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Differences between Shellac and Varnish

Differences between Shellac and Varnish

There are many different types of finishes that can be applied to wood, but two of the most popular are shellac and varnish. Both have their own unique benefits and drawbacks, so it can be difficult to decide which one is right for your project. In this blog post, we will take a look at the differences between shellac and varnish, and help you decide which one is best for you.

What is Shellac?

Shellac is a hard, resin-like substance that is secreted by lac insects. It has been used for centuries as a sealant, coating, and varnish. Shellac can be applied to many different materials, including wood, metal, and fabric. In its natural state, shellac is a yellowish-brown color. However, it can be dyed to create a variety of different colors. Shellac is often used in woodworking and furniture making as a finish. It can create a high-gloss finish or a dull, matte finish depending on the application. Shellac is also used as a food coating and as an ingredient in some cosmetics.

What is Varnish?

Varnish is a clear, hard, protective finish that is typically used on wood surfaces. Varnish is made from a resin, oil, and solvent mixture, and it works by forming a tough, durable film over the surface of the wood.

Varnish is available in both water-based and oil-based formulations, and it can be applied with a brush, cloth, or sprayer. Varnish is often used on floors, furniture, and cabinets, and it can provide both protection and beauty to these surfaces.

Varnish is available in a variety of sheens, from high-gloss to matte, so you can choose the level of shine that best suits your needs. Varnish is a great way to protect your wood surfaces from wear and tear, and it can also help to enhance the natural beauty of the wood.

Differences between Shellac and Varnish

Shellac and Varnish are two types of finishes that are commonly used on wood.

  • Both Shellac and Varnish create a durable and protective finish, but there are some key differences between the two.
  • Shellac is made from lacquer, which is a resin that comes from the lac beetle.
  • It dries quickly and can be buffed to a high shine. Varnish, on the other hand, is made from polyurethane, which is a synthetic resin.
  • It takes longer to dry than Shellac, but it is more resistant to scratches and heat damage.
  • Shellac is also more sensitive to alcohol, so it is not ideal for use in areas where there may be spills.

Ultimately, the choice of Shellac or Varnish will depend on the specific needs of the project.


So, what’s the difference between shellac and varnish? Shellac is a natural product made from the excretions of the lac bug. It has been used for centuries as a wood finish. Varnish is a synthetic product that contains chemicals such as nitrocellulose or polyurethane. Varnishes are available in both water-based and oil-based formulas.

In general, varnishes are more durable than shellacs and they can be applied over older finishes without stripping them first. If you are looking for an environmentally friendly option, shellac may be your best bet. However, if you need a high-performance finish that will withstand lots of wear and tear, then you should go with varnish.

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