Shellac – the duct tape of pen repair.

There’s a lot of discussion about shellac.  For such a simple product, it’s surprising how much “press” it gets in the repair forums.

The short description is that shellac is made from crushed bug stuff, mixed with denatured alcohol to make a finish for furniture.  It’s been around a long time, and it’s been used in fountain pens from the early days.  You find it all over the place under different names, like “confectioners glaze”.  Yup, it’s used as a coating on candy. (if you don’t believe me, look it up!)

Pen people use it for all kinds of things like attaching sacs (sold as “sac cement”), securing sections and other things that you don’t want to move, stuff like that.  It’s used because it’s reversible.  Heat will soften it at around 103F, it’s not bothered by water (and therefore ink, which is why it’s used to attach sacs) and it can be removed easily with denatured alcohol… and it’s cheap.  A half pint can bought at a hardware or paint store will cost something like $4-$5.

Now the fun stuff.  Some people insist that for pen repair, you have to mix your own shellac, a 2 lb cut being preferable.  Then some say that you have to use a certain grade or type of dried shellac is necessary. There was a time when I bought the fancy stuff at $10 for a little bottle, and $15 for a larger one.  I can attest to the fact that it does stick well.  It certainly worked to shellac the table cloth to the table at a pen show a few years ago.  (ask me when you see me about that story)

But I abandoned the fancy stuff a few years ago.  The truth is that I have never really found that much of a difference between the fancy stuff that you mix yourself and the basic Zinsser shellac from a can.   The cheap stuff works, sacs stick.   I do use both orange and blond shellac, the later for demonstrator 51 hoods so that the shellac doesn’t show up, and mix them on occasion.  But I simply couldn’t justify the extra expense for the fancy “sac cement.”

But the real clincher for me was when I paid a visit to the Sheaffer Service Center in Ft. Madison with Richard Binder back in 2008.  There on the floor, tucked behind the fountain pen repair station was…  a gallon can of your basic hardware store variety Zinsser orange shellac.  I figured that they had done a few more pen repairs than I have over the years, and if they thought it was the stuff to use, I needn’t argue.

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One Response to “Shellac – the duct tape of pen repair.”

  1. GaryR Says:

    That kind of wisdom only seems to come with age. “I figured that they had done a few more pen repairs than I have over the years, and if they thought it was the stuff to use, I needn’t argue”. I’ve tried for years now to ‘listen’ to those that were older than me (or more experienced). Figured I might learn something if I kept my mouth shut. My grand children seem to have a different line of thought.