I can't find a date code on the shellac can although there is a lot code, but I know I got it about June of 2018. I had used it once before, without any dye, and it never did set satisfactorily. But, I had used it straight from the can and didn't realize I needed to cut it. This time I cut it to 1.5#.

The finish seems to be hardening up as time passes, so I'm going to set the rifle in a corner and not handle it by the wood for the next several weeks, then see how the finish is. There are a couple of hidden areas where I can do a "fingernail test" to see whether it has hardened completely.
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post #11 of 22 Old 03-10-2019, 08:40 PM
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I can't find a date code on the shellac can although there is a lot code, but I know I got it about June of 2018. I had used it once before, without any dye, and it never did set satisfactorily. But, I had used it straight from the can and didn't realize I needed to cut it. This time I cut it to 1.5#.

The finish seems to be hardening up as time passes, so I'm going to set the rifle in a corner and not handle it by the wood for the next several weeks, then see how the finish is. There are a couple of hidden areas where I can do a "fingernail test" to see whether it has hardened completely.
I don't think I would press my fingernail in the finish. That might damage it even if it is good. A more reasonable test would be to put your thumb on the finish and press hard and see if your fingerprint is in the finish. If it does that is something that could be rubbed out with some fine steel wool.
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post #12 of 22 Old 03-10-2019, 09:26 PM
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I've used shellac mainly for shop projects. I've never encountered a problem with "Old" shellac. I've always used Zinzer brand from Home Depot or Lowes. I usually apply the shellac with a brush and follow with a rag saturated in DNA. The rag and DNA seems to remove any shellac that would remain sticky after drying. If the color isn't right I'll just add more shellac.

I'm sure that the shellac aficionados will have extreme stomach acid over this technique but it isn't furniture, it's shop jigs etc.

My suggestion is to start with DNA (DeNatured Alcohol) on a rag and remove as much as you feel is necessary.

Oh, there is one other thing. Shellac really needs to be thinned. Straight from the can s/b thinned about 1/3 shellac and 2/3 DNA. Shellac is unique in that you can always apply more if needed.

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post #13 of 22 Old 03-11-2019, 02:30 PM
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I bet it's old also. I bought some Shellac at my local hardware store and it was old so I took it back and they say it was out of date when it came in. The guy that told me that does all the ordering for the store so I believe what he said. I now buy things like that from Rockler. I bet they sell more Shellac in a day than my hardware will sell in a year.

Don in Murfreesboro, TN.
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post #14 of 22 Old 03-11-2019, 10:22 PM Thread Starter
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I'm going to give this finish a good long time to "set", since it looks authentic and is just the right color (after a lot of experimentation).


Informatively, this is an obsolete Russian rifle called "SKS", in service with the Soviet Army from about 1943 up into the '50's. Depending on what arsenal produced the rifle and what the date of production was, the stocks were finished with shellac in colors varying from golden-brown through deep red-brown (my rifle) and up to a mottled, sooty-looking reddish-brownish-blackish. The rifles all appear to have been shellacked with brushes, resulting in an uneven finish with some brush strokes visible, so I followed this procedure. For my specific rifle, the correct color is red-brown. Normally, I don't refinish old military rifles (my hobby), but this one sat under 4' of flood water for two days in August, 2016, when my home was flooded. The original finish was ruined, and I had to refinish it. I finally got the color correct and I want the shellac to "set up" so that I can handle the rifle without leaving hand prints on the finish. I attached a photo so y'all can see the finished product.



Last edited by DaSOB; 03-11-2019 at 10:26 PM.
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post #15 of 22 Old 06-06-2019, 01:56 AM
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Nice work on that rifle. Replicating that Russian Red finish is fairly difficult and its my understanding ot was done by first applying a type of pine tar to the wood, followed by an amber shellac. I've seen them with everything from fairly even coloring across the stock like you've got to finishes like the ones seen below. I've refinished a lot of firearms but have yet to do an SKS. I'm still kicking myself in the rear for not buying a dozen of them back around 2000 when you could pickup a Yugo for $125 at my local Big 5 sporting goods. They go for 4x that price now, and your Russian rifle for even more.








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post #16 of 22 Old 06-06-2019, 08:00 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks, Andrew! Nice looking rifles in the pic! If I found one like one of those, I'd probably buy it just because. Just a passing question - you can still possess an SKS in the PRK?

I'm with you on the "wish I had". I got my rifle back when every gun show had stacks of Russian SKS's on tables, three and four deep, for $100 each OTD. I looked at several and settled on mine because it's a mid/late-50's Tula, all metal parts matching and not EP'd. After the flood I stripped the ruined finish and started trying to replicate the original look, hence the amber shellac. If I'd known then what I know now about store-bought shellac, I would have bought some flakes and mixed my own. Be that as it may, I'm very pleased with the outcome, and I appreciate the kind words! The finish seems to have matured over the past few months and it is nice and solid now.

But now, as you mentioned, a Russian SKS in good shape is going $500-$700 every day of the week. One superb all-matching 49 Tula example sold on Gunbroker for $2500! Man, if I'd had ESP I would have ransacked my savings and bought several of these just as investments. Same with SVT-40's.

Thanks for the info on how the Russians initially finished these. The pine tar/amber shellac method sounds very plausible given the mottled appearance of so many of the Russian rifles - Mosin-Nagants very often have that same look, although my 91/30 and M38 laminates are re-arsenaled and have a clear finish.

Right now, with the Mississippi within about 5" of the levee top here in Baton Rouge, I'm just praying that I don't have to go through the flood scenario again. However, I live well east of the MS, almost into Livingston Parish, and the MS flood plain is out to the west into the Atchafalaya Basin, so even if it were to overtop the levees, it would flood to the west and not in my direction.

Pleasure chatting with you, Andrew.

Last edited by DaSOB; 06-06-2019 at 08:07 AM.
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post #17 of 22 Old 06-06-2019, 09:04 AM
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How to read date codes on Zinsser shellac. https://www.popularwoodworking.com/f...s-eye-shellac/

I mark expiration date after de coding onto the can for later reference.

Gary
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post #18 of 22 Old 06-06-2019, 10:08 AM Thread Starter
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Thanks, gmercer!
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post #19 of 22 Old 06-06-2019, 09:45 PM
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I had a SKS many years ago, it was fun to shoot is all have to say. Now banned in CT.
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post #20 of 22 Old 06-06-2019, 10:15 PM Thread Starter
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I had a SKS many years ago, it was fun to shoot is all have to say. Now banned in CT.

That's a crying shame. I'm glad I live in gun-friendly Louisiana.
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