Q: What is the difference between restoration and refinishing?
A: Lacquer is a manufactured finish developed after WWI. Usually applied by a spray gun, lacquer is widely used on all new furniture since the 1940s. Lacquer is also widely used in most refinishing shops today.
Shellac is an organic natural finish created by the lac bug found in the Indo-China area in places like India. Shellac is removed from the trees where the lac bug nests and then dissolved and purified to different levels depending on its end use. Shellac is more flexible than lacquer and will not crack. Shellac is used in many industries as electric motor winding, pharmaceutical, and candy coating, as well as an antique furniture restoration tool.
Since shellac was the prominent finish used in the 18th and 19th centuries, shellac is the historically correct finish to use in such restoration work. Additionally, shellac is the only FDA-approved finish for children's toys. Shellac can be brushed, padded with cheesecloth for French polishing, and sprayed.
Furthermore, shellac is much more environmentally friendly in manufacture and use. The only solvent used is denatured alcohol, which is much less harmful to the environment than solvents used in lacquers.