In this blog, we will discuss the use of shellac as a base coat before applying polyurethane. Firstly, let’s define what shellac and polyurethane are. Shellac is a resin made from the secretions of the lac bug, and it is used as a wood finish.

On the other hand, polyurethane is a synthetic, oil-based varnish that is used for its durability and resistance to water and chemicals. The purpose of this blog is to highlight the importance of using shellac as a base coat before applying polyurethane.

This combination of two finishes can provide a protective and long-lasting finish for wooden surfaces, making it a popular choice among professionals and DIY enthusiasts alike.


What is Shellac?

Shellac is a natural resin that is secreted by the female lac bug and is commonly used as a finish or sealant in woodworking and other applications. It is made up of a mixture of resin, wax, and alcohol.

The resin provides the hardness and durability of the finish, while the wax and alcohol serve as a solvent and help the finish to dry and cure. One of the main properties of shellac is its ability to dry quickly and provide a hard, durable finish.

It also has excellent adhesion properties, which make it ideal for use as a base coat for other finishes, such as polyurethane. Another benefit of shellac is that it can be sanded and polished to a high gloss, which makes it a good choice for applications where a smooth, glossy finish is desired.

Additionally, shellac is resistant to water and alcohol, making it suitable for use in areas where those substances may be present.

In summary, shellac is a versatile and effective finish that offers a number of benefits, including quick drying, excellent adhesion, a hard and durable finish, and resistance to water and alcohol. These properties make it an ideal choice for use as a base coat before polyurethane.

What is Polyurethane?

Polyurethane is a type of synthetic resin made from the reaction between a polyol and an isocyanate. This versatile material is known for its excellent durability and resistance to moisture, abrasion, and chemical damage.

Polyurethane has many properties that make it ideal for use as a protective coating in a variety of applications. For example, it has excellent elasticity, which allows it to flex without cracking or breaking, making it ideal for use on surfaces that are subject to movement or stress.

It is also highly resistant to wear and tear, making it a good choice for high-traffic areas such as floors or furniture. In addition to its physical properties, polyurethane also has a number of benefits that make it a popular choice for use in coatings and finishes.

For example, it dries quickly and can be applied in thin, even coats, making it easy to use and allowing for a smooth, professional-looking finish. It also dries to a hard, durable surface that can be sanded and polished to a smooth finish, which helps to protect the underlying material from damage.

Why Use Shellac Before Polyurethane?


Shellac is a type of resin that forms a tight bond with the wood surface, which allows for better adhesion of the subsequent layers of finish. This improved adhesion ensures that the final finish remains intact and does not peel or flake over time.


Using shellac as a base coat also provides an additional layer of protection to the wood surface. This extra layer of protection helps to extend the lifespan of the finish and makes it more durable and resistant to wear and tear.

Protective Properties

Shellac is also known for its ability to protect against moisture and other environmental elements, such as UV light, that can cause damage to wood surfaces over time. This added protection helps to keep the wood surface looking its best for longer.

Improved Appearance

By using shellac as a base coat before polyurethane, the final finish has a smoother and more even appearance. The shellac helps to fill any small cracks, gaps, or imperfections in the wood surface, creating a more uniform surface that is better suited for applying the polyurethane finish.

Additionally, the shellac also provides a more natural, warm tone to the wood that enhances its overall appearance.

How to Use Shellac Before Polyurethane

Preparation of Surface

Before applying any finish to your wood project, it’s important to prepare the surface by cleaning it of any dust, debris, or contaminants. This will help the shellac and polyurethane adhere properly and provide a smooth, even finish.

Applying the Shellac

Once the surface is clean and dry, you can begin applying the shellac. The most common method of application is with a brush, but you can also use a spray gun or a foam brush. Be sure to apply the shellac evenly and in thin, light coats, allowing each coat to dry completely before applying the next.

Sanding the Shellac

After the final coat of shellac has dried, you should lightly sand it with a fine grit sandpaper to ensure a smooth surface for the polyurethane to adhere to. You may also choose to wet-sand the shellac for an even smoother finish.

Applying Polyurethane

Once the shellac is sanded to your desired smoothness, you can begin applying the polyurethane. Like with the shellac, you can apply the polyurethane using a brush, spray gun, or foam brush.

Make sure to apply it evenly and in thin coats, allowing each coat to dry completely before applying the next. You may need to sand lightly between coats of polyurethane for the best results.

Comparison of Shellac and Polyurethane

CompositionResin secreted by the lac bugSynthetic polymer
PropertiesFast-drying, natural and non-toxic, good adhesion, easy to repairDurable, scratch and water-resistant, flexible, long-lasting
BenefitsVersatile and easy to use, seals and protects surfaces, enhance the appearanceProvides a long-lasting finish, ideal for high-traffic areas, suitable for both interior and exterior use
Use as BasecoatRecommended for use before applying polyurethane, helps to improve adhesion and appearanceCan be applied directly without a basecoat, but using shellac before improves results

Note: The comparison table provides a general overview of the features, properties, and benefits of shellac and polyurethane. It is important to carefully consider the specific needs and requirements of a project before choosing the appropriate finish.


Can I use other types of sealers before polyurethane?

Yes, you can use other sealers before polyurethane such as oil-based sealers, water-based sealers, or sealers specifically made to be used as a basecoat before polyurethane. However, using shellac before polyurethane is highly recommended due to its superior adhesion, durability, protective properties, and improved appearance.

How many coats of shellac should I apply before polyurethane?

It depends on the desired final result and the type of project you are working on. Generally, one to two coats of shellac is enough to act as a base coat before polyurethane. You can also opt for a heavier coat of shellac for added durability and protection.

Can I use polyurethane on its own without using shellac first?

Yes, you can use polyurethane on its own, but using shellac as a base coat can greatly improve the durability and appearance of the final product.

Is shellac flammable?

Yes, shellac is flammable and should be used with caution. It is important to follow all safety precautions and guidelines when working with flammable substances.

How long does shellac take to dry before applying polyurethane?

The drying time of shellac varies depending on the humidity and temperature, but it generally dries within 15 to 30 minutes. It is important to let the shellac dry completely before sanding and applying polyurethane.


Using shellac as a base coat before polyurethane can provide numerous benefits for the final finish of a project. Shellac helps improve adhesion, durability, protection, and appearance when applied before polyurethane.

The process of preparing the surface, applying shellac, sanding, and finally applying polyurethane can be easily done with the right tools and techniques.

By following these steps, the end result will be a professional-looking finish that will last for years to come. In conclusion, the use of shellac as a base coat before polyurethane is a technique worth trying for anyone looking to achieve a high-quality finish on their projects.

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