These last three days or so I've been stripping wood you walk on. Not that I thought I could get my 2nd floor hall floor and the two flights of stairs stripped and refinished before my friend comes next Wednesday, but because if there's any-- any-- chance of getting my stair rail parts reinstalled before then, the surfaces next to them have to be done with the stripper. Ditto the trim in the 2nd floor hall. It would be really nice if I could get the jambs and heads back on my bedroom door so I can have a door, not to mention stops on all the doorways there. It's a phasing thing, right? I suppose some people can remount refinished trim and thereafter successfully go to work with solvents and caustic materials on the floor or stair treads next to it all, but I don't count myself in that lucky camp.
So I'm doing my best. After an all-nighter on Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, I got the three bottom treads and risers on the stairs to the 3rd floor stripped, using my customary technique: Paint drips come off with the heat gun and a scraper, old finish put to rout with the Western Wood Doctor Refinisher with #0 steel wool (#1 if the old finish is stubborn).
But when I did a little of the floor at the foot of the steps, I saw that was backwards. The boards are such a spotty mess, it was hard to determine where exactly the paint drips were. So I took it the other way around: Refinisher first, then the heat gun to remove whatever was left, then a little clean refinisher to wipe off the heat-smeared residue.
Tackled more of the floor itself Wednesday evening. And got an inspiration: If the refinisher took off the old brown finish, what would denatured alcohol do for me?
Actually, it wasn't my own inspiration. I've been reading old shellac posts on Gary's blog at This Old Crackhouse and in one of them he said something about testing old finishes with alcohol to see if they are shellac. But I hadn't done it, because Everyone Says shellac is no good for floors, and turns white if water is spilled on it, and this floor has been exposed the last three years and nothing has fazed it. So it couldn't be shellac, correct?
Who cares? Try the alcohol anyway.
O rapture, o joy! The original finish from the 1910s was shellac! I could use the cheaper denatured alcohol for my initial finish and gunk removal, and save the $29 a gallon refinisher for Step 3, after the heat gun!
Not only is this more efficient, I bask in the satisfying glow that comes from feeling vindicated in my plans to lay down dissolved bug spit on my wood floor and stair treads!
Only worked on those parts of the hall floor that were next to trim I hope to get a coat or two of finish on by next week. Looks very promising, nevertheless. Even with the old carpet staple holes.
Followed up the performance with another all-nighter last night. Got the stairs down to the 1st floor entirely stripped, using the same procedure. And stuck pieces of cardboard on the treads with painter's tape to protect them until the new finish goes on.
That definitely isn't happening until after Labor Day. Before then I've got a friend to entertain and a Welsh-American convention to attend downtown. It's not a matter of slapping the new shellac down between now and next week: the floorboards and stair treads need sanding. Nothing radical, nothing that will obliterate their Character; no, just enough so one can walk across them in stocking feet and not pick up splinters in the attempt. And before that happens, I have to figure out what to do with all the big-headed nails some past owner drove in here and there, presumably to keep the boards from squeaking. I assume they're there for a purpose, and some sort of fastener is needed in these places. But I'd rather the current ones not remain to flaunt their 5/16" heads in my nice new finish. Besides, nail heads are killers on sandpaper.
Despite the uncertainty on what to do (dig the old nails out? Countersink them and fill the holes? And what to replace them with, if anything?), it's still nice to see all that old pine free from the grotty old finish. It's better than nice, it's a pleasure and a joy.