Monday was MLK day so I thought it would be a good chance to go to Plattsburgh, NY, check it out, and pick up some booze. Specifically, I was looking for "Everclear" - 190 proof ethanol as a solvent for shellac. 250 miles later I was home with a $22 bottle of Canadian liquid fire.
When I started working with shellac it took me a while to learn the risks of using denatured alcohol and figuring out the best/safest brand. The problem is that the Feds require that alcohol sold outside of the beverage industry regulations be mixed with poison (denature it) so that it will kill you if you decide to drink it. Most commercial brands mix ethanol (beverage grade alcohol) with methanol -- which may make you go blind and/or slowly destroys your nervous system. It is cheap (approx. $5/quart) but should never be used in confined spaces or on a regular basis. They also tend to mix methanol at a rate of around 50%. I use it for cleaning my shellac brushes and I don't leave it open in the shop. My favorite shellac solvent alcohol is Belhen's Behkol (about $7/quart) because it uses a very high concentration of ethanol along with butynol, isopropenol (rubbing alcohol), and propyl acetate (in addition to being a solvent it is a common pear flavor additive). I still need to ventilate the shop when I use it but I'm sure it is much safer than the common hardware store varieties.
The problem is that with an 8 month heating season here in Montpelier, VT, it is hard to ventilate for most of the year. So, to be safe, I've been searching for a source of pure ethanol and I had heard that grain alcohol was still available in New York (it has slowly been banned in one state after another as people continue to die from alcohol poisoning - about 1200 college students die every year!) Unfortunately, when we got to Plattsburgh, we learned that it had been banned 6 months earlier (we also learned there was absolutely no reason to go to Plattsburgh, but that is another story). However, after stopping in a second liquor store hoping for an old stash, I was told that they still sold it in Canada. Since we were going close to the boarder on the way back we gave it a shot. Having not planned on going to Canada, however, we only had driver's licenses. The Canadian boarder agent wasn't too happy about it but, ironically, after explaining that I was looking for some grain alcohol, he let us in.
We were quickly able to find the goods and head back to the boarder. Had it been time to eat we might have also sought out some poutine, but we had gotten our fill in P-town and were ready to get back. The US boarder agent wasn't happy with our driver's licenses either but let us in with a warning that we may end up in Guantanamo if we try it again.
The bottom line is that I need to find a better source of pure ethanol. $60/quart is more than I'd like to spend when retail rate - outside of the fed/state beverage tax scheme - should be closer to $7. I figure I might be able to apply for a license with the state but I assume that the quantities I need a so low that it wouldn't be worth it. I'll look into it but if anyone has any suggestions, please let me know.