Let's back up - pine, wainscoting - already up, rec-room.
Some questions need answers before the initial question
can be answered with any specifics.
Since wainscoting is on the wall, not the floor, what is
the concern about durability? Walls don't get a lot of
contact in use. And, unless someone sprays drinks,
say soft drink or booze, not much is going to get on
the wainscotting other than what's in the air over
extended periods of time (smoke - from cigarettes,
cigars, fireplace, candles, ...).
Is the rec-room in a basement, partially or totally below ground
level - or - above ground with no exterior walls?
Was the wainscoting applied over sheet rock/dry wall?
If a wall is an exterior wall, is there a vapor barrier and
insulation behind the wall?
Will there be furniture up against the wainscotting and
if so, upholstered or wood making possible contact with
Will there be kids leaning against the wall with their foot/
shoe on it? Will little kids be crashing toys into the
Is the wainscoting going to get a lot of direct exposure
Now to some general issues/points about shellac.
1. The solvent is alcohol - which ain't good to breathe
- and is flammable. Is there plenty of ventillation
for the rec-room? Is there any source of open flame,
or anything that might spark in that space? Durability
stops once a fire starts - and an explosion makes it
a mute point as well. Hot or BOOM is more of a concern
if you intend to spray on the finish.
2. Most of the "problems" with shellac are with the wax
that's in "normal" shellac, not the shellac itself. So
de-waxed shellac is far less prone to White Rings or
Blushing (white hazy areas in the finish).
3. Shellac, dewaxed or not, is a Hot Finish - each new
application "melts" the top of the previous application,
forming a continuous film - unlike a Cold Finish which
relies on a mechanical bond between LAYERS (with
Cold Finishes you must sand or steel wool between
coats to get the LAYERS to adhere to each other).
With Cold Finishes repairs require "feathering" to
disquise "witness rings" (think "grain pattern" when
sanding through growth rings on a board). So to
disguise a repair to a 6" long scratch in the finish,
you may have to "feather" sand 3 or four inches
all the way around the scratch. With shellac you
may not have to sand at all - wipe on more shellac
and be done with the repair.
4. Shellac, once cured, doesn't outgas. Most Cold
5. Shellac dries FAST - especially when "padded" on in
thin coats. How much dust is in the air in the rec
room? Dust nibs will show - a little or a lot depending.
The slower the finish is to dry the more dust nibs
to deal with.
6. There is a dewaxed shellac usually called Platina that's
almost "white" - very little yellow at all. Expensive
but if you want as little color change as possible, it
has all of the pluses of shellac.