Where does shellac come from?
The story of shellac starts with a small scaly insect in India that is attracted to the twigs of several species of tree. The bugs suck the sap from the tree for nourishment and as part of their reproductive process excrete a resin to protect themselves and their eggs. This resin is called lac and is the raw material used to make shellac.
Huge insect populations build up thick layers of resin covering the branches and twigs of the trees. This resin is harvested and cleaned of debris.The resin is then washed to further clean it and remove much of the natural dye. For many years, this dye was used commercially.
Traditionally, the lac is processed by manual labor to make the shellac. The lac is placed in long cotton fabric tubes and heated over a covered fire. The fabric removes any residue, and clean lac passes through it. While still warm, the clean lac is pulled and stretched into large sheets, which are broken into flaked shellac after cooling. Globs of the hot lac are scraped from the cotton tube and dropped onto a hard flat surface to form buttons for buttonlac.
Modern methods include heating the lac until it is molten and hydraulically forcing it through filters. It is then pressed into thin sheets and broken into flakes after it has cooled. This process gives to the waxed grades of shellac.
Another method involves dissolving the lac in alcohol and filtering the solution. The solution is run through driers, where the alcohol is evaporated and recovered, and the shellac is pressed into sheets. This method produces the dewaxed varieties of shellac.