The wife inherited a walnut and cedar chest that belonged to her great-grandmother. This once beautiful piece had spent more than a decade sitting in a storage shed in Florida's climate of high humidity, heat and sudden cold spells. The temperatures in the shed ranged from over 110 to 35. This had ruined the original finish and she asked me to try to make it look nice again. (The first photo is a portion of the damage on the chest before I started the repair.) However, she did not want me to use my normal methods of sanding and refinishing with clear polyurethane. She wanted it to be as close to the original as I could make it. So I started doing some research and learned all I could about the original finish.
After testing several different solvents, I learned that the finish was shellac. So I carefully took all the hinges, lock, and lid supports off and began stripping the old shellac. It turns out that this step is extremely easy. Just apply liberal amounts of denatured alcohol using #1 steel wool and the shellac just dissolves away. A piece of cheese cloth that has been dampened with more alcohol is used to wipe the surface down after the finish is softened, leaving a glass smooth surface.
Once I had removed the old finish, tightened up all the joints in the wood, and polished all the hardware, I got my spray gun out and was ready to start spraying some shellac. I used amber shellac that I bought for under $10.00 a quart at Lowe's just because I was in a hurry and didn't want to wait for flakes to be shipped to me.
I spent two days getting the unit ready to be finished, and another two days applying the five coats of new shellac. The second picture shows the finished piece. The blob like things on the side of the chest really aren't on the chest. Its a reflection of the bedspread.
The third photo shows more of the chest.
All that is left to completely finish the job is to rub out the final coat and add the paste wax for some protection on top. The wife is very pleased, and I'm also pretty surprised by the outcome since I'd never used shellac for anything before.
So what have I learned?
First... Whenever the wife starts a sentence with the words... "Can you"...... RUN!!!!!
Second... Shellac is one of the easiest finishes that I've ever tried to remove from anything.
Third... Its easier to apply than anything else I ever applied to anything. You don't even have to sand between coats!
Fourth... Since its safe for small children (heck they even have a special shellac that is used to coat pills, and candies), I'll be using it more when I make things for the little tykes in my family.
If you have trouble viewing the photos, I invite you to browse through the album that I've posted to the site.