Shellac is one of the popular products in the woodworking community. You can use it to prime, seal or finish wooden surfaces. But, you may ask, how long does Shellac take to dry?

We all know how time-sensitive every woodworking project is. Therefore, knowing how long a product needs to dry and cure will help you estimate a timeframe for delivering a project.

In this blog post, we’ll discuss;

  • Shellac drying time
  • Shellac cure time
  • Advantages of Using Shellac Wood Finish
  • Disadvantages of Using Shellac Wood Finish
  • Factors Influencing Shellac Drying Time

Let’s dive right in;

How long does Shellac take to dry?

Shellac takes about 30 minutes to dry to the touch. However, you should allow between an hour to four hours (depending on the temperature) before you can recoat or scuff. Otherwise, you risk marring and ruining work already done.

What you Need to Know About Shellac

Shellac is a product of the secretions of a female lac-bug native to India and Thailand. These bugs leave the sticky substance on the trees, which are then collected, filtered and purified before being turned into shellac flakes or crystals.

Manufacturers take the shellac flakes and dissolve them in ethanol. The resulting product is the ready-to-use liquid shellac containers or aerosol cans. Various manufacturers can also tint Shellac to help give your wooden surfaces a rich colour.

Still, you make your liquid Shellac by dissolving shellac flakes in a certain amount of denatured alcohol.

Shellac naturally exists in two colours;


White Shellac is primarily used as a sealer. The white shellac flakes are dissolved in alcohol to produce a concentrated solution that penetrates the wood pores and forms a protective seal on the surface.

Orange flakes

Orange Shellac also dissolves in alcohol resulting in an amber colour. This type is often applied as a finish or, better termed, a wood polish. The amber tone makes the wood grain pop.

Shellac also exists as French polish. This is a mirror-like finish often seen in classic or antique pieces of furniture. This glossy finish is achieved by applying several thin coats of liquid Shellac on the furniture and buffing it with #0000 steel wool.

Advantages of Using Shellac Wood Finish

Here are some advantages of Shellac that make it stand out.

  • Top of the list is that Shellac is eco-friendly because it is a product of natural materials. Its natural nature means it doesn’t emit toxic fumes when applied: it’s perfect and safe for spaces with pets and children.
  • Another feature is that Shellac is easy to work with –you can spray or brush it to a surface. It also helps that it dries pretty fast (30 minutes). It also provides a natural “hard” finish on the surface that doesn’t yellow or darken with age.
  • Shellac is resisstant to UV rays and will keep the wood beneath from discoloring. The biggest flex is using Shellac as a primer, a sealer and a finish. 
  • Easy to work with as you can strip Shellac from wood and repair damaged areas by scraping it off with alcohol. Alternatively, you can sand imperfections and coat them over with a fresh layer of Shellac.
  • Shellac comes in various colors like white (clear), orange, blonde etc. So you choose whichever shade accentuates the wood grain better.

Shortcomings of using shellac wood finish

Shellac, like other products, has its drawbacks.

  • Shellac can easily come off upon contact with alcohol. Another disadvantage is that it softens upon exposure to high heat. So avoid placing hot cups or pans on the surface.
  • Shellac isn’t waterproof and therefore unsuitable for damp areas like bathrooms. In addition, condensation from glass utensils can leave a white water ring on a shellac surface, so remember to use coasters.
  • Shellac never really cures. When you apply a fresh coat, it melts into the old coat and becomes soft like a new coat.

A common shellac rival for finishing wood furniture is polyurethane. Polyurethane is more durable than shellac and less prone to water damage.

You can read our piece on the difference between polyurethane and shellac to find out more. Also, you may need to find out whether it’s okay to apply wipe on poly over shellac.

How long does it take for spray shellac to dry?

Spray shellac takes about 30 minutes to dry; because it is no different from regular Shellac in a can. However, it’s good to allow an extra hour or two before smoothing out imperfections with sandpaper or steel wool.

How can you tell when Shellac is dry?

You should be able to tell that Shellac is dry enough after about half an hour of application. In addition, you can look out for a soft sheen on the surface after an hour or two. 

Still, you can do a touch test to be sure. Gently press your finger on the surface; it has dried if Shellac doesn’t transfer to your finger. Alternatively, you can scuff an inconspicuous spot; it should form a white powder. If it gums up the sandpaper, it needs more time.

Does Shellac dry solid hard?

Shellac doesn’t really dry solid hard. As soon as you apply a new coat of Shellac, the old layers get activated and become soft once again.

Still, it depends on how long you’ve had that bottle of Shellac stored in your garage. This is because the solvent used to dissolve Shellac tends to degrade over time, reducing its ability to form a rigid film on the wood surface.

Factors Influencing Shellac Drying Time

Now that you know how long for shellac to dry, let’s look at the factors that can speed up or prolong Shellac dry time.

1. Temperature

Temperature (read: weather) is one of the factors you should consider before starting a woodworking project. Also, check the manufacturer’s recommended temperature range (optimal conditions) for the product to dry.

In this case, Shellac dries faster in high temperatures or warmer environments.

But, if you’re applying Shellac during the cold season, you can anticipate it to take longer than usual before drying. Consequently, delays in shellac drying time spill over to how long the entire project will take to complete.

2. Humidity

The humidity level is another factor that will affect how long it will take for Shellac to dry. High relative humidity levels in the surrounding will slow down the drying process of Shellac. In comparison, low humidity levels may encourage Shellac to dry faster.

Remember that Shellac dries by evaporation. So when the atmospheric air is heavy with moisture, the solvent in Shellac can’t evaporate as fast as it would in a warm atmosphere.

3. Number of Coats

One coat will dry way faster than 5 or coats of Shellac. Each time you apply a new coat on top of existing shellac coats, it activates the existing ones. The product of that is one thick coat that has to dry fresh! Therefore, more shellac coats mean prolonged drying times.

What is the best Fast Drying Shellac

For the best Fast Drying Shellac, we recommend Rust-Oleum 408A3 Spray Bulls Eye Shellac. This product will provide a durable, long lasting finish on your project. It is perfect for use on wood, metal, glass and more. It is easily applied and dries to the touch in 30 minutes. You can recoat in 2 hours or less for added protection.

Zinsser 408-3PK Bulls Eye Shellac Spray, 12 oz, Clear, 3...
  • Protective shellac sealer for wood trim, paneling, furniture and more
  • Non-toxic, shellac-based spray will not yellow or darken
  • Dries to touch in 30 minutes and covers 8-10 sq. ft. per can


Shellac dry time vs shellac cure time

Shellac dry time happens in minutes, the standard being 30 minutes. In contrast, the shellac cure time can take up to a month. Shellac, like other finishes, is considered fully cured once it’s done off-gassing and the solvent has evaporated. 

Think of it like this: dry time takes minutes or hours while cure time takes days or weeks.

Can you heat up Shellac to speed up the drying process?

Absolutely not! Shellac is not heat resistant, so heating it is a recipe for disaster. While heat hardens other finishes, it will soften shellac surfaces and reduce an otherwise finished surface into a gooey and sticky mess.

The heat in question isn’t necessarily the blowtorch-hot, even mild, as one from the hairdryer shouldn’t come near shellac finishes.

Should you sand between coats of Shellac?

You should only sand the surface once it’s dry and if you need to even out any imperfections. That said, we highly recommend that you make light passes on the shellac surface using 400-grit sandpaper.

Still, you can buff the surface using #0000 steel wool and a non-silicon based paste wax if you’re more drawn to satin sheen finishes. 

The rule of thumb is to keep a light hand; if you sand or buff too hard, you may lift off the wood finish on some spots.

How many coats of Shellac should you apply?

Apply a minimum of three to four coats to ensure sufficient coverage. The first coat seals the wood surface. The second layer and subsequent ones give you enough wiggle room should you want to buff or apply a protective finish.

As a wood sealer, you will need about two coats o shellac. But as a wood finish, you are at liberty to apply as many coats as you see fit.

Is Shellac sticky after drying?

No, Shellac should be soft when dry, not sticky or gummy. But if it feels sticky, you should let it dry further. Also, check the weather conditions around you; Shellac has difficulty drying under a low temperature and highly humid environment. However, if the weather is perfect, wait it out. 

Can you put topcoat over shellac?

Yes, you can put a top coat over Shellac. Shellac makes a great base sealer, ensuring whatever you apply on top will last longer and not have wood sap bleed through the surface. Even better, you can apply shellac before stain or shellac under poly.

How durable is a shellac finish?

A shellac finish is modestly durable. As long as it’s not exposed to alcohol, heat, and water over lengthy periods, shellac surfaces remain solid.

Final Thoughts on How Long Does Shellac Take to Dry

Shellac is one of the fastest dry wood sealers and finish, needing only 30 minutes to dry to the touch. Still, if you’re planning to layer several coats of Shellac, you can do so after an hour or longer. Also, buff with fine-grit sandpaper if you must.

You can use Shellac in many ways, but before applying it, ensure you read the manufacturer’s instructions and work under optimum weather conditions.

Hopefully, you found this article insightful. Happy Woodworking!

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