would you share your shellac removal process with me?

marcydcOctober 26, 2010

I have a 95 year old Edwardian with dark shellac wood through the dining room, foyer, staircase. Ceiling beams. Lots of door trims.

Cleaning with denatured alcohol and rags works, but this will likely take me a few years to finish at this pace. I'll also probably need a couple of dozen gallons of alcohol and many more boxes of rags(I already cleaned out the paint store down the street of 1 gal d.a. and now have to wait for Friday for their next shipment!).

The process isn't all that messy and I don't have to worry about dripping the alcohol onto the floors since it has no effect there. A stripper certainly would require more prep and cleanup (and keeping the cat out of the way). But it might be worth the effort if I can knock out a window in a few hours...

Is there something that has worked well for you that maybe I am missing? Is there a way to reuse the rags? I feel so wasteful!

Here's some pics. Thanks for any help!

Anyone know what that light colored stuff between the layers of shellac is? Seems to make a striped effect on the trim that has it.

Also, any ideas what kind of what this trim is? (house is in San Francisco).

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I use a chemical stripper called Kutzit, which contains methylene chloride as the prime ingredient. It breaks down the shellac instead of dissolving it the way alcohol does. W/alky, it never seems to really come all off, you're just moving it around, and it takes so many rags to clean it up. So I use the "hot stuff".
The tan paint looks like a base color paint for faux bois (imitation wood graining).
The wood is probably fir, but maybe it's redwood. The door pictured is almost certainly fir.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2010 at 6:46PM
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You are going to have to make some hard decisions.

If the wood has faux bois, stripping it is likely to reveal rather plain wood that may not look very good with a clear finish (think poplar or other very plain wood).

You are liable to have an even harder job trying to do any 'restoration' besides applying a coat of paint to the wood.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 10:53AM
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The stripped faux bois wood is the last picture above.

I'd like it to be somewhat darker and am hoping the darker shellac will do that, but I don't think is a plain wood.

The baseboards in the dining room may not be the same wood - I haven't touched those yet. Maybe that is why they faux bois'd ?

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 11:38AM
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I'd slow down and think about what you are proposing. Faux bois (or as it is known in NE, grain painting) is not just another decorative detail; it's an important period-specific technique that has more historical value than a simple coat of shellac that has discolored with age.

Think of it this way: say you have a period Victorian Painted Lady House but decided you didn't like a gaily painted house trimmed out with rows of scalloped siding and gingerbread. But you decided that you liked the plainness of a 17th c Connecticut Saltbox and so proceeded to take the Painted Lady details off and paint the carcase the pseudo-historic, muted New England-y colors that are popular right now. To me that's analogous to what you're describing.

Faux-bois may seem unattractively false to us, but it was very fashionable during its day. Simply stripping it off may reveal very plain, even cheap, wood that was never intended to be exposed without its decoration.

If gentle removal of the top layer doesn't work to lighten it up snd reveal the graining, then perhaps you should consider painting it instead. At least that will cover up and preseve what's there until someone who wants to deal with it comes along.

Removing faux-bois (unless you are planning to undertake the very expensive step of replacing it with a replica) is not restoring the house to "what it formerly was", but instead to a substitute based on 2010 fantasies of older structures.

I'm not saying it's not your choice to make, but please make it with all the facts before you.

Personally, I loathe grain painting, but I respect it as a very important 19th c technique. Where it appears in my house in exposed places, I go to some trouble to protect it under careful sealing and paint. In hidden places (backs of closet doors, for instance, for instance,) I leave it be. I'm sure the original inhabitants would be nonplussed that I have reversed their accepted decorative order: I have undisturbed grain painting preserved in less-public places, but cheerfully covered most of the fancy-room trim with paint, which they used primarily in the service areas.

Cleaning or stripping clear or tinted shellac to bare wood, when it was just orginally intended to be simply shellacked wood is one thing. But completely removing grain painting in the process to reveal the wood underneath is a false historicity and will really harm your building's decorative integrity, at least in my opinion.

Have you looked to see if there is info in the Perservation Briefs series on how to clean or remove just a top, oxidized layer and keep the underlying graining intact? The grain painting designs that are on the trim will be much more decorative than the grain highlighted by simply staining over the underlying wood.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2010 at 4:08AM
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You want your wood darker? Why are you removing the shellac then? From what I understand, a new coat (in an orange or amber) brushed right over will even out the current finish, and darken it also.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2010 at 4:31AM
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I used a 3M product called "Safest Stripper". It's very cheap, environmentally safe, too. Water soluable, no fumes, no need to wear gloves. I order it through Ace Hardware, and they ship it to the store at no extra charge.

I've stripped all the wood on our first floor, and although it was a lot of work, it stripped quite easily. There are lots of box beams throughout, and the staircase was a HUGE job.

This picture shows the before and after. This is after one pass with the stripper.

Here's the staircase completed.

A picture of one end of the living room:

And the dining room:

    Bookmark   October 28, 2010 at 6:56PM
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On the question of the historical value of faux bois - there is quite a lot of it in the formal, public rooms at Mount Vernon which would be 18th century and, I would think, originally high value decoration.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2010 at 8:57PM
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The fact that shellac is visible underneath the graining base coat speaks to the likelihood that the faux is later and clear shellac on the redwood/fir was the original finish.
In 1905 graining was "out" it didn't come back "in" until the 50's.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2010 at 9:19PM
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Wow, joyce. That looks fantastic! Thanks for the suggestion!

I suspect that it is what sombreuil suggested. The faux bois is only in the dining room. And only on parts of the dining room (not the doors, not the ceiling beams). The foyer seems to have the same wood (although it does look darker - perhaps the many layers of shellac darkened it? ).

There was some work done in the 50's. The kitchen was remodeled (found permit for that). The walls in the living room were upholstered.

A good deal of the trim looks like joyce's first picture. Aligator style.

    Bookmark   October 29, 2010 at 9:49AM
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Whatever you do, be very careful to not remove the deep aged color from the wood - which is what some of the stronger paint and varnish strippers will do, and that includes some of the "safe" strippers like citri strip. A more gentle furniture refinisher is all you need to remove shellac

    Bookmark   October 29, 2010 at 11:03AM
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"A good deal of the trim looks like joyce's first picture. Aligator style. "

Shellac is easily repaired from this.

Brush with straight denatured alcohol to smooth the surface, then apply another top coat of shellac.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2010 at 9:12AM
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Brickeyee, a question:
My wood has it's original finish and I love the color--but it has that 'alligatoring' in a lot of places--will your suggestion alter the color? Like I said, I don't want to strip it off, just smooth out the crazing.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2010 at 3:36PM
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Maybe mine is too old and sticky with other stuff? I tried the just brushing with alcohol and it didn't seem to do anything at all. Maybe the shellac layer will melt that a little?

Mine is in such a variety of states - I think that is what is bugging me most. Some looks great and some parts look absurdly shiny and some looks dull/tired/ancient. All on the same pieces of wood! - I guess it was how the light hit things and what they did to it to clean it up (banisters must have been hit with something Pledge a lot since they are waxy/sticky).

columbusguy1, try and it and report back! Inquiring minds wanna know! If you are sure it is shellac, I don't think you can damage it with this method!

    Bookmark   October 31, 2010 at 12:04AM
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You may need to clean the surface with paint thinner before brushing it with alcohol.

If there is any wax or oily surface dirt the alcohol will not penetrate well.

Brushing with just deantured alcohol wil lnot alter the color, just melt the shellac again.

Adding another layer of the same color of shellac will not change the color either.

You just need to identify what type of shellac was used initially.

Shellac flakes are available in every grade (color).

A layer of supper blond will not alter the color either since it has no color.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2010 at 5:12PM
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