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Desk Part 1: Safety First

I could have called this “Always wear gloves and goggles” or “Shellac is the bane of my existence” or “Sweat does not evaporate in 60% humidity” maybe “DO NOT! Sand in 90 degree heat”. I vote not doing anything in 90 degree heat anyway.

There is always a learning curve and these are the things I’ve learned in the first part of this project. If you missed Part Zero you can find it here

Where do I start? Oh yes, the bane of my existence. That lovely shellac. In case you don’t know what shellac is, here is the short version. Its excretions from a tiny bug dissolved in alcohol and painted onto furniture…. Yes I’m serious. Click here for the long version. Why? I have no earthly idea. It’s not particularly scratch resistant, it turns white when it gets wet, and god forbid you ever want to remove it. It’s an old (I don’t know how old) piece of furniture so I’m not surprised that it’s covered in shellac. Over the years shellac has fallen out of favor to be replaced by much more durable varnishes and polyurethanes. This piece however was caked in a very deep red/amber colored shellac and it has not been fun to remove it.

So about removing it. Sanding sort of works. For the most part though it just gums up your sand paper. And if you were paying attention yes, alcohol will dissolve it. However you have to work incredibly quickly and waste a lot of paper wiping it away, otherwise as the alcohol rapidly dries and you’ve essentially just reapplied the shellac. For the most part strippers aren’t particularly efficient on shellac. I managed to luck out. I have a stripper that I’ve used on a couple of other projects in the past that is absolutely marvelous. Its non-toxic and biodegradable. I have no idea what it’s made of but it even has a bizarrely pleasant smell.

Unlike latex paint its not going to strip it off in lovely sheets that just plop off nice and clean. Instead it turns the shellac into this strange gloop, it’s like blood and viscera… let’s just say always wear gloves unless you want to look like an axe murderer

So after attempting to sand the top and resorting to stripping the whole desk it turned out not as bad as I thought.

Look, I found a water ring hiding under all that shellac and stain.

I also found some pen scratches and what I can only figure are cigarette burns, but after lots of stripping and sanding I found some gorgeous wood underneath.

The poor broken foot received a prosthetic. This is where goggles come in. Always wear goggles when using a rotary tool. Tiny bits of resin in your eye are no fun and also will hinder your sight so that using your rotary tool to sculpt so everything is all nice and neat instead of doing it by hand becomes a moot point.

The before and after of the stripping process on the drawers.

The drawer that had the cracked veneer loosened but has already been re-glued. It’s thick veneer (about 3/16) which made it quite easy. My photographic evidence of the repair work failed me.

It’s looking rather vastly improved already. Now just to figure out what to do with it now that it’s naked.

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