I've jumped in with both feet and bought shellac chips and mixed my own shellac. It's easier to make than I thought. I used the advice and instruction from Stew Mac videos and it was a great experience. It's more labor intensive, but you can have a gorgeous finish built up in 2 days. I've used shellac in the past, but it was from the can. It took a lot longer to dry and cure. The stuff I mixed myself dried completely in an hour and cured within 24 hours. Nice.
Give it a shot. You only have to mix up enough to do the job at hand and the flakes don't go bad as long as you store them in a cool, dry place. I mixed it with denatured alcohol and it worked great. You can use everclear, too. No fumes but it's a lot more expensive.