Shellac or Polyurethane floor finish?

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This is not a new problem. Most "old timers" faced the same predicament many years ago. We simply "varnished" or painted approximately one-half of the floor, being careful to provide a decent pathway to the "john". After several days, do the rest of the floor. Of course, you will always have the possibility of someone stepping on the outermost end. Therefore, we always made our "one-half" more like 60 to 70 percent. Been there, done that.
John
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Warren Weber wrote:

Penetrating finishes, like linseed oil, may look nice really nice on furniture, but they are WAY too thin for proper protection on a floor, especially a hall floor with a bathroom at one end (= high traffic). Oil finishes also provide very little resistance to water penetration so spilling water on the floor or even walking across it with wet feet could stain or damage it. Mopping would be catestrophic.
Evaporative finishes, such as lacquer or shellac, provide more protection than a penetrating oil, but still far too little for a high-traffic floor. Shellac has poor resistance to heat, water, and alcohol, and is not nearly as wear-resistant as polyurethane. Shellac forms a finish by essentially "drying out". The solvent (alcohol) evaporates leaving behind a dense layer of shellac particles. There is no chemical bond holding the particles together so the finish is not very wear resistant, and subsequent exposure to alcohol will re-dissolve the finish.
A reactive finish, such as polyurethane or various other varnishes, is what you'll need on a floor. In this case, the finish is not formed by simply evaporating the solvent. Rather, as the solvent evaporates, the varnish molecules react with oxygen and crosslink to each other, forming a new material which is impervious to the original solvent. Because the molecules are bonded chemically, not just physically, the resulting finish is MUCH more wear-resistant than evaporative finishes.
Water-based polyurethane is a little different than the reactive finish described above, but you can think of it as essentially the same. One advantage over oil-based poly is that the solvent content is much lower, so the fumes are weaker and safer. Another advantage is that drying time (not to be confused with curing time) is a lot faster than most oil-based varnishes, but you'll still need to wait several hours between coats and several days after the final coat before allowing heavy traffic. Another advantage (possibly, depending on what you want) is that the water-based poly is clearer in color and doesn't amber over time.
One big disadvantage to keep in mind with the water-based stuff is that it will raise the grain on your flooring. If you're looking to get a perfectly smooth finish, you'll have to either wet the floor ahead of time and sand off the raised grain or sand with fine-grit sandpaper after the first coat or two.
Good luck.
Josh
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Not even close, use the poly. I love shellac but it is not the best choice for a floor. It is not as protective or durable.
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Thank you all for your answers. Poly it is. I guess it will be the half and half in combination with a bridge.
Dave
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