The Story Thus Far (Part 2): I take a shellacking

Check out part 1 here

Bold Plans

With more keys than I could count, and a 30 year financial commitment in my hot little hands, I quickly went to work. My main focus was the floors in the living room and dining room.

My real-estate agent had shown me there was maple under the worn carpet and I was dead-set on resurrecting it.  My saltwater aquarium made this a go/no-go priority. I knew once I had 400 pounds of glass and saltwater in the room, making any serious changes to the flooring was going to become considerably less likely.

That gave me from June 2nd to June 23rd to get the carpet up, floors stripped/sanded and refinished.  My final move-out date from my apartment was June 30th, so time was of the essence.

The carpet itself gave up a lot of dust, but no trouble. The tack strips put up something of a fight. However, the padding was just a mess.

Areas where there had been furniture or no traffic, the stuff rolled up much as I’m sure it had been installed.  But in the areas where feet, water, salt, and time had taken their toll, it formed a thick green gunk that couldn’t be easily removed by hand.

Eventually both rooms were cleared of the bulk of the old carpet material. Only the gunk remained.


Fortunately, I discovered hot water and a mop, using the scrubby pad bit were a decent match for most of it.

With a bunch of scrubbing, I was able to get most of it off and I was ready to sand…. I thought.

Big Trouble with Little Beetles

With one week until the pending fish tank move, I had the residue cleared away, had researched my sanding/finishing options, and set up shop to do a full sand and finish.

I had the whole weekend to work on this, and the weather was nice so windows could stay open as needed.

I Rented a 4 point orbital sander from a local True Value and got all the pads from 32 Grit up to 120. Unfortunately, I found them to be quickly filled with the brown coating from the floor. They looked like glazed donuts and become rock hard and useless. If you put pressure on them, it would leave swirls of old finish on the floor.

Progress: Halted.
My first tests in a closet. This is actually one of the bedrooms, but they never bothered to remove the shellac in here. It was a portent for what was to come in the other rooms.

Frantic, I searched the internet for help as to this sticky brown finish.  It was shellac, an organic finish produced (fun fact) from beetle resin, dissolved in alcohol.  Former owners had slathered the stuff on rather than go back and strip the wood down at any point.

This resin, when heated by the sanding pads, melted into a thick wax that coated the pads, and instantly rendering them useless. You couldn’t even scrape it off.

Solvent. Solvent was going to have to be the answer.

My initial trip to the hardware store that day, I had denatured alcohol in mind. Seeing as its what’s used to thin and apply shellac in the first place. However, a big box hardware store employee gave me the wave off saying it is far too flammable.  I, being rushed and a fool, listened. Instead I bought a powerful stripper that was “made for that sort of thing.”  It came with a squirt bottle.


I taped off part of the floor to both track my work and to make sure I didn’t kneel in my work area. The stuff was foamy and bubbled and the little bit that got on my clothes burned through to my skin. Horrific stuff. I finished the area I was working on and quickly capped the stuff. Buried it in the basement until such a time that I need to dissolve something like the blood from Alien.

Denatured alcohol now in hand, I was able to strip the floor in the evening hours. I worked feverishly through the night. Using 2 or 3 cans of alcohol and 2 bags of those “rag-type” paper towels. The alcohol turns the shellac to liquid and you wipe it up, simple as that.


This actually left very little finish to be removed, so with the brown devil-tar behind me, sanding proceeded on Sunday morning with very little trouble.

By this time I had resigned myself to the fact I was not going to get to the dining room. The elbow grease and time in hand scrubbing up the shellac was just too much for one weekend.


Sanding proceeded smoothly. I went over it with 60 (I’d destroyed all my 32 grit pads), 80, 100, and 120 grit pads, vacuuming and wiping down the floor with mineral spirits between each pass for dust.

It didn’t remove all the blemishes and color, but it leveled it and got the majority of it up.

After a few coats of polyurethane I had something that looked like it would hold up for awhile and could accept a fish tank.

Even the aquarium made the transition with only a minor plumbing problem.

Jump ahead to October 1st of this year. The dining room still isn’t done. However, a rug and some dressing up let me get away with it long enough to have some friends over for my many months late, housewarming



I have had moving in and then a series of other projects vying for my time. As of 11/16/17, I have plans to strip the floor this upcoming weekend and sand it when I have a free day (maybe the weekend of thanksgiving). I want to do it right this time. My dining room is the showpiece of the house, and the walkway is one of the first things you see when you get to the door. More sanding and careful finishing will be a focus. I’ll be posting about my fall efforts in the dining room here shortly.

One thought on “The Story Thus Far (Part 2): I take a shellacking

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s