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How do I re-shellac my porch ceiling (photos!)

Questions, answers and advice for people who own or work on houses built during the 20th century.

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How do I re-shellac my porch ceiling (photos!)

Postby KristenS » Thu Jul 28, 2011 6:00 pm

As I woke up in bed this morning, when & where all my best thinking happens, I thought about how great it would be if my icky looking porch ceiling were actually just covered in old shellac. I decided it would be too good to be true, and I should forget about it.

But I didn't forget, and I got on a ladder with some denatured alcohol on a sponge and started scrubbing. Lo and behold, the dark and disgusting alligatored and dirty finish soon dissolved away. And smooth beautiful wood shined through!

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So, my question is... what's the best way to approach "cleaning" off that ceiling? And then re-shellacking it? Do I really need to go inch by inch with a sponge and DNA? (Eek!) And how smooth do I have to get it before I re-shellac?

Help, oh smart and experienced people!

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Re: How do I re-shellac my porch ceiling (photos!)

Postby angolito » Thu Jul 28, 2011 8:10 pm

I kind of like the 'gatoring. :D

I did have to clean up some bead boards for re-use in my bath. I found out in short order that a light wipe with DNA and a medium grit steel wool cleaned the surface dirt and left enough of the original shellac to preserve the wonderful patina. Don't worry about it being sticky it will dry nicely. if you want you can put a final coat of modern shellac on over the old stuff with no problem at all.
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Re: How do I re-shellac my porch ceiling (photos!)

Postby KristenS » Sun Jul 31, 2011 12:25 pm

angolito wrote:I kind of like the 'gatoring. :D


If you saw it in person, you might not! I kept trying to love it because it was "real". I'm hardly the person who wants or needs things to be just-like-new. But that ceiling is just yucky.

Not just because it's filthy, and hard to clean because it's so extremely textured from the alligatoring. But also for all of these reasons:
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It's just a mess!

Anyone have any more advice? I thought with "shellac" in the thread title, I'd get more opinions!!
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Re: How do I re-shellac my porch ceiling (photos!)

Postby Fanner » Sun Jul 31, 2011 2:53 pm

Well, I'm not smart or experienced but you are right ~ shellac got my attention :wink: I only have an opinion :mrgreen: I love the idea of cleaning it all up and re-shellacing. But that is mostly because *I* don't have to do all of the scrubbing that will be involved... The only way that I know is to go, as you said, inch by inch with steel wool and alcohol... then re-covering with fresh shellac. Sorry I don't have a quicker fix idea ~ maybe someone else will. I have had a doozy of a time getting used to how time consuming it is to remove remnants of paint that I have stripped from a few doors now. I used the heat gun to get the majority off, but the little bits require the painstakingly slooow DnEtOH (denatured alcohol) and steel wool method. I mention this because the surfaces were, I believe, originally shellac... No help, I know, but some commisseration might help you...?
1904 Victorian :)
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Re: How do I re-shellac my porch ceiling (photos!)

Postby angolito » Mon Aug 01, 2011 7:03 am

Honestly, I promise you that the salvaged beadboard I re-purposed looked at least as bad and had the same issues your ceiling has. I did take the "remove it all" route on the first dozen boards. I noticed on one that I had only done the first wipe down and then taken a break that when I returned to the job the board had the pristine look of a freshly shellaced job. I had half as much time in work, and the finish was the beautiful original amber patina with no dirt and minimal 'gatoring.

Shellac is such a great finish Precisely because you Can refresh it. Shellac disolves and re-constitues itself, and also takes a final coat which will adhere to itself. There are a lot of threads on this here.
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Re: How do I re-shellac my porch ceiling (photos!)

Postby KristenS » Mon Aug 01, 2011 10:47 am

Thanks for the reassurance angolito.

I've gotten very familiar with shellac on these boards. So I know of what you speak! I was just hoping that someone would have a better system than standing on a ladder with my aching arms overhead, scrubbing for hours with a product that drips down my arms, rapidly evaporates, and destroys all manner of conveyance (DNA turns steel wool to crusty blob in fifteen minutes!)!

Because the ceiling is outside, it also has the added disadvantage of being dirty on top of the shellac. So a light wipe isn't going to do too much. I really need to give it a decent scrub.

Ugh! I guess it's just gonna be a whole lotta repetitive work! Hopefully I'll get some nicely toned arms out of it.
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Re: How do I re-shellac my porch ceiling (photos!)

Postby angolito » Mon Aug 01, 2011 11:28 am

I put the DNA in a spray bottle. keep a covered storage container of more DNA handy and when your pad begins to get crusty switch it for a fresh one and put the crusty one in the DNA and put the airtight cover on it. use about a third as many steel wool pads this way, just keep re-cycling the worst ones out to the trash. i use the worst one for first pass, then move to the next in order. you have to use a lint free rag for the final pass if you want to get every bit of the shellac out.

i totally sympathize with the hands above the head issues. :D as far a a ladder goes, that isn't an option for me..... we invested in one of those rolling paint stands when I first started cussing up a storm over the aching arms from painting the ceilings ( i used a brush to paint every square inch of wall/ceiling space?) and it was a godsend. also much more stable for scrubbing, as a ladder is too tippy for me to deal with.
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Re: How do I re-shellac my porch ceiling (photos!)

Postby KristenS » Mon Aug 01, 2011 12:23 pm

Fanner wrote:No help, I know, but some commisseration might help you...?


The commiseration helps a TON! That's at least 50% of why I post questions here. I mean, I can find the "answer" through a lot of Googling. But sharing it with you all and hearing your experiences is so much better!

angolito wrote:you have to use a lint free rag for the final pass if you want to get every bit of the shellac out.


I'm hoping, like you mentioned before, to just take off the yucky top coat. I love the idea that I'm just refreshing a 100 year old project.* Rather than making the whole darn thing "new".


(*I actually have no way to verify that the porch ceiling is original. But I'm assuming it is.)
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Re: How do I re-shellac my porch ceiling (photos!)

Postby sooth » Mon Aug 01, 2011 1:33 pm

My suggestion would be quicker, but extremely messy. You'd need to tarp-off EVERYTHING except the ceiling, and go at it with some kind of floor mop or padded floor cleaning "mop pad", soaked in the alcohol. Because it's on a long pole, you could go at it almost the same way as painting a ceiling with a roller. The reason for all the tarps is because the alcohol is really liquidy and it will drip and run everywhere (see note below).

Another option would be to sand or scrape the old shellac, but I think that would be even more work. You could also strip it with a commercial stripper.

As for "how smooth" the existing shellac needs to be: it doesn't. You could, if you wanted to, just shellac right over it with fresh shellac. The new shellac would soften the old crusty stuff, and melt into it. I doubt it would improve the looks much, but it would still stick.

Note: the alcohol will dissolve newer acrylic paint, so you can use it to clean up the paint blobs around the edges, but be careful not to drip it on any other painted sections, since these will dissolve. Same goes for any liquefied shellac runoff. The alcohol will melt the paint. If the paint is oil, the alcohol won't do anything to it.
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