Lac has been known in India from very early times. There is accurate description of the lac insect and the host papas (Lakshataru), in the Atharva Veda estimated to be thousands of years old. In the early Hindu epic Mahabharata (over 2,000 years old), there is mention of lac being used in the construction of a palace (jatugriha) to house the Pandavas with the ulterior motive of destroying them by setting the palace on fire. Apart from early writings, there are old Hindi manuscripts going back 800 years at least which referred to the use of lac dye in medicine.
There are thousands of uses for shellac, some you’d never think of. Examples include: Manufacture of grinding wheels, acting as an adhesive that breaks down at low heat allowing the appraise wheels to slowly dissolve and self-clean. Early electrical insulators (shown right) employed shellac as a glue, it bonds glass and metal surprisingly well. In fact, at the time the 78-record was popular, records were largest single outlet for shellac.
Shellac is used as a dye, previously in fabric, and to this day in oriental carpets. It is a component in rubber compounds, as a sealing wax, component in gasket cement, as a mould for dental plates, as printing ink. It is even found in cosmetics such as hair lacquer. Even the finish on playing cards often contains shellac.
Shellac is a common additive to lipstick and makeup products. Added to the finish and improving the binding ability of these products.
The largest uses for shellac are for the food, drug, and cosmetics industries. Fruits and vegetables in the produce aisle of your favorite grocery store are coated with shellac and wax to make them shiny and eye-catching. In the world of cosmetics, women and men use shellac-based hair-spray to make themselves appear shiny and more eye-catching. Many vitamins, pills and food supplements are coated with shellac to make them slide easily down your throat, into your tummy. Of course the most important use of shellac, in my not-so-humble opinion is as a woodworking finish, where you can make your projects shiny and eye-catching. Some of the major industrial and domestic fields in which it is used are listed below:
- As a film former: In French polishes, metal foil and pear varnishes, undercoats, enamels and wood sealers.
- In the cosmetic industry, shellac is known as a “Nail treatment” that lasts longer than regular polish. It is a combination of gel and regular polish and offers a water resistant seal among nail protection.
- As glaze for confectionery, coffee beans and medicinal pills.
- As aqueous varnishes for leather dressing, wood and paper and floor polishes, etc.
- As a dye for cotton and, especially, silk cloth.
- In watchmaking, due to its low melting temperature (about 80-100 °C), to adjust and adhere pallet stones to the pallet fork.
- In dental technology, where it is occasionally used in the production of custom impression trays and (partial) denture production.
- As an Ink: Applications such as lithographic ink, waterproof ink and colored ink.
- To increase the strength and longevity of ballet pointe shoes as a remedy for moisture weakening.
- In fireworks pyrotechnic compositions as a low-temperature fuel, where it allows the creation of pure ‘greens’ and ‘blues’- colors difficult to achieve with other fuel mixes.
- As a plastic: In gramophone records, grinding wheels, sealing waxes, general moulded articles, insulators etc.
- As an insulator: In insulating varnishes, laminated paper products, micanites and micafolium, insulating cloth etc.
- As an adhesive and cement : In laminated paper and jute boards, plate sealer, gasket cement, general cements, optical cement, capping cement for electrical lamps and radio values, abrasive paper and cloth etc.
- As a Polish & Paints : Owing to the light color of bleached lac, bleached lac polishes are chiefly used for finishing wooden floors, playing cards, sports goods, ivory articles etc.
- As protective coatings: In confectionery and medicinal pills.
- As stiffening agents for felt and fabric hats: constituent of gossamer (or goss for short), a cheesecloth fabric coated in shellac and ammonia solution used in the shell of traditional silk top and riding hats.
- For preserving and imparting a shine to citrus fruits, such as lemons etc.
- In Jelly Belly jelly beans, in combination with beeswax to give them their final buff and polish.
- As a binder in Printing ink.
- As a protective and decorative coating for handlebar tape in cycle, and as a hard-drying adhesive for tubular cycle tires, particularly for track racing.
- For reattaching ink sacs when restoring fountain pens.
- For mounting insects, in the form of a gel adhesive mixture composed of 75% ethyl alcohol.
- As a binder in the fabrication of abrasive wheels, imparting flexibility and smoothness not found in vitrified (ceramic bond) wheels.