Session Not as Lame as All That

In holiday season or any season, there's always the urge to spruce up the old house, and nothing shows how much you care like a brand-new coat of shellac. Here at the Consumer Retorts test labs, we recently had the chance to put one highly touted brand of shellac through its paces -- and the results were quite a surprise.

Barack Shellac hit the market to great fanfare in early November, the latest entry in the burgeoning Do-It-Yourself home-repair category. Backed by a multi-million-dollar ad campaign from household giant GOP MegaSlam, Barack Shellac came out of the chute with "glowing" notices, to say the least.

The early word: Here's a shellacking you won't find lacking. Our own findings: Don't be so sure.

There are many measures of a quality shellac -- an expensive multimedia rollout isn't among them. Here at Consumer Retorts, we pride ourselves on looking beyond the hype; we're looking for performance. When rating shellacs, we look at shine, of course, and at ease of application. But we also look for durability. A shellacking that wears off quickly is a bad value, whatever the price. Judged by that standard, Barack Shellac just didn't measure up.

We gave our test floors a standard coating of shellac on November 2, then subjected each of them to the kind of foot traffic commonly found around the house (or even the Senate) as the holidays approach. The initial indications were good. Reflection was clear, with only minor distortion, and the overall combination of tackiness and "slippery-ness" at the surface meant that dramatic high-speed maneuvers were out of the question. To that point, everything was just as MegaSlam's CEO Mitch McConnell had promised. But within weeks, change was in the air -- and on the floor.

By mid-December, the supposedly long-term effects of the November shellacking were already starting to wear off. Our judges noticed multiple bare spots, and there were whole areas with no sign of shellac at all. Far from moving with caution, our volunteer pedestrians were soon crossing the floor at higher speeds than they had dared to employ in the days and weeks before the shellacking.

These results hardly lived up to the manufacturer's claims. But because of GOP MegaSlam's long reputation in the floor-covering field (see, for instance, the Kerry Doormat, one of our 2004 Slick Picks), we bent over backward trying to keep an open mind. It was the lame ducks that clinched it for us.

In light of our initial test results, we wondered whether we had simply chosen a particularly well-muscled group of volunteer pedestrians -- men and women strong enough to overcome the normal constraints of a fresh coat of shellac. So we brought in the ducks.

They were weak. They were hobbled. They were underfed and overstressed. Not one of them had been airborne in months. Surely, if Barack Shellac was at all like the claims that had been made for it, these ducks would be incapable of doing anything. They would simply slip and slide, or stick helplessly to the floor, until we shipped them back home. That's not what happened.

Instead, the lame ducks took flight. A few of them even soared, circling over our test floors for hour after hour, day after day. As performance art, it was stunning. As product performance? Not so much. We give Barack Shellac a failing grade.

Perhaps they can re-market it as an energy drink.

Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at