blending shellac

cookingofjoyJune 9, 2014

We have a 1912 home with mostly untouched, shellacked trim. Some areas still look quite nice, but the balusters and post of the stairs were very badly alligatored, and the handrail felt sticky. So I've just cleaned off the old shellac using denatured alcohol.

The risers are not in bad condition. There is a little alligatoring that would be nice to smooth out (you can see the natural wood through the fine cracks in the shellac). The little patch I've tried with the alcohol just takes it all off, and I'm not able to get it to blend with new shellac (Zinsser Sealcoat). Are there any tricks to getting it to blend nicely?

Also, as I was not the neatest,I found the floor was shellac, too. We need the floor refinished since it's bare wood in many places, but on the stairs (except for the middle of the tread) I'm wondering how it would sound to strip the shellac, and then re-shellac the stairs? We're planning on having a carpet runner installed after we finish the stairs (whether it's shellac or getting it sanded and waterloxed). Would I sand out the wear on the center of the treads (which would be covered by the runner)?

Our trial rooms upstairs were waterloxed, and we were thinking of doing the same downstairs. If we would waterlox the adjacent floor, would the stairs look odd being shellacked?

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Not sure what you mean by blend-- one of the nice things about shellac is that it melts with the alcohol solvent and you can typically apply new coats over old coats without stripping, including re-consolidating alligatored finishes. To keep an older patina I've often used denatured alcohol and steel wool to soften and redistribute an old alligatored finish, then new coats on top as needed. If you are looking for a color match, that can be a little more challenging. I'd look first to the different grades of shellac as sold-- from light to dark they go blonde, orange or amber, garnet, with different providers offering a variety of choices -- google shellac grades for pictures. These will be sold as flakes that you dissolve in denatured alcohol.

If you don't like the natural colors then you can tint the dissolved shellac with alcohol soluble dyes. I like the TransTint colors, available at most woodworking supply places. You may need a red, amber, and brown to get to the tone you like.

Shellac is a beautiful finish, but not very tough for a floor or stair application.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 3:42PM
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Thanks, rwiegand! I'm having trouble with just what you described - reconsolidating the alligatored finish. I was using a rag and a green scrubbie, but I can't get the alligatoring to redistribute. I just end up getting down to bare wood. The alligatored pieces are much tougher than the rest and end up being the last hanging on.

I wiped a bit off the treads, and I've been really excited by how nice the wood looks. I've been thinking it was the wood that was so dingy, but it was really just the shellac. Very encouraging!

I was thinking of garnet shellac, just because of the references I've seen. But looking more at samples, I think button lac looks more like the rest of ours. Would this be because it's aged?

    Bookmark   June 9, 2014 at 9:21PM
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This stuff is sold for amalgamating alligatored finishes. You do have to remove dirt and wax to allow it to work properly. And if the finish has crawled to an extreme (looks warty, not just crinkly) than you must use other means, like sanding the warts off first.

Here is a link that might be useful: Behlens Shellac/lacquer amalgamator

    Bookmark   June 10, 2014 at 8:06AM
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Casey - thank you for the recommendation! There are sections in the dining room that are definitely warty, and I'd been trying to sand them (after seeing your post a while ago about refinishing a piano by sanding first). I appreciate your willingness to share your expertise!

    Bookmark   June 12, 2014 at 1:18PM
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To get ours to look right, we removed the old finished (it had been painted), put on a gel stain, two coats of garnet shellac and then two coats of clear. There are many ways to change the color.

As for the steps, I didn't want go hide the beauty, but needed something b/c the steps were so slippery. Instead of a runner, we went with stair treads and left the risers bare. Several carpet treads had to get replaced (cat problem) and the carpet tape did not harm the underlying finish. Just a thought.

Good luck

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 8:58AM
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Thanks for the idea of the treads, too! When we refinished the upstairs room, the floor was very slippery, so we knew we'd have to do something with the stairs. There hadn't been anything on the stairs prior - I don't know how they handled that.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2014 at 3:33PM
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