Shellac on MDF – A Good Idea or a Waste of Time?

In this article, we will be showing you if using Shellac as a finish on MDF is a great choice or may be a risky idea.

As a woodworker, your choice of finish will greatly affect the outcome of the look of your wood and it is necessary you go for the best.

You must be fully aware that not all excreta are useless and that of the lac beetle isn’t too. Shellac is a naturally derived product from the excreta of a lac beetle. Amazing right? You can say that again.

Its colors are largely dependent on the weather conditions so you have to be extra watchful that you do not mistake it for another finish whenever it changes in color from dark reddish brown to a golden amber color.

Are you uncertain in determining if your decision of using Shellac on your MDF material wood is a great choice? Hang on as we will be taking a look at what MDF entails and where it is applied, what shellac is, its merits and demerits, and lastly if using it on your MDF furniture is a great choice.

What is MDF wood?

The Medium Density Fiberboard wood is the one with peculiar characteristics. The features of the MDF wood have earned its popularity as it is commonly used by the majority of woodworkers.

The MDF is a combination of sawdust, wax, and glue which get their thickness by the addition of heat and pressing together. It is a smooth, weighty, and flat wood. Its hardness provides it with the benefit of absorbing paint perfectly which will in turn make it very much easy for you to work with.

It is used in the making of furniture like Table tops, Drawer faces, Trim molding, Cabinet doors, Decorative panels, and so on.

Peculiar Characteristics of MDF wood

  • Low price
  • Stability
  • Ease of usage
  • Environmentally friendly – since it is made from recycled wood products (sawdust and chips).

Before we show you if using Shellac on your MDF wood is a good choice, let’s take a look at what Shellac is.


Shellac is a common and environmentally friendly material that smoothens the natural grain of any wood to which it is applied. Despite the fact that it smoothens the surfaces of woods, it still is void of the plastic-like properties of polyurethane or lacquer.

What is Shellac Made of?

The shellac type that is used by woodworkers is one that is made from shellac or resin flakes. These flakes are then dipped in an alcohol solution for a while till they dissolve completely to give Shellac which comes out in either pure or amber color.

Shellac flakes are the excretions of Asia insects Lacs. The female Lacs are responsible for the excreta and they excrete on a tree called the Banyan tree. They can also excrete on other trees but they commonly secrete on the Banyan tree which is located in Assam and Thailand.

Immediately these secretions from the Lac are collected from the Banyan tree, they earn the name, “seedlac”. Just like most freshly extracted raw materials, the extraction procedure allows for the sticking of a lot of impurities in the seedlac. And as expected it must be properly worked on if you truly want to see it come out the way it ought to thereby, resulting in a dry flaky substance.

Shellac flakes come out in diverse colors from orange to nearly transparent ‘white’ shellac (gotten by bleaching orange shellac). The Shellac types that are common are available in waxed (natural) and dewaxed formulations.

Types of Shellac

Before you make your decision as regards the use of Shellac, it is necessary that you know the types of Shellac that you will come across. Highlighted below are the types of Shellac;

  • Waxed

The Waxed Shellac will give you a perfect sealer look whenever you apply it to wood. Alongside being a perfect sealer, it is also water and heat resistance. So, you do not have to worry whenever your furniture is exposed to sunlight, rain, or water spillage.

Despite its great qualities, Waxed Shellac has a drawback as a sealer when used on wood.

By merely looking at a Waxed Shellac in a container, it is obvious that all the particles in the wax do not settle perfectly as some of the particles do not completely settle in it.

This drawback can in turn serve as an inhibiting factor during and after the sealing of the wood.

The Waxed Shellac acts as a sealer that is regarded as the best for many wood kinds; Irrespective of the wood in use.

  • Dewaxed

This Shellac type acts as the best pre-sealer when working on wood. The Dewaxed Shellac is very much different from the Waxed type in its sealing property and also in its physical look. As it is clearer or purer than the Waxed Shellac.

The major reason why you can’t use a Dewaxed Shellac as a sealer is because of its major drawback in the sense that it is not water and heat-resistant.

That is, any form of exposure to sunlight or rain from your end will only ruin the wood which you sealed it with.

But using it as a pre-sealer before applying the Waxed type as a sealer will be the best option for preserving your wood and saving your resources.

Sealing wood with this method has been considered very effective on the wood. As it helps to foster or promote the long-lasting characteristics of the wood as well as its quality.

Shellac on MDF – A Good Idea or not?

For you to determine if using Shellac as a finisher on your MDF is a great choice, there will be a need for a comparison between the pros and cons of shellac.

Pros of Shellac

  • Non-toxic

There’s nothing as great as using a finish that is environmentally friendly. Shellac prices to be one of the safest and most reliable finishes that you can easily apply to your wood. Its natural and organic properties contribute to this benefit.

This property is the reason why you can use it in the coating of foods like sweets, apples, and even medicines for those in the pharmaceutical sector.

To get rid of its harmful chemicals, combine it with pure grain alcohol before you apply it to your food.

  • Repairable

Using a finish that can’t be repaired when it gets worn out will outrightly lead to a waste of resources. This advantage amongst others is what makes shellac finish stand out.

  • Rubs out well

Shellac is very hard when compared to the majority of finishes. The hardness property it gives makes room for its excellent rubbing properties.

  • Excellent moisture and heat barrier

Shellac is water resistant that is, no matter the rate of spillage on the wood, it wouldn’t be affected. It is also heat resistant that is, sunlight rays will have no adverse effect on it.

  • Fast drying

With this benefit, you won’t have to wait for your wood to dry for long hours as the film will dry up in an hour. Also, there will be no chance for any form of particles to tamper with the wet film.

  • Universal sealant

It acts as a universal sealant on woods. With the Waxed Shellac as a sealer and the Dewaxed Shellac as a pre-sealer to avoid the leaking or wasting away of pigments, and to shield the wood stains from blotching.

  • Cold temperature application

Since it does not require long hours to dry up its wet pigment, Shellac can be used on wood at any temperature, cold or hot.

  • Easy to apply

It is easy to use on the wood using a brush, rag, or spray. And just as it has been earlier stated, it is easy to re-apply whenever the initially applied finish becomes worn-out or old.

  • Beautification

Aside from the amazing benefits that Shellac provides, the beautification aspect caps it all up. Applying it to your wood will give it a classy and beautiful look.

Cons of Shellac

  • Easily damaged by alcohol

Using Alcohol to mix the Shellac in a bid to mix them together can destroy the properties of the Shellac.

  • Rare cases of an allergic reaction

If your skin easily gets irritated, you have to be careful in the usage of Shellac else, you may develop skin rashes.

  • Shortened Life span

After mixing your Shellac with Alcohol, the life span will reduce to a life of 6 months and if not used on time, the mixture will become useless.

Also, there is the tendency that your Shellac will never get dry once it has been mixed with other substances.

A Good Idea or Waste of Time?

Shellac is kind of outdated or not in vogue, unlike other modern finishes. Regardless, it is a very beneficial primer finish since many other finishes bond very well with it.

From the highlighted pros and cons, it is seen that the benefits of applying Shellac to your MDF will definitely outweigh its cons. So, you can be assured of not just a beautiful workpiece after you’re done applying your Shellac but also quality and long-lasting furniture.

As an answer to the question, “Is Applying Shellac on MDF a good idea or a Waste of Time?” We would say it is a great idea based on the advantages it provides.

Tips for Shellac Usage

If you’ve decided to use Shellac on your MDF, here are some helpful tips;

  • Ensure you mix the right proportion.
  • Learn to grind the Shellac Flakes yourself.
  • Always smoothen/spread out your finish (Shellac).
  • Mix little by little.
  • Ensure you use the right brush.


If you’ve been contemplating as regards using Shellac on your MDF, we are certain that with this article, you would have gotten an idea as regards the one to use.

In this article, we’ve gone through what an MDF wood is, the pros and cons of Shellac, as well as the tips for using it. To show you that using Shellac on your MDF is a great choice.