How-to Videos

Spraying Shells with Polyurethane: What You Need to Know

While summer is nearly over, I have lots of great memories on which to look back. And, I have souvenirs as a physical monument to my summer vacations!

My summer started with an awesome trip to Disney World, and I brought home a cute pair of Minnie Mouse earrings. Then, throughout the summer, I went on different day trips. Some of my favorite activities were hiking with family and friends. Lots of photos and great stories are my souvenirs from those trips.

Perhaps the best souvenir from a trip, though, is something you can discover yourself; something you don’t buy in a gift shop or receive with a park pass. And while pictures and memories are wonderful, a concrete object with significance is also a great way to look back on your summer.

Do you know what I might be talking about by now? I’m talking about seashells!

I love bringing shells home from beach vacations because it’s something you choose all on your own. It’s not prepackaged in a store or polished to perfection, sitting in a gift shop. Instead, you have to walk the beach, carefully watching your step. The tide comes in and out, in and out, crashing on shore with strong waves, or rippling quietly across your toes.

The salt-filled air hits your noise as the wind blows waves towards shore. And if you look carefully, you might spy a thousand rainbow colored coquinas wriggling their way to the sunlight… until another wave pulls them back to sea, in an endless cycle of beauty and power.

Or, if you have weather like I did most of the week I was at the beach, you walk along the beach under a cloudy, angry sky. You squint, trying to spy shells through the rain drops stinging your face. As the wind picks up, sand lashes your ankles, stinging in quiet solitude.

You comb the beach for miles, hoping to find that perfect shell. A thousand shells beg to be picked up, and you grab the ones that catch your eye, all the while watching for the guide to come back on his boat.

But then, you go too far. And the guide is coming from the opposite direction, fighting against the choppy waves. Clutching your precious bag of prizes, you jog a mile through the stinging rain back to the boat, afraid the other passengers will be annoyed if you hold them up too long. Finally, you wade through the tide, climb on the boat that seems microscopic on the vast sea, and bounce and fall and smack across the waves. At least the company is enjoyable, even if the waves drench your face at times.

Once the five mile crossing is completed, you disembark on shore. Only once you return to the beach house do you realize just how much sand your clothes can hold. Also, you begin to wonder if others smell your stench too. And then you shower, change into dry clothes, rinse off hundreds of shells, and call it a day.

True story.

For a little more context, the weather was the exact opposite of ideal while I stayed on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I found a few shells on Ocracoke Island, where my family stayed, but the scenario described above tells about our day-trip to Portsmouth Island.

Our understanding of Portsmouth was it would be a hotspot for shelling. While the beach was largely untouched (the island is uninhabited), the quality of shells was much less than the quantity of the shells. Fortunately, I made the most of what was available and chose a nice variety of shells.

Some of my favorites were olive shells, a Scotch bonnet, whelk pieces, and dozens of colorful scallop shells. From the beginning of summer, my parents found several nice whelks on their beach trip, so my family now has a nice (albeit impractical because of size and trying to coordinate storage 😛 ) collection of shells.

In my second Tutorial Tuesday, I cleaned the shells my parents gathered using Muriatic acid. While the colors came out beautifully, the shells lacked shine. When they were wet, the shells shined brightly. However, once they were dried, the colors turned dull.

Since I obviously can’t leave the shells permanently wet, I searched for another way to give them a wet look. The solution? Spray on polyurethane.

The video below is my second attempt at spraying the shells. First, I used a satin finish polyurethane spray, but the look was somewhat dull. Once I used the glossy finish spray, the shells became amazingly vibrant.

The colors are rich from the muriatic acid cleaning, and the polyurethane spray gave them a lovely shine. Take a look below to watch the process!

Hopefully, this will help you make your special souvenirs be the best they can be!

Happy Crafting!


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