New (Old) home owner, Flooring help

allen258April 13, 2013

Just finished closing on our 1906 farmhouse. Its leading in at 2600 sq ft so we have some work ahead of us. My first concern is the floors. Inspector says the floors are all oak floors throughout the house even under the carpet. I want to refinish the floors, but I do not want them to lose their older feel. It was suggested that I just sand them down and refinish them. I don't want to do this unless necessary. I bought this house for its age. Suggestions? I was thinking about cleaning and maybe going with Waterlox or some shellac with some wax. I dont think the floors are in bad enough shape to have to sand right now. This will definitely be a huge project. I will keep everyone updated.

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Congrats on your house purchase!

Even if the floors could conceivably wait a while, it might make sense to have them done before you move in.

I have a friend who bought a house of similar age and style, and she reasoned that the expense was worth it up front to save the massive disruption to their lives that floor refinishing throughout would cause at a later date once they were all moved in and comfy. She had 3 kids, though, so I'm sure that was a big factor. :)

Best of luck!!

    Bookmark   April 13, 2013 at 9:47AM
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Thanks, thats one of the major reasons i want to do it upfront. I do not want to wait and then have to move my life around it. I figured I could work around stuff like painting the walls, where the floors would be a pain.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2013 at 10:00AM
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We do, among our restoration work, floor refinishing not involving drum sanding. We do a couple of historic floors a year. The one we did last week we found was shellac, so it was screened with 120 grit and re-shellacked. It had last been finished 30 years ago, and there were very deep gouges from dog claws into the yellow pine. The landlord was ok with them not looking brand new, as he is also against sanding floors n old houses.
I'd say that your oak is probably in better surface shape than the pine was, but it does appear to have some stains. Be advised that not even a very deep sanding will reliably be able to get to the bottom of dark stains on oak wood, and you can't know before you begin how much you will get out.
I would deep-clean the floor to strip any old wax and accretions (nothing caustic or containing ammonia, however), then rent a "floor maintainer" which is one of those huge buffers. Use 100 and 120 grit screens; these go on the buffer using a white screening pad (like a huge round thick 3M scrubbie).
We used one coat of dewaxed garnet shellac to give some color back to the floor in the bare spots and tie everything together color-wise. Then several coats of dewaxed
"Seacoat" shellac for the top coats.
If you ordered fresh-mixed shellac you could use a wax-containing, less refined shellac, which can subsequently be buffed to a very pretty finish, but I would avoid canned amber or clear shellac off the shelf in a store, it just isn't liable to be fresh, which limits its ability to ever dry to a hard finish.
Shellac is no-VOC, non-toxic, dries very fast, can always be touched up without sanding down, and is as green a product as you are liable to encounter; it comes from bugs!

    Bookmark   April 13, 2013 at 10:30AM
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Thank for the advice. That sounds just like what I would like to do. I do not mind if some of the stains are still there. it is part of the house. No one carries dewaxed shellac around me. I know its a tough answer, but how much flakes would I need for a given area? All the information I find is about the amount I need to finish a piece of furniture. This is a slightly larger project haha. And this "Seacoat"? Is this anything like the seal coat shellac? That is all I have been able to find so far. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2013 at 11:46AM
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I want to refinish the floors, but I do not want them to lose their older feel. It was suggested that I just sand them down and refinish them. I don't want to do this unless necessary. I bought this house for its age.

There are several levels of "sanding" from "bring in the big drum sander and remove the top 1/2 inch and make it look painfully new" to a "sand enough to get the old finish off so the new will stick, but leave the dings and character and a few stains".

You would probably like the effects of "screening". It uses flat sanding pads (either one big square one or several small round ones). Machines can be rented from mots home improvement stores.

Then follow with VelvetOil or Waterlox several coats. They can be retouched easily.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2013 at 2:23PM
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Since you want to maintain the look of the house, which I am all for, I'd hesitate to even screen them...thoroughly clean the floors, and do a shellac coat or two, then wax and buff.

The very worst that can happen with this, is you decide to do a screening afterward--once you screen at the beginning, you are already removing some of the patina which can't be repaired.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2013 at 2:58AM
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Sophie Wheeler

Be sure you understand the limitations and maintenance associated with the finishes under discussion. Limited water and abrasion resistance are only two of the issues here. Waxing and buffing (and eventually stripping that wax and reapplying) are others. I personally wouldn't ever want shellac on floors. It's enough of a PIA to endure on furniture. I'd prefer the tung oil mixtures as they are harder and more moisture resistant, while still providing touch up capability.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2013 at 9:28AM
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thanks for all the advice. Now I just have to convince the girl what to do. I think after reading a lot of other projects, I am going to fix up the walls and get some primer on them before starting this project. It is nice that we do not have to move in yet, so we are able to get some of the major projects done first. The girl is leaning towards staining the floor a dark color as that is her dream. Any suggestions on how this would look with the trim already in the house? I just dont know if dark floors would go good with the trim. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 4:52AM
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"bring in the big drum sander and remove the top 1/2 inch and make it look painfully new"

Who would ever remove `1/2 inc?

That would be down to the tongues and most 3/4 inch thick flooring.

Usually about 1/16 of an inch is adequate.
Maybe 1/8 inch if there is deep staining like motor oil over a large area.

Anything more tan that in a localized area you pull a few strips and replace them instead of sanding the whole floor down.

Shellac is a terrible floor finish.
It will spot from the smallest amount of water.

A single drop will make a white spot ad soften the shellac.

the EPA has driven most of the varnishes for flors off the market.

We are pretty much stuck with polyurethane finishes now.

The oil based ones wear better, and have the slight yellow tint of classic varnish.

The water based polyurethanes do not have a yellow tint (but they sell coloring to make them match classic varnish and be slightly yellow).
Some of the higher end water based ones are not bad, but still rarely as good as the oil.

None are as good as the old solvent based varnishes.

This post was edited by brickeyee on Tue, Apr 16, 13 at 13:08

    Bookmark   April 16, 2013 at 1:02PM
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"bring in the big drum sander and remove the top 1/2 inch and make it look painfully new"

Who would ever remove `1/2 inc?

I've seen them do it ... exposing the tongue on the flooring.

Needless to say the homeowner was not pleased.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 9:33AM
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About the dark stain: Lots of us "girls" like that deep, rich color. However, many of us have learned that lint, pet hair, leaves, dust balls, water spots (everything) show(s) on dark wood floors. It is only pretty for the ten minutes after you mop it! I would NOT do dark floors again.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2013 at 12:23PM
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What above poster said - plus you really do run the risk of ... well, maybe "destroying" your floors is too strong a word but the thing is, a black or dark stain can really penetrate so the next person who has to refinish the floors (and hey, it might be YOU) may find some awful dark splotches and uneven color that would require a deeper sanding to remove, or you may find youd have to stain again to conceal the discolorations. Espresso wood stains will inevitably go out of style again (everything does eventually) and then where will you be? If it was just some beat up old fir floor (like mine!) on its last sanding I'd say go for it, but this is OAK and well cared for, it should last forever.... or close to it!

What finish is on there now? Just some good deep cleaning/light screening to smooth out the surface is going to do wonders. Even if you dont use oil or shellac as the final coat it cant be beat for color and bringing out the depth of the grain. (There's another argument for not using any stain - that would mask/conceal the grain - you might ask the "girl" to look at a test sample so she understands just how beautiful and how rich in color antique oak can be. Once you put that heavy dark stuff on there is no going back, ever! .).

This post was edited by kashka_kat on Thu, Apr 18, 13 at 12:57

    Bookmark   April 18, 2013 at 12:54PM
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PS - Id like to ask the forum what yall might suggest for how to wash/deep clean old wood floors like this prior to refinishing. I've used ammonia/hot water with a scrub brush successfully on my old beat up fir floors but was reluctant to suggest that to the OP because his are so much nicer and I wouldnt want to be responsible for ruining them! Also rubbing alcohol with scrubbie pad for getting off what was left of old shellac.

This post was edited by kashka_kat on Thu, Apr 18, 13 at 13:02

    Bookmark   April 18, 2013 at 1:00PM
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Ammonia will turn oak black -- do not use it!

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 3:11PM
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After vacuuming, I used mild soap and water, applied with a mop, then a floor scrubber, section by section, then wiped up the sludge with old towels.

Each section was as deep as I could scrub easily, across the room, with a helper sloshing on the soapy water and another helper wiping up behind me with the towels.

That got the dirt off ... then I went around the floor with a scraper and scrub brush and plastic scrubbie and removed the bits that were not water soluble.

Tedious PITA, but it left the floor clean. A light scuff sanding and a couple coats of oil-based floor finish left it looking like it had been reasonably well maintained for all of its life.

Oak naturally turns a dark reddish brown ... staining it that fashionable "java" from pottery barn will make it look like you are faking an old floor. And it will clash with the woodwork.

And definitely do NOT use ammonia. It reacts with the tannins and leaves black splotches.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2013 at 6:44PM
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