Finishing Desk - Shellac'd, Now What?

Hopfully someone can help....
I've just finished a maple desk with non-dewaxed shellac. I realized in the back of my head that shellac probably wasn't the best thing to use for the top, but the shellac is tinted and I wanted it to match everywhere.
I've Googled and have read "you can't use varnish now", "you can use varnish on dewaxed shellac", "there's not enough wax to worry about"... so, I'm still not sure. There's 3 coats of a 2# cut on the desk.
Can I put a 1# cut of dewaxed on top and then varnish? Or is there some specialty stuff that I can use to toughen the writing surface with the finish the way it is?
Any pointers would be greatly appreciated. dc
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since you used de-waxed shellac you should be able to put any finish over it. Gene

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Reread.
wrote:

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Gene,
That's the thing, I've got *NON-dewaxed* right now. Barry replied and said I can put a dewaxed coat on top and then some sort of varnish.
Any suggestions for a good varnish finish? Poly?
Thanks, dc

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You can use Seal Coat dewaxed shellac as a barrier coat. I'd use it straight out of the can, as a 2# cut. I'd leave the shellac as a final finish on the non-writing surfaces.
What kind of "varnish" were you planning on using?
Barry
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Barry,

Thanks for the note! I haven't found any dewaxed shellac yet. If I can't, can I skim off the top of my non-dewaxed after it's all settled out?
Any suggestions on a good varnish for the writing surface? I don't imagine poly is my only option.
Thanks, dc
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Do It Best hardware carries Zinsser Seal Coat the HD and Lowes don't want to. Zinssera spray can shellac is dewaxed as they told someone the wax plugged the nozzle. Decant clear stuff off of mixed shellac that has been undisturbed for a couple of weeks and folks say it's comparable to dewaxed.

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You can dewax shellac yourself, but dewaxed shellac is also readily available from Homestead Finishing (as well as many other sources). http://www.homesteadfinishing.com/htdocs/shellac3.htm
- Bruce
wrote:

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Ask at local paint stores for Zinnser Seal Coat.

Behlens' Rock Hard and Pratt & Lambert are excellent varnishes. Waterlox makes an excellent urethane product as well. A few months' back, Fine Woodworking had a great article about varnishing and rubbing out table tops. Unfortunately, I can't remember the issue.
Barry
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The wax in 'non-dewaxed' shellac should have floated to the top of the hardening solution. I would gently scrub scuff with a fine 3-M pad, or 320 to 400 'Wet or Dry'. Brush & vacuum away all dust, then give a quick & thin coat of Seal Coat {WAX FREE shellac}. Then apply several coats of a short-oil varnish.
With that said, for a 'working' desk I would NOT recommend varnish. My finish of choice would be a water-based Poly. While a little 'cool' in tone, it can be tinted. It will give a very hard & usable finish. I did a Maple top for a kitchen utility cabinet for my wife. I used a water-based poly and it still looks like glass several years later.
Regards & Good Luck, Ron Magen Backyard Boatshop

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If you want a tough varnish that is warmer in tone than poly you might want to consider Behlen's Rock Hard Table Top Varnish. I just posted more information about this finish on the Best Finish for Dining Table thread.
- Bruce

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Ron,
My experience with waxy shellac is that when the shellac is still in solution, it settles to the bottom of the container. Does this change as the alcohol evaporates and the shellac forms a hard film?

thin
tone,
and
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Baron, I don't work with shellac, other then Seal Coat as a sealer.
My advice was based on 'engineering logic'. What is the purpose of the wax in the shellac? My understanding was that it is to create a surface barrier between the finish and the air. {Logically, the reverse would hinder the adhesion of the finish to the underlying substrate}. Therefore, the wax component would migrate to the top surface.
I could very well be totally wrong . . . using logic has gotten me in trouble before !!
However {from your second message}, it's nice to know that the end result of my advice coincides with yours - scuff sand and apply the poly {My personal choice for a simple, extremely hard, rather impervious, finish}.
Regards & Thanks, Ron Magen Backyard Boatshop

320
Maple
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I think the wax is there from the start. it's a naturally occuring impurity.
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As pointed out by another poster, the wax comes in with the shellac raw material. It is not added but it is sometimes removed to make dewaxed shellac. The wax will be throughout the hardened film in waxy shellac. The "poor man's" way to make dewaxed shellac is to let it settle and decant the clear solution above the wax. As for my second post, you will be labeled as either a heretic or an enlightened finisher if you put poly on top of waxy shellac.
Good Luck.

barrier
of
personal
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Thanks, all for the tips and pointers. I guess I'll trek over to the Woodcraft (or was it Woodworker's?) and dig around for some dewaxed shellac and a can of the Behlen's Rockhard Table varnish.
Do I need to scuff the surface before applying the varnish? I guess it would say so on the can. I just want to know ahead of time.
Thanks, again! dc
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How did you make the top? How thick did you make it.
I'm going to make a desk for my daughter (she'll get the rough wood for x-mas. She's 8 and she's in the shop with me whenever I'm there) and I'm not sure what I want to do for a top. My first thought was maple ply with a banding. Then I started thinking about solid wood but the cost will go up and it'll be a lot more work.
Thanks, Ron
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Ron, I guess when I said "finished" I meant as in stain/shellac. I stripped the extremely worn finish off a vintage desk and I just "re-finished" it.
The desk I have is maple (maybe rock-maple). The top is 3/4" maple boards joined together. The top is then dovetailed (?) into the sides. I'm not much of a woodworker per se. I just like to fix up older pieces and refinish or restore them.
Good luck with your desk. Sounds like a great present! dc
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dc wrote:

The first thing to "go" on a desk is the top. Are you going to make an aweful fuss when she tries that girl scout knife on the top? Make two tops - a handy dandy pine one painted pink attached via pocket screws and a second one to replace the pinkie when she's older. Heck might save pinkie for when she's a teen and wants that nifty purple and orange desk top!
Josie
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"Non-dewaxed" is a double negative. Try "waxy".
A two pound cut might be pushing it. Polyurethane will stick quite well to a 1.5 pound cut as long as you scuff sand the shellac film. It is not as good as using dewaxed shellac.
You could cover the existing coats with a coat of dewaxed shellac and use the finish of your choice but why do you feel the need to use something other than shellac? Shellac was used for quite some time as the finish of choice for writing desks until lacquer became available. It is quite hard enough for this purpose. The downside is that a spilled alcoholic drink will dissolve the film. It will also not do lacquer much good but it is tends to discolor rather than dissolve the film.
Good Luck.

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