Fun With Bug Secretions

Shellac is a resin secreted by the female lac bug, on trees in the forests of India and Thailand. And who doesn’t like to rub bug resin all over things? Oh, right—anyone.

Well, in this case, I think I may be able to change your mind.

A quick diatribe: we live in strange times. Where we once just picked up a stick and started hiking, we now pick up ergonomic, shock-absorbing, and coincidentally very expensive, hiking pole. We are told so often that we need these techie gadgets that we often take it for granted, even when it’s not really what we want.

In a more practical sense, shellac is a stain, used to give something a harder surface as well as adding a leathery-looking amber tint. Is this something that’s missing in your life? You may easily say no, and so did I until I started messing with the stuff. Now I look around for ways to use it.

I use shellac for bicycle grips, but here are just a few other uses:

  • Wrap around a good stick for a slightly more permanent hiking stick. Heck, drill a hole in it and buy some leather shoelaces!
  • Those things you buy to protect your bicycle’s paint job from the chain flopping around.
  • Tennis racket grips
  • Fishing pole foam.
  • Dare I go there? Your car’s steering wheel…

One more little aside of thought and theory before I tell you where to get this stuff and what to do with it. When we make something our own, it acquires meaning and worth to us that it didn’t have when it was simply an off-the-shelf product. And secondarily, as Grant Petersen has said many times on the Rivendell website, the things we touch as well as the things we wear create our immediate environment as we pursue our lives. If it feels empowering to do this the first time, then each time we use the item, it will make us feel better about ourselves, rather than reminding us that we are a consumer who will use what the great machine tells us is available to us.

Okay, here’s what you need and where you get it. This is a very limited application of the material. I’m sure shellac has another universe of uses when applied to wood, for example.

  • Cloth tape. I bought hockey tape at the local hockey store. Three dollars a roll. It has some texture to it and seems to take the shellac well. If you have a bit larger budget and want/need your grip to be softer, buy some road bike handlebar tape, in white if you want the pure shellac color, or other tints if you’re the experimental type.
  • Shellac is available as flakes which are then dissolved in denatured alcohol, but who wants to go to all that trouble? Just buy Bullseye/Zinser brand. At almost any hardware store in the world. They make a clear shellac, but I’ve only ever looked for the “Amber”.
  • Cheap paintbrushes. Even little kid watercolor brushes are fine. But plan on disposing of them after each coat. Or buy some
  • Twine makes for a fun way to wrap both ends. For a simple short video about how to do the twine, click here and go to 2:45 in the video (although the rest of it is pretty soothing and worth watching, in my opinion).

Now, wrap the tape tightly around whatever it is you want to shellac, a couple layers if you want it thicker, and shake your can of shellac. Open with a screwdriver, and get painting. The more coats you put on, the darker and smoother the shellac gets.

As with every activity like this, I’m certain you’ll come up with ideas that have never even crossed my mind. Send ‘em in to Our Days Are Just Filled, and we’ll post your work here.

Now get out there and empower yourself!



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