Shellac, as we know, is a resin secreted by the female lac bug that has been used for centuries as a woodworking finish. However, with time and a wide range of other options available, its popularity has diminished a bit in the past.
But it’s now a comeback and has gained more popularity than ever before due to the products like Bulls Eye Shellac from Zinsser.
Zinsser Bulls Eye shellac is one of the best shellac finishes in the market and is a great option to choose for your woodworking projects – it’s easy to use, dries quickly, and provides a smooth, consistent finish.
In this article, I’ll show you how to use Zinsser Bulls Eye shellac. Along with detailed steps, I will also cover some tips, tricks, and FAQs to get the most out of this product.
So, let’s get started.
Applying Bulls Eye Shellac
But to get the most desirable finish with Bulls Eye Shellac, you must be patient and take time while applying.
Typically, there are two methods that you can use, and they are The Brush-On Method & The Rag Method or a Pad Method.
I recommend using both (the brush and a rag) if you have a pretty much larger project to cover the pieces such as wood furniture, doors, coffee table, floor, trims, etc. Use a cloth rag for coating over large flat areas; and a brush for tight corners, edges, and curved surfaces.
The complete list of supplies you will need are:
- Zinsser Bulls Eye Shellac
- 2-3″ natural bristle brush
- Can opener
- Glass bowl, cup, or a jar
- Denatured alcohol
- Mineral spirits
- Measuring cup
- Sandpaper (200 and 400 grits)
- Piece of scrap wood
- Lint-free polishing cloth and a clean cotton cloth rag
Instructions for Applying the Shellac
Once you’ve gathered all the supplies, here are the steps you can follow:
Step 1- Prepare the Surface
The first and foremost step is to sand the surface with 200-grit sandpaper (use a sanding block if it’s easy for you). Once you’re done sanding, use a clean cotton cloth or a lint-free wiping cloth to remove all the dust, dirt, mildew, grime, wax, oil, grease, adhesives, or other chalky materials.
- For cleaning bare wood surfaces, you can use household ammonia and water solution.
- However, if the surface is already finished, use mineral spirit or paint thinner to dissolve the finish and clean the surface.
- Fill any holes, gaps, or scratches with a wood filler that closely matches your wood surfaces.
- Finally, sand the surface lightly once again, wipe it clean, and let it dry to provide a smooth contamination-free surface for the Bulls Eye Shellac to adhere to.
Step 2- Open the Can, Pour and Thin the Shellac
Now that the surface is prepared, open the can of Bulls Eye shellac with a can opener and pour the entire contents into a clean glass bowl, cup, or jar. It’s good to pre-clean your bowl thoroughly with warm water to avoid any chemical reaction that can occur between the shellac and the bowl contaminants.
The next step is to thin the shellac, which makes the application process easier while reducing the drying time.
- To thin out the shellac, add four parts of denatured alcohol for every part of the shellac.
- For example, if you have 1/2 pint of shellac, you’ll need to add 2 pints of denatured alcohol.
- Use a measuring cup to add the denatured alcohol to the shellac in the recommended ratio and mix it well with a string stick.
Remember that Bulls Eye Shellac generally has a high Shellac ratio (3 – 4 pound cuts), resulting in thicker coats after the application. Plus, if it’s not dried properly, the resulting finish can cause streaks and be gummy.
Step 3- Test Your Prepared Bulls Eye Shellac
After adding denatured alcohol (and mixing it well), test your mixture on scrap wood to see if the ratio is correct and the mixture is of the desired consistency. I would not recommend skipping this step if it’s an important piece of the project you are working on.
Pour some mixture on the scrap wood and brush it. If the mixture is too thick, it will leave streaks and bubbles. If it’s too thin, it will soak into the wood quickly.
The ideal mixture should be of the consistency of creamy peanut butter and should go on the wood smoothly without any streaks and with its true colors. If the mixture is not of the desired consistency, add more denatured alcohol or shellac to fix it.
Step 4- Apply the First Coat of Bulls Eye Shellac
Dip a clean cloth rag into the Bulls Eye Shellac mixture. Wring out the cloth gently with your fingers, so it’s not dripping with the mixture but is still saturated.
Now, apply the mixture to your project surface in a thin, even coat. Work in small sections (2 to 3 sq. ft.), and keep a wet edge while you work. This means that you always start in an area where the mixture is still wet.
Next, use a brush to coat the edges and corners of the wood that need the finishing touch. Make sure to use long and smooth strokes in the same direction to avoid any brush marks. And if you see any runs or drips, just brush them out with the grain of the wood.
Step 5- Allow the Shellacked Surface to Dry for about 30 Minutes
Once you have covered the entire surface with a thin shellac coat, allow it to dry for at least 20 to 30 minutes. Unlike other finishes, shellac is a fast-drying finish, so you don’t have to wait too long, but you will need to work quickly.
Generally, Bulls Eye Shellac and denatured alcohol mixture will take not more than 20 to 30 minutes to dry. So, after that much time has passed, you can go ahead and test the surface for dryness by touch. If it feels tacky, it’s not ready yet.
Step 6- Gently Buff the Surface with Extra Fine Sandpaper
Once the surface is dry to the touch, use extra fine sandpaper (400 grit) to buff the entire surface gently to achieve a smooth surface for the next coat of shellac. Mainly if there are any raised wood grain, blotches, or uneven layers, sanding will help to smoothen them out.
Use long, smooth strokes in the same direction while sanding the surface; don’t sand too hard, or you’ll sand through the finish. After lightly buffing the area, wipe off the surface with a clean, dry cloth to remove all the dust.
In the process, pay attention to any areas that do not tend to reflect the light as much. We will need to focus more on those non-reflective areas in the next step to make them smoother.
Step 7- Apply the Second Coat of Bulls Eye Shellac
Applying the second coat is the same as the first coat. Start by dipping a lint-free cloth into the mixture, wringing it out with your fingers, and applying the mixture to the surface in a thin, even coat while working in smaller sections.
Focus more on those non-reflective areas that were not covered well with the shellac before, and let the coat of shellac dry for at least 20 to 30 minutes. You should see a slight sheen on the entire surface when you’re finished.
Step 8- Gently Polish the Surface with Ultra Fine Sandpaper
For this step, use ultra-fine sandpaper (1200 grit) to buff the surface lightly.
Just as you did with the first coat, use long, smooth strokes in the same direction while sanding, and be careful not to sand too hard. After polishing the area, use a clean, dry cloth to wipe it down.
Step 9- Apply the Third Final Coat of Bulls Eye Shellac
Apply a third coat of shellac if you want an extra glossy and smooth wood surface. The process is the same as the previous two coats. However, this time, you don’t need to sand the surface before applying the final coat. Just ensure that the surface is free of dust before applying the final coat.
Allow the final coat to dry for at least 24 hours before using or handling the surface. Optionally you can apply one or two additional coats if your surface is still not as smooth as you want it to be.
The number of Bulls Eye Shellac coats you need to apply might change depending on the wood type you have and the condition of the wood itself. But for the most well-prepared wood surfaces, you can expect to get that shine and gloss in three or four coats.
Step 10- Enjoy Your Smooth and Glossy Surface
You have now successfully applied Bulls Eye Shellac. It’s time to admire your smooth, polished, and glossy wood surface that is protected from water and stains.
This beautiful shellac finish (applied using the above French Polish method) will last for years with proper care. All you need is to avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners on the surface.
How to Fix Shellac Mistakes On the Surface?
If, during the Shellac application, you make any mistakes or are unhappy with the results, don’t worry. You can repair or remove the Bulls Eye Shellac from the surface within 24 hours of application.
- For minor dings, bubbles, or scratches, dip a clean cloth in alcohol and rub it over the surface in a circular motion to dissolve and repair the finish.
- For deeper scratches, you want to remove the shellac altogether. Sanding is the best option here.
Just sand the shellacked surface with fine-grit sandpaper until the shellac is gone. Then apply a new coat of shellac following the steps above to get a super smooth finish on your wood floor or table.
You can also use a paint stripper to remove Bulls Eye Shellac from the surface. But as most of them are very harsh, you want to be extra careful when using them.
Is Zinsser Bulls Eye Shellac Dewaxed – Why Does it Matter?
Zinsser’s Bulls Eye Shellac is a 3-lb. cut alcohol-based shellac that is not dewaxed. Due to the presence of alcohol, it should be thinned with denatured alcohol.
There are, however, Zinsser Seal Coat and Zinsser Shellac Sprays, which are de-waxed, pure, and clear.
You can often tell if the shellac is dewaxed by its appearance – the waxed sealers are often cloudy, whereas the dewaxed ones are clear.
Most manufacturers also have this information readily available on their websites or product literature. Knowing this information makes sense because, based on that, you can use it on different surfaces.
If the shellac is not dewaxed, you can use it as an undercoat or finishing coat. However, waxed products should only be used as a finishing coat. So, check the label if you need to confirm before purchasing.
Can Zinsser shellac be sprayed?
Yes, Rust-Oleum® Zinsser® Bulls Eye® Shellac offers the traditional shellac finish in a convenient aerosolized form.
If you are on a deadline to complete a project, this fast-drying product will give you the professional results you want in a fraction of the time.
What is the shelf life of Zinsser Bulls Eye Shellac?
An unopened can of Zinsser Bulls Eye Shellac, according to the company, has a shelf life of three years as long as it is stored in a cool, dry place.
Once opened and mixed, the mixture has a shelf life of no more than a year and a half. After that, it’s no longer reusable and should be cautiously discarded.
Can I use water-based polyurethane over shellac?
No, do not use water-based polyurethane over shellac. The two finishes are not compatible and will not adhere to each other properly.
Particularly if it’s waxed shellac, the water in the polyurethane will react with the wax and cause all sorts of issues, such as bubbles, streaks, and a generally poor finish.
The bottom line
Bulls Eye Shellac is a pro-grade sealer finish to give your wood floors or tables a smooth glossy look.
It’s easy to apply, dries quickly, and is durable enough to last for years. Just follow the steps above, and you’ll have a beautiful surface that will look new for years.
Jack Luis is a semi-retired painter who loved painting his clients’ ideas on their walls.
He had worked as a painter for over a decade serving customers in areas such as Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Beaufort, and Georgetown, SC (South Carolina). Today in his free time, he likes to read and write about the newer techniques implemented in his profession. You may read more about him here or get in touch with him here.