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by Steven D. Johnson
Racine, Wisconsin

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And Speaking Of "Mixing"...

Click on any picture to see a larger version.

Shellac has only one slight drawback for me, and that is the requirement to plan ahead. Shellac flakes can take overnight or longer to fully dissolve. When the shop is cool, as mine is at this time of year, some mixes can take two days to fully dissolve. And if you do not shake or stir frequently, a big clump of shellac flakes can coagulate at the bottom of the mixing container and take even longer to fully dissolve.

When I am in the shop doing other things, I can periodically grab the container, give it a good shake, and go back to work. But sometimes I have to leave the shop, go to sleep, or have dinner...and in those interim periods, the shellac is dissolving at a glacial pace. It is frustrating to be ready to apply a coat of finish only to discover that last night's mix of shellac is not fully dissolved!

Of course any solid will dissolve more quickly in a warmer liquid, but the whole idea of warming alcohol (other than a snifter of cognac, of course) is frightening. The only safe way to do so would be to place the shellac-mixing vessel into another container of warm water. But I don't have water in my shop, and using water from the kitchen conjures up an old and unpleasant memory of the day, some years ago, when I was caught cleaning a saw blade in the kitchen sink. I am still reminded of that awful day from time to time.

Figure 3 - Note the vortex formed by the spinning bar!
But I also remember, fondly, my old chemistry classes. And I remember the magnetic lab stirrers we used to mix our concoctions. Magnetic stirrers are simple devices. A motor turns a magnet, which in turn turns a metallic bar placed inside a beaker, glass, or bottle. As simple as that sounds, however, a magnetic mixer can set you back well over a hundred dollars.

On YouTube I found a couple of videos describing how to build a homemade magnetic stirring device (people who brew their own beer apparently need these devices). For less than $20, an hour of time, and a few "borrowed" ideas from those videos, I built a magnetic stirrer for my shellac mixes. The video describing the parts needed and the steps to build it is on the Highland Woodworking YouTube channel. You can see the video by clicking here. Mixing shellac is now such a pleasure!

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