Chicago Bungalow DIY Projects Wood floors

Kitchen floor project | Part III

Just my latest lesson in “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet” especially when it comes to floor finishes. Well, ok, maybe they were right about the slippery part…

Last August I finally threw some finish on my floors. I’ll detail the process in this post, but if you’d like to read through the research and prior work leading up to applying finish, start with these posts here and here. The finish application I used was fairly easy and quick, but the prep work to get there was a little more labor intensive.

To remove the old orange shellac, I scrubbed the floor with a nylon brush and hot, soapy water. Everyone always wants to know what kind of soap: Dawn dish soap. Or any kind of dish soap really. Dawn is just what I tend to use. Scrubbing with hot water is usually enough to remove the tarry paper leftover from the old linoleum. And in case you’re panicking, I did test everything for asbestos first and it all came back negative. After a good scrubbing, I sprayed the old finish down with denatured alcohol and simply wiped it off.

Once the old shellac was gone, I allowed the floors to dry for a couple of days. Once dry, I did a really light sanding with a 5″ orbital and 80 grit sandpaper (not enough to resurface the Maple, but enough to remove any build-up I may have missed, or what have you). Even with a small sander, it went fairly quickly. A quick pass with the shop vac and I was ready to apply the finish.

I used a padding technique (essentially a wad of clean cotton rags) to apply the bleached (clear) shellac in four thin coats; leaving an hour dry time between each coat (in reality it was probably 30 minutes). I then let it cure for a good 24 hours before applying two coats of Crystal Clear paste wax; buffing it in as I went. The shellac really brought out the natural beauty and depth of the Maple, but the real test was going to be how the finish held up over time.

So far, so good.

There’s been no noticeable change since the initial application, save for a little bit of the sheen being knocked back by heavy traffic. I’m pretty pleased with how everything has held up as we’re coming up on the one year mark. I’m even more impressed that we’ve spilled plenty of everything on these floors and they just keep chugging along, unfazed. (Side note: we don’t use chemical cleaning products in the kitchen.)

And (this is admittedly a little weird) but I really like the way these floors continue to look clean. The biggest difference I’ve noticed between this finish and the poly finish on all my other floors is that the dirt and hair accumulate on the edges of the room. Whereas my poly floors are like dog hair magnets (even while vacuuming) and never look clean. Ever.

Things to consider.

It was slippery at first. Not really for the adults using the space, but for the tiny dog inhabitants it was a steep learning curve. It took a couple of weeks for them to get the hang of it, but eventually things wore down a bit and life has resumed. We could have added a runner or something, but our lives became the equivalent of your mother shouting, “Don’t run in the house!” until we all got used to it. That’s not to say there weren’t some pretty entertaining moments.

Final thoughts.

I like this floor finish a lot more than I thought I would. And I’m definitely going to use it again. Honestly, if I could do some things over I would refinish all of my floors with shellac. It’s natural and no VOC, easy to apply, it brings out the best in the wood, and it’s super easy to touch up.

When we do get around to remodeling the kitchen (it’s happening soon because my husband asked for a dishwasher for Christmas 2020), I’ll strip off the wax and shellac and give the floors a good sanding before I apply a couple coats of Boiled Linseed Oil and then about six coats of shellac. For this initial test, I decided that the clear shellac and light Maple color of the wood is a little too mid-century for an early 20th century home, so I’ll probably go with a blonde or custom tint of shellac instead of the clear finish.

Overall, this experiment has been a success. So much so that I’m refinishing the woodwork in the front of the house. But that’s a post for another day.


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