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This Old Crack House

From log house to farmhouse. Farmhouse to townhouse. Townhouse to apartment house. Apartment house to crack house. Crack house to our house. Our house to our home.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Great Shellac Quandary of 2007!

This was left as a comment by Amalie over at "Oh Bungalow" I felt it required a post of its very own to answer.

"You've done some really beautiful things-- especially with shellac! That's why I thought I'd ask for your advice now that we've decided to shellac our antique heart pine floors. That's how they were originally finished, and beautiful warm amber tones-- from blonder to a deep red mahogany color. They were in need of a refinish, so we've sanded them and decided to go back to shellac. Goodwin Pine suggested using a 3lb cut of dark dewaxed shellac, thinned to a wash (wouldn't that be the same as, say, a 1lb cut?) and then using a water-based poly on top. We can only find regular amber shellac, premixed as a 3lb cut not dewaxed. Any suggestions on finding the flakes at a reasonable price? We also have no idea how much coverage you really get out of a gallon, or how many coats we ought to do...I guess that last one depends on seeing what we like as we go or if we get regular amber or garnet(which is better?). I just hate having to guess at ordering-- too much that's difficult to return or not enough that's gone halfway through-- or the wrong thing alotgether. It's the first time either of us has ever done much with shellac, so we're kind of in over our heads...Any advice you can give us would be really great!!! "

I remember being in the same predicament way back when we were ready to start finishing the woodwork. There were no blogs about using shellac back then so I read everything I could find and then ordered a bunch of seed lac and shellac flakes from shellac.net. I also bought a can of Zinsser Bullseye amber shellac from Home Depot or Lowes. I wrote this post a while back and a couple more around the same time describing the experimentation process. What I can tell you is this. Rub a little linseed oil or mineral spirits (paint thinner) on the sanded wood to see if it darkens. If it darkens then that is the color it will be with any kind of clear finish. Adding shellac whether it is lemon, amber or garnet won't really matter because the tone of the shellac is lost by the color of the wood. When I played with the lemon shellac and the dark seed lac I found that in the end there wasn't a huge difference in the finished wood. The differences were so subtle that it is lost in something as big as a floor where there are so many variations in the wood planks. It would make a bigger difference if applying it to new wood and possibly maple or oak. I think you will find that your old pine is going to turn an amber color right off. In the end I settled on only using the store bought clear or amber shellac because it was easier to acquire when I would run out. The mix and color was consistent and most importantly I didn't have to spend huge amounts of time filtering the bits out! If you add the price of 3 lbs. of shellac and a gallon of alcohol and figure it might give you a little more than a gallon of shellac the price is comparable or even less if you buy the pre-mixed stuff. I have gone through gallons of the stuff at our place, maybe a dozen or so.

Use a 2" brush and apply the shellac two or three board widths at a time along the length of the room keeping a wet leading edge to prevent lap marks.I think I averaged two or three quarts per floor. Our rooms are big though and I tended to thin to a two pound cut. You can mix amber with clear and end up with a paler tone. You can also alternate layers of clear and amber. It really won't make a noticeable difference since it is a floor after all and not an exquisite piece of furniture. You can darken shellac with aniline dye. You can tint clear shellac with a little turmeric for a golden yellow color. The wood will start to darken with more and more coats of amber shellac. This starts to be most noticeable after the third coat. I applied at least three coats and sometimes four. I lightly sanded with 220 grit sand paper after the first sealing coat and every two coats after that to get the rough bits and dust out. Since you plan to finish with a polyurethane then stop at three coats of shellac because the poly will give you the final smooth surface. I would apply two thin coats of polyurethane as the final finish. Unless you are going for a high gloss wet look, I suggest that you finish the floor with two coats of paste wax furniture polish applied with superfine steel wool and buffed with a rag. Your floors will be super slippery for a week or two but they will feel super smooth and sweeping them with a brush becomes so much easier! It's fun watching the pets slide across the floor too! So for ease of acquisition I would tell you to buy a gallon of clear shellac, two quarts of amber and a quart of polyurethane. That should do at least two average floors. You could have the floors done in two days because the three coats of shellac and a coat of poly could be applied in about 6 hours and your second coat of poly put on the next morning. Waxing is a little hard on the knees and fingers but worth it. It eliminates that plastic look that polyurethane gives.


At 12/16/2007 8:08 PM, Blogger Jen said...

Very Good Post, thanks for sharing.

At 12/16/2007 11:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually the gentlemen was talking about a dewaxed shellac. That's a different product than regular shellac. The dewaxing process allows for any clear finish to be put over the shellac. What the gentlemen should buy is Zinsser Sealcoat Universal Sanding Sealer which is a dewaxed shellac. The topcoat can be a number of different products but if you go with a waterbased finish, (which is more clear) make sure to use one with a catalyst.
Waterbase polys are nice but not a hard of a finish.

At 12/17/2007 12:25 PM, Blogger Amalie said...

Thanks so much for all the advice!! We started testing some of the premixed, and we were a little concerned that the floors might turn out a bit too orange...But we still haven't really built up the layers on our testing areas, or allowed the resin-- the red part of heart pine-- to get some sunlight and begin oxidation; we just got a couple rounds of sanding done over the weekend; we'll keep working on it during the week. Our hopes are high that the amber will give something close to the effect we're looking for, especially since you say that garnet is not so different. I'm hoping we can just go with the premixed since it's so much easier to get our hands on, especially this time of year, with the postal service already overloaded!

Ultimately, we have to remember that these floors have had 90 years of a combination of oxidation and carpet padding disintegration; 90 years of puppies, and kids jumping on beds, and chairs scraping across the same spot over and over. In the end, we're trying to recreate something that will never be exactly the same. But we still want to come close! And thanks again for the suggestions-- I don't know how we'd ever get along in this without blogs...

At 12/17/2007 12:42 PM, Blogger Amalie said...

I mean, we can't recreate 90 years of wear on that finish-- not that we want it to look the way it did 90 years ago! We're just realizing that what we like of the finish is largely due to age...

At 12/30/2007 2:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, about that pet thing:

If I use shellac on my upstairs hall and stairs, will it be raining cats and dogs on the first floor?

And how well would shellac hold up if my dog took the notion to, uh, challenge the household hierarchy and do a little territory marking?

Would like to know, because yeah, polyurethane can look so cheesy.

At 12/30/2007 11:29 PM, Blogger Gary said...

You can put on a couple of coats of thinned polyurethane to protect the shellac. It is the paste wax treatment that helps protect the surface and causes furry critters to glide and slide. It will also subdue the plastic look of poly.

At 4/16/2011 11:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sir you say you love the original amber color of your olf house so I have a sugestion cause you say it is easier to buy the premixed stuff ! Buy some zinseer amber shellac and then strain it several times thru a nylon stocking it will clog with the wax and remove it you may have to change stocking once in awhile ha ha!As far as color match thin the shella to a 1 1/2 better application let dry 1 hour between thin coats until you achive your desired depth of color the more coats the little darker it gets each time until you have the disired tone you want you are in a wiw win situation you cant go wrong you can get the exact tone you want and also by makeing it dewaxed you can put anyfinish you wish to put over it if you so desire

At 4/12/2012 4:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rather than straining the wax out of the amber shellac, can't you just use the amber shellac with wax first, then sand, then cover it with clear dewaxed shellac?

At 6/18/2012 4:11 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Straining and cutting is the way to go. It will cover much better, colors more evenly, and dries much faster. And water based poly can be sanded smooth with 220, and buffed with a white scotchpad to reduce the wacy lool. I always apply a "finish product" as the final process. O like to use rejuvenate from home depot. It is super shiny and improves traction. And if you use it every 6 months your floor will outlive you.


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