The Cross House

A Kenny Resurrection

Last month, Kenny, a reader of this blog, contacted me. He had a question.

“I have two days available in January, and would love to volunteer to help with something at the Cross House. Do you have a small project for me?”

Why yes. I did have something which, just the previous day, I had been thinking about: It would be great if the round bedroom mantel was restored.


The mantel. It doesn’t look bad in the image but…


…close acquaintance reveals a badly alligatored finish. Oh, the horror.


EEK! This is the result of old shellac. The horror!


Removing the overmantel revealed the pristine original finish. It is notably lighter, and with no alligator finish.


Denatured alcohol quickly dissolves the ancient shellac and beauty is revealed.


Kenny, hard at work.


Again, the before.


And the astonishing after. Wow. Wow!


Tomorrow, Kenny will work on the overmantel. I am breathless with anticipation.


Last July, Kenny gifted the Cross House with a gorgeous clock for the parlor of the Cross House.


And today, while we had lunch, we discovered that we had something unusual in common (besides a love for old houses). We are both Titanic fanatics! Squee!




14 Responses to A Kenny Resurrection

  1. It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful the afters are when the shellac is cleaned up. Nicely done Kenny. There seems to be a mountain of woodwork need to be restored.

  2. Although it is hard to tell if their are visible cross grain rays in the wood from the photo, it very much looks like you have a mantel made with quarter sawn oak like the banister on the grand stair.

  3. I always thought that people a century ago preferred very dark stained wood in nearly an ebony colour. Maybe it wasn’t so. Maybe it’s only the aged shellac that misled me to that impression! The lighter colour showing the grain is so fascinating!
    When you’ve cleaned it do you apply fresh shellac to be period correct? I heard that it’s very labour intensive…

      • I agree about the myth! Many years ago, I was refinishing an old dresser that had been my dad’s. I asked my grandmother about the piece (she had bought it at a farm auction in the 20’s for $18!). Why was it stained so dark? Grandma said that “in the old days” people put an annual coat of shellac on furniture to protect the surface—and she didn’t think many people dusted it first like her family did!😁

  4. I love when you pulled off some of he original details and showed how the wood was finished originally.

    It is great proof to show people, that Victorian homes were not dark dank but light and colorful.

  5. I have an old door with similar alligator-ing over top of a faux grain finish. About 7 years ago I put a coat of polyurethane on it.

    Any thoughts on removing the poly and the shellack without ruining the faux finish?

    • There are several things that you could try. I would first try with a cabinet scraper. Here is a link to a scraper set on Amazon.

      You can go online to learn the proper way to sharpen a cabinet scraper. Briefly, after honing a square edge all around. A burnishing tool held firmly at a slight angle from the surface of the edge and run along the length of the edge creates a slight burr because you are pushing down on the scraper and the very edge gets pressed slightly outward. You can feel the burr better than you can see it. Once the scraper is sharpened, you drag it along your surface scraping the poly coat off. The idea is to experiment with the pressure so that the top coat comes off without penetrating to the faux grain level. The scraper gets held nearly perpendicular to the surface while working. You can start along an edge of the wood you are trying to scrape, and/or try a rounded scraper on the flat surface. If you press too hard, you will go through your original faux finish. If this doesn’t produce good results, You can sand through using wet or dry sand paper with paint thinner as a lubricant. With this technique, you sand a little at a time, regularly wetting the surface and the paper, and wiping off the wet dirt and polyurethane dust. Again start slowly until you have a feel for how much sanding is required. Neither of these are guaranteed to work, but both easily could if done right. Some people get the right touch immediately and others never do. Test it somewhere that one is unlikely to see.

      Good luck

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