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Today I want to show you guys how to make natural stick shellac for saxophone repair from the dewaxed shellac flakes you get in bags from your local supply store.
Only a pound bag of shellac flakes will last you a long while unless you repair saxophones for a living.
There is a buck to be saved in making your own natural shellac sticks. The natural shellac sticks that you purchase can get pretty expensive. So this is a cheaper DIY way to go about instrument repairs.
If you’ve noticed, I keep saying natural shellac because there are a lot of synthetic shellac on the market but I don’t like those as much for something like pad work that I want to last 10+ years.
I use natural shellac which is the traditional tried-and-tested method of instrument repair. I like the way it smells, I like the way it works, and I like the way it looks, especially since learning to make my own.
So let’s dive right in.
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How to Make Natural Shellac Sticks for Saxophone Repair: Simple Step-by-step DIY Guide
Let me prefix this by saying that there are several different ways of making natural shellac sticks. The method I’m about to show you here is the method I came to. It is not the only way (or even the best way), but it is the simplest way to make shellac sticks.
One thing you want to keep in mind here is that in this method, you’ll end up with slightly more viscous shellac at the end of it—a little less watery than almost any shellac sticks you can buy.
And you can control the exact shape you want for the sticks. You can, for instance, make a smaller stick for smaller pads. And for big pads, you can make a giant stick so it doesn’t burn down as quickly.
So you can control all that stuff and make it look exactly how you need it.
What You’ll Need:
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Dewaxed shellac flakes
- A pan
- Smooth, flat, hard slick surface (that can hold on to thermal energy), a granite surface plate, or a marble countertop for instance.
- An oxygen-acetylene torch or an alcohol lamp
Step #1 — Pour the Flakes in the Pan
The first thing you need is to prepare is a pan of flakes.
Pour your flakes on the pan and spread them evenly.
It dewaxed shellac flakes that we are using here. Remember that part. It’s super important.
Step #2 — Melt a Line Down the Middle
Using the oxy-acetylene torch melt a line of flakes down the middle of the pan by pointing and heating.
To get the best results, you need to move the torch evenly back and forth. You are not trying to boil it off or make it into a super flowy liquid.
You are melting it down the middle because the flakes just start to stick together.
Be careful, I’ve never had a problem but I know that shellac can light on fire, but I think you have to try pretty hard for that, and it’s pretty easy to put out.
Step #3 — Keep Dumping Flakes on Top of That Line
Occasionally, stop heating and dump flakes on top of that line.
The new flakes will stick to the old melted flakes and fatten up the line.
So then you do it again.
When the shellac is really hot, it gives off a lot of smoke, so don’t do it under a smoke detector. But the smell is pleasant so you don’t need to worry about that.
I personally quite like it.
Don’t touch it when it boiling hot, it is a thermoplastic adhesive, which means that when it’s hot it’s sticky. So it will stick to you when it cools down and you can’t really get it off, and it will give a blister.
The bigger (or fatter), you want to make the stick, the more times you will repeat this process here. Thicker sticks will take quite a bit of time.
Although you can make pretty large shellac sticks, the benefit of a small one is that it’s easier to control because it heats up faster, and then cools down faster, so you can be a bit more precise with it as far as like your application to the pad is concerned.
On the other hand, the benefit of a larger one is that you can get more shellac onto a pad quicker.
I usually keep a couple of shellac sticks lying around. I’ve got a couple of small ones for palm pads and a couple of larger ones for bell keys. Especially when it comes to something like a baritone saxophone, you can use an awful lot of shellac really quickly.
Step #4 — Lift the Line of Shellac Onto Your Surface Plate
Lift the line of molten shellac onto the smooth, hard slick surface.
You basically just lift in the whole thing with your hands after it has cooled down a little bit. It will be very bendy.
You can throw on a few flakes around the shellac, so you don’t touch too much of the bendy shellac, in case it is still too warm.
Step #5 — Continue Heating the Shellac on the Surface Plate
Once your shellac is on the slick surface, you just point your torch and continue melting it.
Heat up the flakes, especially the ones that are not yet melted and try to melt them together.
Try not to heat your surface place or whatever it is that you are using. You want that to stay cool so that when you flip it over, the shellac doesn’t stick to it.
It only takes a short time for the molten part of the shellac to be not too hot to touch. All you need is a little patience and you’re good to go. It’s not comfortable to touch, but, it won’t burn.
Step #6 — Mold the Shellac Stick
By now you should be able to be touching the shellac stick, bar the occasional heating.
You can try to mold it a little closer together, and a little more uniform in thickness by pressing it with your fingers so that when you eventually melt it to use it will be melting in a uniform way.
You want to make sure that you’ve melted the shellac all the way through. You don’t want to have any air bubbles or little pieces of unmelted shellac inside or sticking off the sides of your stick.
Another problem with leaving unmelted pieces or air bubbles in your stick shellac is that when you heat it to melt it onto your pad, that stuff will bubble and hiss and pop.
You don’t want that because you can even end up getting some on your face or on the sides of the nice brand new pad you are trying to install or replace, spoiling it. Shellac doesn’t come off pad leather too well, so you probably just have to start over with that pad and that really sucks.
Now we are just about done here.
You can roll it if you want a nice cylindrical stick of natural shellac. It should definitely be tactile hot now, and it should be extremely bendy and easy to mold. So you could make this into any shape you want for your use case pretty easily.
The only thing you need to think about when doing pad work with shellac is that if you heat it and you let it settle and you like the way the pad is sitting, and it doesn’t seem to be moving but it is still tactile hot (warm to the touch), when you go and move on to the next pad, that pad is going to move under its own weight.
Simply put, shellac stays flaccid for an awfully long time.
That is something that you need to be aware of when you’re doing your pad work. You have to hold that pad where you want it so that the pad settles and the shellac hardens exactly where you want it.
I don’t think I mentioned this in how to replace saxophone pad. It’s just one of those things you automatically know to do from muscle memory and only think about after the fact. That article is, however, a fantastic step-by-step guide to replacing saxophone pads with shellac. Helpful stuff. Have a look if you haven’t already.
So even when shellac is about as lukewarm as a cup of coffee, it will still be really flaccid, and the surface will be glassy smooth.
Thanks for reading I hope you found this helpful, useful and informative.