How Can You Easily Thin Shellac? [In 3 Easy Steps]

You have tried refurbishing your old furniture with your Shellac. But, it’s not sealing your wood properly. This is what happens when your shellac doesn’t keep up its natural consistency. That’s when you should thin your shellac.

So, how to thin shellac?

Alcohol is the key ingredient to thin shellac. Methanol and ethanol are the two major alcohols that can diffuse and thin shellac. Methanol is a hazardous substance since it is toxic. Pure ethanol is another option to thin and clean shellac. But denatured alcohol at 95% could be the best solvent for thinning your shellac flakes.

This is only just some hints to thin shellac. We’ve provided you with a complete step-by-step process to thin shellac.

So, if you want to know, let’s get started.

Denatured AlcoholAdding denatured alcohol to shellac flakes or premixed shellac to reduce its viscosity and make it thinner.Easy to find and readily available. Evaporates quickly, allowing for faster drying time. Can be used with both flakes and premixed shellac.May affect the color and clarity of shellac. May require multiple coats for desired finish. Alcohol fumes can be strong and require proper ventilation.
Methylated SpiritsAdding methylated spirits (also known as denatured alcohol) to shellac flakes or premixed shellac to thin it.Similar to denatured alcohol, but may have a different formulation. Can be used as a substitute for denatured alcohol in some regions where denatured alcohol is not readily available.May have a different odor or formulation compared to denatured alcohol. Requires proper ventilation due to alcohol fumes.
DNA (Dewaxed Shellac)Using dewaxed shellac, also known as DNA, which is commercially available in liquid form and does not require thinning.Does not require thinning. Can be used directly out of the container.May not be as readily available as denatured alcohol or methylated spirits. May be more expensive compared to other methods.
SeedlacDissolving shellac flakes in alcohol to create a custom mix of shellac that is thinner.Provides control over the viscosity and strength of the shellac. Can be used to achieve a specific color or finish.Requires more effort and time to dissolve the flakes. May require additional filtering or straining to remove impurities. May require experimentation to achieve desired results.

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Why Do I Need To Thin Shellac?

Shellac is a resinous substance that’s obtained as dry flakes. This substance is used to seal the gaps in the woods. It is also used to add evenness or intensify the beauty of the wood. Shellac has properties to seal out the moisture and possess strong insulation qualities.

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Now, thinned Shellac works as an outstanding stain barrier coat. It especially works on softwoods and problematic or end grain before staining out. 

The reason for thinning the shellac is to help it penetrate the gap between the bands. Moreover, it‘s easy to brush, spray, wipe, pad and even dip when the shellac is thin.

how to thin shellac

3 Effective Methods on How to Thin Shellac

By now you know why you need to thin shellac. In the following, you’ll know what important elements you need to thin your shellac.

Thinning Shellac concerns quite a few steps. So, let’s jump into those-

Method 1: Thin with Rubbing Alcohol

Shellac can be thinned and cleaned by Rubbing Alcohol. But, Rubbing alcohol like Isopropyl contains 30% water in its solution. So there’s a chance that water can produce a cloudy residue in the shellac. This will spoil a shellac finish.

The water might turn the shellac to white or blush. Try to have your hand on 95% – 100% Pure Propanol or Isopropyl alcohol. With this, Thinning Shellac will be so easy to do.

So, to have a solution of pure alcohol, mix the rubbing alcohol with shellac flakes.

Method 2: Thin with Denatured Alcohol

Denatured alcohol is the best thinner and clear-up solution for shellac. Denatured Alcohol or Methylated spirit is formed with ethanol and specific additives. 

This alcohol works as a cleaning agent, sanding aid, and exterminator as a solvent. As for the shellac, it has the quality of cleaning substances and gives it a form. Plus it is 30% more effective than other alcohol solvents. For this reason, we use this alcohol to thin and clean shellac.

best alcohol options for dissolving shellac flakes

Alcohol BrandPurity LevelEvaporation RateShellac Dissolving TimeAvailabilityPrice
Everclear Grain Alcohol95% or higherFastQuick (within a few hours)Widely available in liquor storesModerate
Denatured AlcoholTypically 90-95%ModerateModerate (within a few hours)Available in hardware storesAffordable
Isopropyl Alcohol (Rubbing Alcohol)70% or higherSlow to ModerateSlow (may take a day or more)Widely available in drugstoresAffordable
MethanolTypically 99%Very FastQuick (within minutes)Available in specialized storesModerate
Shellac ThinnerVaries with brandVaries with brandVaries with brandSpecialty woodworking storesVaries with brand

Alternative to denatured alcohol

Looking for an alternative to denatured alcohol? No worries, we’ve got you covered! When it comes to finding a safe and effective substitute, there are several options you can consider that won’t leave you feeling lost in the wilderness.

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Isopropyl Alcohol: Commonly known as rubbing alcohol, isopropyl alcohol can be an excellent alternative to denatured alcohol. It’s readily available in most drugstores and has a variety of uses, from disinfecting surfaces to cleaning electronics.

Ethanol: Pure ethanol or ethyl alcohol can serve as a suitable replacement for denatured alcohol in many cases. While it may not be as cheap as denatured alcohol, it is relatively easy to find in specialized stores or online.

Acetone: Often used in nail polish removers, acetone can be another alternative to denatured alcohol. It is a potent solvent and can effectively dissolve various substances, making it useful for cleaning and degreasing.

Vinegar: Yes, the humble vinegar found in most kitchens can also come to the rescue! White vinegar, especially, is a natural and non-toxic option that works well for cleaning glass and certain surfaces.

Citrus-based Cleaners: Look for cleaners that use citrus extracts as their main ingredient. These eco-friendly alternatives are biodegradable and can tackle various cleaning tasks without the harshness of denatured alcohol.

Hydrogen Peroxide: This household staple has excellent disinfecting properties and can be used as a substitute for denatured alcohol in certain cleaning tasks.

DIY Solutions: You can also create your own alcohol-free cleaner by mixing water, mild dish soap, and a few drops of essential oil for a pleasant scent. This homemade alternative is safe for most surfaces and won’t harm the environment.

Remember, when trying a new cleaning solution or solvent, always conduct a small patch test on a hidden area of the surface to ensure compatibility and avoid any unwanted damage.

Method 3: Thin with Methanol

Wondering how to thin shellac without denatured alcohol

Well, methanol is quite effective for thinning shellac. However, if you are exposed to the vapours for an extended period, it is highly dangerous. So, unless you’re dealing with good exhaust, methanol isn’t a good idea.

You can use either one of these methods to make a cut. Preferably, massive people use Denatured Alcohol to thin shellac. But Methanol and Pure Isopropyl are good options too. So, just use the one that you can easily access. 

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Step by Step Process to Thin Shellac

You can use either of the Rubbing Alcohol, Methanol, Denatured Alcohol to thin shellac. Any solvents work as an effective cut-off agent as long you follow the steps right. 

Now, we’ll head you to the complete process of thinning your shellac-

Step 1: Dissolving and Mixing Flake Shellac

First, combine in a dark plastic or glass with a tight-fitting covering. If a clear container is used, keep it in a cool and dark place. 

Immerse the flake shellac in roughly half of the total alcohol. Let it settle for 24 hours or longer (crush the button shellac to hasten to dissolve). Continue stirring from time to time until dissolved. 

Step 2: Set the “Cut”

“Cut” determines the consistency of shellac. Three pounds of shellac flakes per gallon of Denatured Alcohol solvent equals a three-pound cut. You can use this ratio for other alcohol solvents as well.

If you are thinning shellac for the first time, start with a light consistency. This could be about a 1-1.5 pound cut. 

Use a 2:16 ratio of shellac flakes to alcohol. This means 2 ounces of shellac flakes get dissolved in 16 ounces of alcohol. This is suitable for 1 pint of 1 pound cut liquid shellac. 

Heavier liquid cuts can work for thinning shellac. But it is better to have several thin layers rather than a few thick ones.

1 lb cut shellac

A 1 lb cut shellac is a solution containing 1 pound of shellac flakes dissolved in 1 gallon of denatured alcohol, resulting in a lighter consistency compared to higher cut ratios.

2 lb cut shellac

A 2 lb cut shellac refers to a mixture of 2 pounds of shellac flakes dissolved in 1 gallon of denatured alcohol.

Step 3: Purify the Mixture

After the shellac has completely dissolved, filter it through a fine-mesh cheesecloth. This will remove any impurities from the shellac. 

Then the liquid shellac should be thoroughly shaken or mixed before use. Let it set aside for 24 hours and that’s it.

After perfectly dissolving, we can get thinner shellac for our work!

Best shellac for wood

Shellac BrandTypeColor OptionsDry TimeCoverageSealant PropertiesFood Safe
Zinsser Bulls Eye ShellacDewaxed ShellacClear, Amber, White30 minutes400-600 sq. ft. per gallonExcellent sealing propertiesYes (after complete cure)
Behlen Solar-LuxDewaxed ShellacAmber, Garnet30-60 minutes400-500 sq. ft. per gallonGood sealing propertiesYes (after complete cure)
Liberon Shellac FlakesDewaxed ShellacBlonde, Light, Medium, DarkVaries with dilutionDepends on dilutionGood sealing propertiesYes (after complete cure)
General Finishes Seal-A-CellWaxy ShellacClear1 hour600-800 sq. ft. per gallonModerate sealing propertiesNo (not food safe)
Mohawk Finisher’s GlazeDewaxed ShellacClear30-60 minutes600 sq. ft. per gallonGood sealing propertiesYes (after complete cure)

Zinsser Shellac Instructions

Surface Preparation: Ensure the surface is clean, dry, and free from dust, grease, and contaminants. Sand the wood to a smooth finish if needed.

Mixing: Zinsser Shellac comes in a concentrated form as Shellac Flakes. To prepare the shellac solution, dissolve the flakes in denatured alcohol following the recommended ratio on the product label. Stir well until fully dissolved.

Application: Apply the shellac solution using a natural bristle brush, foam brush, or lint-free cloth. Work in smooth, even strokes, following the grain of the wood.

Drying Time: Shellac dries relatively quickly. Allow the first coat to dry for about 30 minutes to 1 hour before applying additional coats. Ensure good ventilation during the drying process.

Sanding (Optional): If desired, lightly sand the surface between coats with fine-grit sandpaper to achieve a smoother finish.

Number of Coats: Apply additional coats as needed to achieve the desired level of sheen and protection. Typically, 2-3 coats are sufficient for most applications.

Curing Time: Shellac continues to cure and harden over time. It’s best to avoid heavy use or exposure to moisture until it has fully cured.

Denatured Alcohol vs Isopropyl Alcohol for cleaning wood

AspectDenatured AlcoholIsopropyl Alcohol (Isopropanol)
Chemical CompositionEthanol mixed with additives to deter consumption (usually methanol)Isopropanol (single chemical compound)
Purity LevelTypically 90-95% pure alcoholVaries (commonly 70% or 91%+)
Cleaning PowerEffective solvent for removing dirt, grease, and light stainsDecent cleaning ability, but less potent than denatured alcohol
Evaporation RateRapid evaporation, leaves little residueEvaporates relatively quickly, may leave some residue behind
Water ContentMinimal water contentContains water (unless anhydrous version is used)
ScentPungent and strong odor due to additivesMild alcohol scent that dissipates quickly
Safety & ToxicityFlammable and toxic if ingested; should be used in a well-ventilated areaFlammable, but generally safer than denatured alcohol; avoid ingestion
UsesIdeal for shellac, lacquer, and other wood finishes; effective for spot cleaningSuitable for general wood cleaning, disinfecting, and removing light stains
PriceGenerally more affordableSlightly more expensive than denatured alcohol

Lacquer Thinner vs. Denatured Alcohol

AspectLacquer ThinnerDenatured Alcohol
CompositionMixture of solvents (like acetone, toluene, and others)Ethanol mixed with additives to deter consumption (usually methanol)
Use in FinishesSuitable for thinning and cleaning lacquer-based finishesIdeal for dissolving shellac and cleaning wood surfaces
Cleaning PowerEffective at removing heavy paint, varnish, and lacquerEffective at removing dirt, grease, and light stains
Evaporation RateFast evaporation, leaves little residueRapid evaporation, may leave some residue
OdorStrong and pungent odorPungent odor due to additives
FlammabilityHighly flammableFlammable, but generally less volatile than lacquer thinner
SafetyUse in well-ventilated areas and with cautionShould be used in a well-ventilated area; avoid ingestion
Compatibility with FinishesBest for lacquer-based finishesBest for shellac finishes; avoid using on certain other finishes
PriceGenerally more affordableMay be slightly more expensive than lacquer thinner


Question: How do you dilute shellac?

Answer: Start slowly while diluting the shellac. Dilute 100 ml of the prepared shellac in a glass jar to get a sense of how much alcohol to use. You can always add more. But you won’t be able to take it away.  Stir the solution well and set it aside for 15-20 minutes. Check the colour and wait for 2 minutes if it’s necessary.

Question: Can you thin shellac with mineral spirits?

Answer: Mineral spirits is a petroleum-based substance that is incompatible with shellac. Though it is thinner for varnish, it will also dissolve wax. So, you can’t thin shellac with mineral spirits. 

Question: Can you thin shellac with acetone?

Answer: Because of the acetone, green lacquer thinner cleans up well. And it works as effectively as the conventional lacquer thinner. So yes, you can use acetone to thin shellac.


Hopefully, now you’ve got some ideas about how to thin shellac. With the above instructions, you can easily perform the process. 

So, give it a shot. You might get surprised by the good results.

That’s all for today. Let us know how you carried it out.

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