I have read several shellac manufacturer instructions that you should never put polyurethane over shellac. 

Some reputable wood finishers say the same. 

After getting several questions from you guys, I decided to test it myself, to answer the question, can you put polyurethane over shellac?

Stick around and let me answer your question.

But first things first, if you’re new to woodworking, you need to understand the difference between shellac and polyurethane before proceeding.

Okay, done, let’s get started;

Can You Polyurethane Over Shellac

Polyurethane shouldn’t be put over shellac because shellac covers all. However, there’re cases where shellac finished woodworks buff out white marks when a splatter of water gets on it and the fix is to strip off the shellac and refinish it with poly.

If you must put poly over shellac, follow the steps below, but before doing so, here are the tools you’ll need.

  • Dewaxed shellac/ waxed shellac 
  • Pure Minwax fast-drying polyurethane
  • Denatured alcohol
  • Brush
  • Dampen paper towel
  • Sandpaper

Step 1: Dilute the shellac

Dilute thin 1 part of 3/4-pound-cut shellac with 4 parts denatured alcohol. Stir the mix.

Step 2: Sand the wood

Using your favorite sandpaper, sand the wood surface.

Step 3: Apply the first coat

Apply a thin coat of the diluted shellac using the brush, then leave the wood for 45 minutes for the shellac to soak in well and dry.

Ensure to apply thin coats of shellac to make the polish stronger and less apt to crack.

Learn More: How long does shellac take to dry?

Step 4: Sand the wood surface

Lightly sand the wood, then wipe off the dust using a dampened paper towel.

Step 5: Apply the poly

Using a different brush, apply the polyurethane over the shellac and leave it to dry for about 3-4 hours.

Step  6: Sand the wood once more

Sand the wood one more time after the top coat of polyurethane has dried

Step 7: Apply the last coat

After sanding, use a dumped paper towel to dust off the dust, apply the final coat of polyurethane, and give it 3-4 days to cure.

Shellac under Polyurethane?

Shellac is a strong sealer that doesn’t require any topcoat finish with polyurethane. If you’ve been worrying about putting poly over shellac, worry no more. 

Dewaxed shellac is compatible with water-based finishes like polyurethane. To add, it is often used as an “adapter” layer and can go over, or under, water or oil-based poly.

Despite being compatible with most finishes, I am unsure if shellac is compatible with lacquer and catalyzed finishes.

Pro Tip: The above is true when using the “dewaxed” type of shellac because shellac with wax isn’t compatible just the way wax under polyurethane isn’t also compatible.

Can You Put Polyurethane Over Zinsser Shellac?

Zinsser shellac manufacturers don’t recommend applying poly over shellac. However, they raise many questions by saying, poly is okay when applied over the Zinsser sanding sealer product.

So, you may be asking, what’s the right path to take?

I did some tests, put Minwax poly over Zinsser amber shellac and everything looked ok to me.

Can You Put a Top Coat Over Shellac?

Putting a top coat over shellac is possible.

However, be prepared to face a lot of problems to take it off.

You’ll need to use a nail polish remover which must be acetone-free. If you don’t, you’ll end up ruining both applications.

Additionally, it is ok to apply regular nail polish over shellac. However, never put shellac over regular nail polish because it won’t cure right.

Similarly, can you apply a coat of shellac over the topcoat? 

Yes, you can. 

Sometimes I do 3 coats of it to add strength and color. The problem is, you’ll need more time to remove it as acetone needs to penetrate through all the layers.

And if you’re wondering how you can make the Shellac coat last longer, then consider the following tips:

  • Never rush the drying.
  • Let it stay moisturized.
  • Avoid direct sunlight when drying.
  • Apply a top coat to it.

Can shellac be painted over?

Shellac can be painted, but unlike painted cabinets, its glossiness doesn’t hold paint.

Before you apply paint to it, extra preparation will be required. First, remove the shellac before applying the paint. (Here’s our guide on how to remove shellac from wood quickly that will help you.)

This is, so you keep the paint from flaking off the surface later.

How Long Does Shellac Need To Dry Before Applying Polyurethane?

Unlike polyurethane which can take up to 24hours to dry well, shellac doesn’t take long. If you don’t over-apply it, it should take 1 hour before sanding or screening. 

The second coat should dry within 2 to 3 hours. 

This finish is less durable and also less scratch-resistant than polyurethane.

Related reads:

Can You Apply Polyurethane Over Epoxy Resin?

Can you polyurethane over Danish oil?


Can you apply shellac over polyurethane?

You can apply shellac over polyurethane even though this wonderful finish covers everything.

This is so because it will stick to the poly just fine. The drawback is, poly is a soft/flexible material, while shellac is hard/inflexible, so if polyurethane moves, the topcoat (shellac) won’t move and can crack over time.

Find if you can shellac over stain?

​​Will Clear Shellac Raise Wood Grain?

Shellac contains alcohol in shellac, and to my experience, it will fail to raise the grain of wood. Just sand the first coat lightly with 320 or 400 grit sandpaper when it’s dry before the next coat.

Do You Have To Sand Shellac Before Poly?

Whether you’re using oil-based or water-based poly, you must sand/scuff shellac to allow it to have a superb bond.

Can you put polycrylic over polyurethane?

Yes, you can apply polycrylic over polyurethane. When putting polycrylic over polyurethane, ensure the polyurethane is cured. Lightly sand the surface to create a rough texture, which helps the polycrylic adhere better. Apply thin and even coats of polycrylic to provide additional protection and a clear, protective finish over the polyurethane.

Can you put polyurethane over waxed chalk paint?

Yes, you can put polyurethane over waxed chalk paint. However, you need to remove the wax layer first by lightly sanding or using a degreasing cleaner. Wax can create a barrier that prevents polyurethane from adhering properly. Once the wax is removed, you can apply polyurethane for added protection and durability.

Related reads:

Can you put polyurethane over boiled linseed oil?

Can you apply water-based polyurethane over oil-based polyurethane?

Poly Over Shellac

So, you’ve learned it is possible to apply polyurethane over shellac, just the same way it is possible to put poly over lacquer. I believe you enjoyed the read.

If you follow the steps provided for spraying polyurethane with hvlp over shellac, you will be able to get great finishes in the end.

If this article was helpful, show us some love by sharing it with your circle. 

1 thought on “Can You Put Polyurethane Over Shellac?”

  1. Okay this a question that needs answering now. Hopefully. 8:00 sat Oct 8. Got quick dry poly on. Have zinsser shellac. I want to put it on during this cycle. Do I sand or just go for it?


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