Michael Dresdner

straight talk about wood finishing

Circa 1920

Q: I have a circa 1920 chiffarobe I would like to refinish. I stripped it with alcohol and sanded to 220. I have never been very successful with shellac. What would you suggest for a finish what would give a reasonable look and protection?
A: What I would suggest is what it had originally, and if the finish came off with alcohol, that pretty much confirms it was shellac. Since you have, as you say, never been very successful with it, you have three obvious choices; learn to use it (it’s actually a very easy finish to use, if someone shows you the ropes), take it to someone else to finish, or apply a non-original finish. If you choose a non-original finish, it should, of course, be any finish you do have success with. In case you were concerned with period authenticity, the other finishes in common use for furniture in the 1920’s were oil varnishes and nitrocellulose lacquer.