Which is Better – Polyurethane vs Shellac? An In-Depth Comparison
Polyurethane and shellac have been used for centuries to protect and enhance the surfaces of furniture, floors, and other materials. Both finishes have their own distinct advantages and disadvantages, making it difficult for many people to determine which is better for their needs. This comprehensive guide will compare polyurethane and shellac, covering their differences in durability, appearance, and application. We will also discuss the best uses for each finish, so you can make an informed decision when it comes to protecting and preserving your surfaces.
Overview of polyurethane and shellac
Both polyurethane and shellac are organic wood finishes that are applied as a sealant followed by a thin topcoat. Both finishes can be applied to various types of wood surfaces and even a variety of non-wood materials. Shellac is often reserved for lighter-colored woods while polyurethane is most commonly used on darker woods. Both finishes are extremely durable and can last for decades when applied properly. Because they are so durable, they are often recommended for high-traffic areas and areas that are subjected to a lot of moisture. While both finishes are easy to apply, they are not the same. There are significant differences between polyurethane and shellac, including their durability, appearance, and application.
Differences in durability and appearance
Shellac – Shellac is a varnish made from the resin of the lac bug. It is a softer finish that is often recommended for lighter-colored woods. It is also better for areas with high moisture and frequent wear, as it dries much faster than polyurethane. Shellac can have an orange or yellow tint to it, depending on the manufacturer and blend. Polyurethane – Polyurethane is a more durable finish that is typically recommended for darker woods. It is also used for many other materials, including stone, concrete, and even some natural surfaces like wood and bamboo. This heavy-duty finish can be used in areas that see a lot of moisture and wear, making it a great choice for kitchen and bathroom cabinets as well as decks and fences. Polyurethane is typically a clear finish, although it can be tinted to different colors.
Application of polyurethane and shellac
Shellac – Shellac can be applied to a wide variety of materials. It is best to use it on lighter woods, especially those with open pores, as it has a tendency to fill in those pores and create a smooth surface. Shellac also works well on bamboo, concrete, and even some stone surfaces. Polyurethane – Polyurethane is generally used on harder and denser woods, as well as on some non-wood materials like concrete. It is best to use polyurethane on woods with closed pores, which will help the finish penetrate the wood and prevent peeling. This makes polyurethane a great option for outdoor furniture, decks, fences, and other surfaces that are subjected to a lot of water.
Advantages and disadvantages of polyurethane and shellac
Shellac – Shellac, while less durable than polyurethane, is a great choice for many applications where durability is not a top priority. This finish is easy to apply, dries quickly, and is best on lighter-colored woods. Polyurethane – Polyurethane is a more durable finish and is recommended for heavier-use areas where moisture is a concern. This finish is more difficult to apply and takes longer to dry than shellac, although certain brands and finishes may be easier to apply than others.
Best uses for polyurethane and shellac
Shellac – Shellac is best used on lighter woods where durability is not a top priority. This finish is easy to apply, dries quickly, and is best on lighter-colored woods. Polyurethane – Polyurethane is a more durable finish and is recommended for heavier-use areas where moisture is a concern. This finish is more difficult to apply and takes longer to dry than shellac, although certain brands and finishes may be easier to apply than others. Shellac is best used on lighter woods, especially those with open pores. It is also a good option for bamboo, concrete, and other non-wood materials. Polyurethane is best used on harder and denser woods and on non-wood materials like stone.
How to choose between polyurethane and shellac
The best way to determine which finish is better for you is to identify the areas of your home where durability and moisture are issues. In these areas, you will probably want to use a more heavy-duty finish like polyurethane. For lighter-use areas, where durability is not a top priority, shellac is a great option. In addition to durability and moisture considerations, you should also consider the appearance of the finish. Darker woods tend to look great with a polyurethane finish, while lighter woods look great with a shellac finish.