Can You Put Shellac Over Polyurethane? Learn the Pros and Cons

If you’re a seasoned DIY-er, chances are you’ve encountered the dilemma of choosing between shellac and polyurethane for your project’s finishing touches. But have you ever considered using both? Shellac over polyurethane is a relatively new concept that has gained popularity in recent years. The combination of these two products can provide a fantastic finish that’s tough, durable, and aesthetically pleasing.

So, how does it work? Is it cost-effective? Is it easy to apply? In this blog post, we’ll delve into everything you need to know about combining shellac and polyurethane to achieve the best results possible. Stick around and find out how to take your DIY game to the next level.

Understanding the Differences Between Shellac and Polyurethane

If you’re wondering whether you can put shellac over polyurethane, the answer is yes, but you need to make sure you have properly prepared the surface before applying the shellac. You see, shellac and polyurethane are two different types of finishes that behave differently. Polyurethane is a synthetic finish made of plastic, which creates a hard, durable film on the surface it covers.

Shellac, on the other hand, is a natural finish made of resin from the lac beetle dissolved in alcohol. It creates a more subtle and nuanced surface compared to polyurethane. To apply shellac on top of polyurethane, you should first sand the surface with fine grit sandpaper to roughen it up.

This will allow the shellac to adhere more effectively. You should also clean the surface properly to ensure there is no dust, dirt, or debris left on it. Once you’ve done that, you can apply your shellac topcoat with a brush, and enjoy the beautiful, classic finish it provides.

Shellac: Characteristics and Benefits

When it comes to understanding the differences between shellac and polyurethane, it’s essential to first understand their characteristics and benefits. Shellac is a natural resin that comes from the secretions of a rare kind of bug. It’s often used for interior woodwork because of its versatility and ability to highlight the natural beauty of the wood.

On the other hand, polyurethane is a synthetic resin made from petrochemicals. It’s water-resistant and provides an excellent protective layer to the wood surface. However, it can also make the wood appear plastic-like and may not highlight its natural beauty.

In terms of benefits, shellac has a quicker drying time than polyurethane, making it perfect for projects where time is of the essence. It’s also easy to repair if damages occur and can be applied in thinner coats than polyurethane. Polyurethane, on the other hand, is a more robust coating that can withstand heavy everyday use, wear and tear, and chemical exposure.

It’s ideal for high traffic areas and can be lightly sanded and repainted, which makes it even more durable. If you’re looking to achieve a natural, elegant look that highlights the wood’s beauty, shellac is your go-to coating. However, if you want to protect your wood from heavy use and harsh chemicals, you may want to choose polyurethane.

Keep in mind that each coating has its own set of characteristics and benefits, and the choice ultimately depends on your preferences and the project’s goals.

can you put shellac over polyurethane

Polyurethane: Characteristics and Benefits

Polyurethane When it comes to finishing and protecting wood, there are many options available. Two popular choices are shellac and polyurethane. However, there are some essential differences to understand between these two options.

Shellac is a natural product derived from the secretion of the lac insect and has been used for centuries as a wood finish. It has a warm, orange hue that adds richness to wood and offers excellent protection against water and alcohol. In contrast, polyurethane is a synthetic product that offers a more durable and versatile option.

It provides a hard, clear, and waterproof finish that can withstand heat and chemicals. It also dries faster than shellac and requires fewer coats, making it a more practical choice for those who value convenience. Overall, both finishes have their strengths and weaknesses, and the choice ultimately depends on individual preferences and needs, such as the type of wood, desired look, and level of protection required.

Can You Put Shellac Over Polyurethane?

If you’re thinking about putting shellac over polyurethane, the answer to whether or not it’s possible is, unfortunately, no. The reason being that shellac won’t properly adhere to the polyurethane layer that’s already been applied. You could try sanding down the polyurethane layer to create some “tooth” for the shellac to hold on to, but even still, it’s not a recommended method.

Instead, it’s best to remove the polyurethane layer entirely and then apply the shellac. This will ensure that the shellac properly penetrates the wood and delivers the protection and shine that you’re after. While it may seem like an extra step, removing the polyurethane layer first is always the best course of action when wanting to add any other finishes on top.

The Short Answer

Yes, you can put shellac over polyurethane, but it’s important to note that it may not adhere well due to the smooth and glossy surface of polyurethane. Before applying shellac, it’s important to lightly sand the surface of the polyurethane to create a rougher texture to which the shellac can adhere. Additionally, it’s important to test a small, inconspicuous area first to ensure that the shellac adheres properly and doesn’t cause any adverse reactions.

In general, it’s recommended to apply shellac directly onto a bare wood surface for the best results. By doing so, you can ensure that the shellac applies evenly and adheres properly for a smooth and professional-looking finish.

Considerations Before Applying Shellac Over Polyurethane

If you’re wondering whether it’s feasible to apply shellac over polyurethane, the answer is both “yes” and “no.” You can apply shellac over polyurethane, but it’s recommended that you avoid doing so unless you have no other option. One reason for this is that shellac tends to dissolve polyurethane.

So, if you apply shellac over polyurethane, it can eat away at the existing finish, resulting in a less-than-desirable outcome. Additionally, shellac is not as durable as polyurethane, so the finish might not stand up well against wear and tear. On the other hand, if you really want to apply shellac over polyurethane, there are a few things you can do to ensure a successful outcome.

First, you’ll need to wait for the polyurethane to fully cure before applying the shellac – typically, this means waiting at least a week. Second, you’ll need to scuff up the polyurethane surface with a fine-grit sandpaper before applying the shellac. Finally, you should test the shellac finish on a small, inconspicuous area before applying it to the entire surface to ensure it doesn’t negatively impact the existing finish.

Overall, while it is possible to apply shellac over polyurethane, it’s generally not recommended. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons and evaluate your options before proceeding with any type of finishing process to ensure a successful outcome.

Steps to Successfully Applying Shellac Over Polyurethane

If you’re wondering whether you can apply shellac over polyurethane, the answer is yes! However, there are certain steps you should follow to ensure a successful outcome. First and foremost, it’s important to make sure the polyurethane is fully cured before applying the shellac. This can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on the type of polyurethane and the environmental conditions.

Once the polyurethane is cured, you’ll need to clean the surface thoroughly with a degreasing solution to remove any dirt, oil, or wax that may be present. Next, apply a coat of dewaxed shellac using a brush or sprayer, making sure to cover the entire surface evenly. Allow the shellac to dry completely before applying any additional coats.

You can apply several coats of shellac until you achieve the desired finish, sanding lightly between coats to ensure proper adhesion. With these steps, you can successfully apply shellac over polyurethane and achieve a beautiful, durable finish.

Alternatives to Applying Shellac Over Polyurethane

Many people wonder if they can put shellac over polyurethane. While it is technically possible to do so, it may not be the best idea. Applying shellac over a cured layer of polyurethane can cause issues with adhesion, and the finish may not hold up well over time.

There are, however, alternative options for adding a protective layer over polyurethane. One option is to use a water-based polyurethane instead of a solvent-based one. This will allow you to apply a wax or oil-based finish, such as Danish oil or paste wax, on top without any issues.

Another option is to lightly sand the polyurethane and apply a coat of varnish or lacquer on top. This will provide a durable protective layer without compromising the integrity of the original finish. Ultimately, it’s important to carefully consider your options and choose the method that will provide the best results for your project.

Removing Polyurethane and Starting Fresh

Polyurethane If you’re looking to remove polyurethane and start fresh, there are alternatives to simply applying shellac over the existing finish. One option is to use a chemical stripper to remove the polyurethane and reveal the natural wood underneath. This can be a messy and time-consuming process, but it allows for a truly fresh start.

Another option is to sand down the existing polyurethane finish until it’s no longer glossy, then apply a coat of sanding sealer. Once the sealer has dried, you can paint or stain the wood as desired. Keep in mind that removing polyurethane can be a challenging process, so it’s important to take your time and be patient.

With the right tools and techniques, however, you can achieve a beautiful and long-lasting finish on your wood furniture or flooring.

Using a Tinted Polyurethane for a Different Look

Polyurethane, Tinted Polyurethane, Shellac, Alternative If you want to switch up your usual polyurethane finish, try using a tinted polyurethane instead. This alternative can give your woodwork a different look without having to apply shellac on top. The tinted polyurethane comes in different hues, and you can choose the one that best complements your project.

The benefit of using tinted polyurethane is that it adds color to your woodwork, enhancing its natural beauty, while still providing a protective clear finish. You can also use a tinted polyurethane to tone down a wood stain that is too intense. Just add a layer of tinted polyurethane, and it will add some subtlety to the stain.

Give it a try, and you may be surprised by the unique and beautiful results you achieve.

Final Thoughts

Many people often wonder whether they can put shellac over polyurethane. The answer is yes, you can, but there are a few things to consider. While polyurethane is a durable and long-lasting finish, it can be difficult to apply over old finishes or to spot-repair.

The advantage of shellac is that it can adhere over almost any other finish, making it an excellent choice for repairing or refinishing furniture. However, it’s important to note that shellac is not as durable as polyurethane and may require more frequent recoating. Additionally, before applying shellac over polyurethane, it’s essential to clean and sand the surface to ensure proper adhesion.

Overall, while it’s possible to put shellac over polyurethane, it’s important to consider the durability, frequency of recoating, and surface preparation before doing so.


So there you have it folks, the ultimate showdown: shellac vs. polyurethane. Can you put shellac over polyurethane? Technically, yes, but it’s kind of like trying to mix oil and water.

They just don’t play nice together. It’s best to stick with one finish to ensure a cohesive and durable result. Otherwise, you might end up with a combination that’s about as useful as a chocolate teapot.

So choose wisely and happy finishing!


Is it possible to apply shellac over polyurethane?
Technically, yes. However, it is not recommended as it may result in poor adhesion and durability.

Can I use shellac and polyurethane together for a finish?
While it is technically possible, it is not recommended as the two finishes may not bond well together and may result in a flawed finish.

Is shellac or polyurethane better for a particular type of project?
It depends on the project and desired outcome. Shellac is best used for small indoor projects and polyurethane is better for larger and more heavy-duty projects.

How many coats of shellac should be applied over polyurethane?
It is not recommended to apply shellac over polyurethane, but if you must, only one light coat should be used.

What is the best way to remove shellac from a polyurethane finish?
Use denatured alcohol to break down and remove the shellac, then sand down the polyurethane finish and reapply as desired.

Can polyurethane be applied over shellac on a previous finish?
It is possible, but not recommended as the two finishes may not bond well and may result in a flawed finish.

Should I use a brush or spray gun to apply shellac over polyurethane?
It is best to use a brush for shellac application over polyurethane, as a spray gun may result in poor adhesion and durability.

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