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Cloudy Appearance When Finishing Shellac With Steel Wool / Paste Wax

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  • Cloudy Appearance When Finishing Shellac With Steel Wool / Paste Wax

    I have just finished a table in Wenge and Birds eye Maple, using hand tools (so surface was planed / scraped then sanded to 220 grit).

    I hate the look of a glossy finish, but since shellac is glossy by default, I thought to use steel wool to cut off the nibs and then steel wool plus some paste wax to take the gloss down to a satin sheen. At least that is what I understood Paul Sellers was doing in his two videos on finishing with shellac. Problem is that whenever I touch my shellac with steel wool (lubricated or not, paste wax or not) it immediately cloudies (dulls) the surface. Now I expect a satin sheen to be cloudy if the light reflects off it straight overhead, but when compared to unfinished shellac side by side under the same diffused lighting condition, the gloss shellac is much clearer, contrast is higher and colours are punchier.

    How can I achieve the same clarity as the unfinished gloss shellac but still get the smooth, satin surface?

    The first image shows the one half of the edge of wenge after I used steel wool with mineral spirits, then 600 grit sandpaper with mineral spirits, then 1200 then 2500.

    The second image shows the first image followed by applying paste wax with steel wool and buffing it out. Compared to the unfinished glossy shellac on the left half I am losing a lot of clarity and contrast.

    What am I doing wrong? It is even worse if I flatten the finish with 400 grit sandpaper followed by steel wool and 600 grit sandpaper.
    Attached Files
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  • #2

    Re: Cloudy Appearance When Finishing Shellac With Steel Wool / Paste Wax

    How long did you wait between last coat of shellac and rubbing out?
    That's a tried and true method of reducing the sheen, but the shellac has to be fully cured for it to work.

    Paul

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    • #3

      Re: Cloudy Appearance When Finishing Shellac With Steel Wool / Paste Wax

      2 days. I did not rub too hard, all the rubbing resulted in white powder which indicated to me that that layer of the surface was cured hard, at least that is what I assume.

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      • #4

        Re: Cloudy Appearance When Finishing Shellac With Steel Wool / Paste Wax

        Was the shellac fresh?

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        • #5

          Re: Cloudy Appearance When Finishing Shellac With Steel Wool / Paste Wax

          How many coats of shellac did you apply? How did you apply it? Just to get an idea of how much finish is actually on the wood. That is a finish that i often use (shellac followed by wax). What kind of wax did you use? Do you know the ingredients? One more: was the shellac dewaxed?
          Frank
          SPCHT

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          • #6

            Re: Cloudy Appearance When Finishing Shellac With Steel Wool / Paste Wax

            Not sure 2 days is long enough for a full cure. The immediate top layer may well be hard and powder up but the material underneath can still be curing and therefore softer. Evaporation of all the solvent takes time. I haven't done a shellac rubout for many years but I would wait at least a week, more likely 2 just to be sure. A fan gently wafting over the piece can speed up cure time.
            As noted in the above posts there are other factors that can affect the outcome and need to be considered.

            Paul

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            • #7

              Re: Cloudy Appearance When Finishing Shellac With Steel Wool / Paste Wax

              What steel wool are you using? "00" is commonly available but you really want the finer "0000" grade. Also, I have always the steel wool dry and then separately applied the past wax followed by buffing with a soft cloth. The finish does look dull after the steel wool, and cloudy after the wax, but then comes back to a soft satin sheen after buffing.

              Craig

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              • #8

                Re: Cloudy Appearance When Finishing Shellac With Steel Wool / Paste Wax

                Originally posted by Kayak Jim View Post
                Was the shellac fresh?
                Yes I went out and bought a new can with date code January 2019.

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                • #9

                  Re: Cloudy Appearance When Finishing Shellac With Steel Wool / Paste Wax

                  Originally posted by Frank D. View Post
                  How many coats of shellac did you apply? How did you apply it? Just to get an idea of how much finish is actually on the wood. That is a finish that i often use (shellac followed by wax). What kind of wax did you use? Do you know the ingredients? One more: was the shellac dewaxed?
                  I applied 4 coats using a brush. First coat was a thinned (2lb cut) sealer coat which I sanded. I am using Miniwax Paste Finishing Wax. The shellac was dewaxed - it is clear shellac.

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                  • #10

                    Re: Cloudy Appearance When Finishing Shellac With Steel Wool / Paste Wax

                    Originally posted by WCraig View Post
                    What steel wool are you using? "00" is commonly available but you really want the finer "0000" grade. Also, I have always the steel wool dry and then separately applied the past wax followed by buffing with a soft cloth. The finish does look dull after the steel wool, and cloudy after the wax, but then comes back to a soft satin sheen after buffing.

                    Craig
                    I am using 0000. I tried the steel wool dry, steel wool plus mineral spirits followed by paste wax on steel wool followed by soft cloth and then a kiwi brush. The steel wool with mineral spirits did not perform any differently than dry steel wool on this small piece.

                    I see the exact same process, however after buffing it is satin but feels less transparent, like somehow the surface is not clear enough as per my pictures.

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                    • #11

                      Re: Cloudy Appearance When Finishing Shellac With Steel Wool / Paste Wax

                      I have always used dewaxed shellac only as a sealer and the regular, waxy version, as a topcoat. I am pretty sure that the dewaxed variety is not intended to be used as a topcoat. The can of Zinsser Sealcoat that I have makes no mention of using as a topcoat. It's quite possible that could be the root of your problem, although the product could have been reformulated and manfacturer's recommendations changed in the last few years.

                      Paul

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                      • #12

                        Re: Cloudy Appearance When Finishing Shellac With Steel Wool / Paste Wax

                        I've used Sealcoat as a finish coat many times with success. I prefer dewaxed as a finish coat because I like the way it sands and it's harder than non-dewaxed. I've also read (I believe it was Flexner, or perhaps Dresdner, who helped design Seal Coat) that non-dewaxed is cloudier than dewaxed shellac. Of course I'm no pro, so my experience is quite limited. In any case, I'd guess that the problem may be coming from the steel wool. It can break down into dust and mix in with the wax. Not sure if this is the case, but something to look into (try using mineral spirits to take off a spot of wax and see if the cloudiness goes away). I've also never really understood why people apply wax with steel wool. It's basically doing 2 steps in one but you're losing a lot of control over the process. I sand my shellac first with P600 to take off the high spots and runs (I start with P400 if there are a lot of runs), then I go at it with steel wool. Then when I can see that i've gotten an even sheen, I apply the wax with a cloth, let dry the required time, and buff. It's always given me a beautiful clear semi-gloss/satin finish. I've never used Minwax wax but I guess it's OK wax. I mix my own with 90% bees wax and 10% carnauba.
                        Last edited by Frank D.; 05-27-2019, 12:50 PM.
                        Frank
                        SPCHT

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                        • #13

                          Re: Cloudy Appearance When Finishing Shellac With Steel Wool / Paste Wax

                          Frank, how well does the Sealcoat stand up as a topcoat?
                          Like I said I have never done that and am curious about its durability.
                          Can't say I remember pronounced cloudiness in either the ready mixed or homemade regular shellac I used to use. I would always cut it to about 1lb or 1.5lb before spraying. But that was many years ago and my memory is getting more than a bit "cloudy" these days lol

                          Paul

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                          • #14

                            Re: Cloudy Appearance When Finishing Shellac With Steel Wool / Paste Wax

                            Originally posted by Paul O in Paris View Post
                            Frank, how well does the Sealcoat stand up as a topcoat?
                            Like I said I have never done that and am curious about its durability.
                            Can't say I remember pronounced cloudiness in either the ready mixed or homemade regular shellac I used to use. I would always cut it to about 1lb or 1.5lb before spraying. But that was many years ago and my memory is getting more than a bit "cloudy" these days lol

                            Paul
                            Hi Paul,

                            The stuff that I've finished it with and still have are holding up fine, but in my mind shellac is a low-wear finish, so I only use it as-is for projects that won't see very intensive use (jewelry boxes, humidors, little wall cabinets, book shelves...). There was a time when I used Seal Coat on almost everything, under varnish or as a finish coat (sometimes over oil). When they discontinued Seal Coat for a while way back when I switched to flakes and continued buying dewaxed only because I could use it with other finishes with no adhesion problems. So I can't really compare for cloudiness, it's just something I remember reading about (from someone who knew what they were talking about), about dewaxing it by hand when using flakes because it gave a clearer, more durable finish. I've been impressed with the durability of Seal Coat though, even in environments with occasional humidity like bathrooms, it seems to hold up well (and of course there's the ease of repair that goes with shellac). I always go with more thin coats (1-2lbs) and sand every coat or two. On a humidor I'd apply maybe 10 coats, brushed or wiped, and the last coat always wiped.
                            Frank
                            SPCHT

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