Shellac & Twine makes Handlebar fine
August 21, 2005
I'd heard about shellacking bike handlebars for awhile and kind of laughed at it. Maybe I thought it made the bars slippery. Or they'd ruin in the rain.
Well, I finally caught the bug and shellacked my cork tape on the Paramount's curvy new Rivendell "Noodle" bars (at 46cm, such comfy bars). The classic way is to shellac cotton tape and I was thinking of doing that---but to start with a layer of cork for padding then add cloth. I decided to just go for cork alone, for grins.
It looks great. Maybe that's the main reason why people like it. A few coats made my bars just GLOW. They're close to matching my honey-colored Brooks leather saddle.
I guess I'm just verging wildly into Gentleman Cycling.
It works great, so I suppose that's fine. There's no handicap about it. I'm going for a truly lovely and comfy riding bike.
Now, there's another traditional touch that goes with shellac, and that's a French hemp twine whip finish, instead of plastic tape. My fly-tying mad skills came back to me in a flash and I added the twine flourishes no problem. Totally classy.
And, ya know, I just really enjoyed *brushing/painting* on my bike. And I enjoyed *twining* something. All with natural products. (Shellac is made from the secretions of the female lac insect of Asia. Cool!)
I think it relates to my recent interest (and daily use of) a canvas/leather shoulderbag. In producing my OYB Manpurses I've come to really enjoy making the small leather straps that go with each bag to give them their unique 3-way quality (saddle, bar, shoulder bags---only one in the world!). I cut them out of a whole cow's-worth of leather. Leather smells good and, furthermore, it's neat to coat the strips with a beeswax sealant---the lore-ish cool things just don't quit, do they?
Maybe it's the computer deskjob that makes me appreciate stuff like canvas, leather, shellac and twine. But I do. For similar vibe-reasons, I'm also looking forward to one day printing my own limited edition art books---getting a press, a knife, a binder, the old-fashioned works. I think others have the same jones. Computer work makes you appreciate handwork all the more: I believe that sales of art editions and first editions of books have gone way up in past 10 years.
Downsides of shellac? So far I stumbled into one. The bars seem fine in the rain, so that's not it. I put the bike in a trunk one hot day and brought it to the bike shop to show off---when I took it out: the finish had orange-peeled. Disaster. So much for impressing the hi-tech shop dudes. I learned from internet iBOB pals (an online bike lore group) that denatured alcohol turns shellac back to whence it came and that I could rub and possibly revive my finish. I tried it and it worked great. I rubbed out the pitting and let the finish dry in a cool, dry basement a couple days. Longer cool, dry cures between coats is good, they say. But it was tolerant for me in the end. (I had been drying my coats in the humid sun.)
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