Learn How Shellac is Made

comments (4) December 14th, 2010 in blogs

thumbs up 27 users recommend

Follow this finish from the tree to your shop, and learn why it is still unmatched.
Instead of creating individual buttons, this worker places the molten shellac on the outside of a ceramic cylinder filled with hot water. The worker then spreads it into a thin layer using the stem of a palm frond.
After the shellac has been stretched over the hot drum, its enlarger even more. This worker uses his hands, feet, and even mouth, to stretch the shellac out as much as he can. Once the shellac cools, it can be broken up into flakes.
Follow this finish from the tree to your shop, and learn why it is still unmatched. - CLICK TO ENLARGE

Follow this finish from the tree to your shop, and learn why it is still unmatched.

Vijay Velji
From time-to-time here at Fine Woodworking, our editors take a quick break from their standard fair of how-to articles and tool reviews, to present pieces with a bit of a human interest slant. Regular readers probably caught contributing author Vijay Velji's recent article titled Shellac's Amazing Journey in issue 215. In it, Velji followed the entire manufacturing process--from the harvesting of lac, all the way through to the production of buttonlac, shellac flakes, and even the canned varieties most of us are perhaps more familiar with.

We've asked Vijay back to share a bit more about his favorite finish and he responded with the video you see below. For anyone interested in the origins of what is perhaps one of the most traditional finishes out there, it's a must-see.

Shellac Origins and Manufacture
By Vijay Velji
Shellac Finishes

Shellac as a finish is quickly catching on with many woodworkers. The many myths that were propagated are slowing proving to be wrong, Woodworkers are realizing that shellac is an easy to use finish that can stand on its own merits.

Since the release of my French Polish Like a Pro! DVD, I have been receiving many questions about shellac. The books at my local library, or even at the Library of Congress, are old and outdated. Therefore I decided to go to India and document the production process. Fortunately I had personal contacts that helped me tremendously. I met with the villagers who cultivate lac, and with the factory owners who process it. It was an exciting and interesting trip.

This video highlights the cultivation and processing of hand and machine-made waxy shellac. Manufacturing of dewaxed shellac is a trade secret that most processors do not want to share. I had the privilege of witnessing it without taking photographs.

Apart from the documentation, I also spent time at the National Library and Asiatic Society in the city of Kolkata to verify the history of shellac. I was able to trace it back to 1500 B.C. This was some 400 years before Ramses III was ruling Egypt. Although I am sure that the use of shellac goes beyond that!

I hope you enjoy the video. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at


More on Finishing with Shellac

• Shellac's Amazing Journey 
• Mixing Shellac 
• Sealing and Coloring with Shellac 
• The Mysterious Case of the Exploding Shellac Can 

posted in: blogs, shellac, buttonlac, lac, shellac production, India, French polish

Comments (4)

Osete Osete writes: Thanks very much for your effort on the shellac story. It is amazing and great that you have documented it.
Posted: 10:50 am on May 20th

wrrnvghn wrrnvghn writes: An excellent video/slide show demonstrating the complex and primitive manufacture of shellac.
Posted: 7:17 pm on February 14th

JasonWoodman JasonWoodman writes: Thank you for the very informative and excellent video. I have wanted to know the details of how shelac is made.
Posted: 9:51 am on January 5th

RWHPI1 RWHPI1 writes: To FWW Editors:

I thought the video presentation on Shellac by Vijay Velji was outstanding. It was short, well-produced and very informative. Being a 40 year+ cabinetmaker/woodworker, and an avid user of shellac to this day for sealing purposes, I found it quite entertaining to see how shellac is actually produced. Before watching this video, I would have found it hard to believe that so much work goes into producing a product that has been taken for granted in my woodshop for so many years. Thank you FWW for continuing your diversity with articles such as this, on your website -- one of the main reasons for renewing my subscription annually.

-Bob Hicks
Upstate NY
Posted: 3:56 pm on January 3rd

You must be logged in to post comments. Log in.

Save up to 51% on Fine Woodworking


Become a Better Woodworker


GlueTube is's video blog that features self-produced videos about woodworking submitted by woodworkers around the globe. The videos featured here stream direct from video file-sharing Web sites including YouTube, Howcast, Vimeo,, and Google Video.

Learn about our new format!

Archive: Temporarily unavailable. Stay tuned and sorry for the inconvenience.