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
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.
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
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
- 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
You are melting it down the middle because the flakes just start to
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
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
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
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
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
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
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