Posted on | November 17, 2008 | 2 Comments
Being involved over the years on the restoration of several homes and public buildings, I have found an amazing product that seems to figure prominently in each one of them: shellac. It’s incredible stuff, but what surprises me is that so many old house owners are unfamiliar with its use and properties, (and the fact that they are probably walking on it).
It was used most frequently as a wood finish on floors, imparting a deep, warm, red-orange color to the wood, often without the use of stain. It was also used extensively on interior woodwork, giving it the same luster and warmth as the floor, (and often harmonizing the color of both). It was very commonly used on furniture for centuries as well, even well into the 1960s, (in fact, a walnut Danish Modern dining set we own by Lane is finished with shellac, not oil). I have worked with shellac for years and it is the most beautiful, resilient and forgiving finish I’ve used. And its probably the most “green” finish out there, being inexpensive, UV resistant, non-toxic and “made” by insects! It also looks natural and not “plasticky” as polyurethanes often do. For all the details on its incredible history and also the myths about it, I’ve attached a link to the site “Period American Furniture” for the reprint of Zinsser’s “Story of Shellac”. Its a very entertaining and informative read.
As a disclaimer, Zinsser did not pay me for this effusive endorsement of shellac. There are other manufacturers of it, but this is the brand I am most familiar with…