on finishing unfinished heart pine flooring

stromJuly 27, 2013

I am a homeowner who is just learning about floor finishing. I've learned a ton by reading threads on this forum!
The flooring in question is 100 year old heart pine (we are in NC). I am in the process of taking up all the flooring that was over top of these pine tongue-and-groove boards, and wish to refinish them. They look to be in very good shape. The floor seems to have been covered in rugs or floor coverings of some kind while the pine boards were still in use. Where the (former) floor coverings were, the wood is completely unfinished. Outside of these unfinished rectangular areas, the floor was painted with a coat of dark red paint.

First, how concerned do I need to be about getting the painted and non-painted wood boards to match after stripping the paint off of the painted areas and then sanding the floor?
Second, is there a best-practice for sanding these heart pine floors, so that I can make sure they don't get screwed up? I've read horror stories of drum sanders and pine floors. Would like to sand as lightly as possible.
And finally, I am trying to choose between Waterlox and Rubio Monocoat. Any pointers/preferences/comparisons from those with experience? (we have no kids or dogs; i'd rather not use poly)
Thank you.

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Any chance its not paint and is shellac which comes in various dark reds/ browns. On my monitor it looks more brown with grain showing through but that may just be where its worn.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2013 at 2:08PM
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It is brownish-red -- I believe there is a test you can do for shellac; will look that up. do you think it will make a difference in the post-stripped and sanded look of the wood if it is indeed shellac instead of paint?

    Bookmark   July 27, 2013 at 9:45PM
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Shellac's solvent is denatured alcohol (or, um, real alcohol if that's handier.) If that doesn't work try mineral spirits or turp - it might just be old-fashioned varnish. Or you can have both, in serial layers. Oh, the joys of old houses!

Either way, you'll know pretty quickly because the paper towel you rub the solvent on with will get sticky when you have a match between the product and the solvent. Do the tests in an out-of-the-way spot, naturally.

It would be fab if it's shellac as it's much easier to lift than paint. The issue with paint is that it gets deep in the grain and between the boards and trying to sand down below it for total removal can result in sanding too deep.

Believe it or not some of us actually still use shellac on floors. It has many adavantages: it's natural (it's made from insect secretions, which may or may not cheer you up!); it's almost completely reversible (as you will find if that's shellac on your floors, you'll bless who ever put it down); and it's touch-up-able as new coats actually dissolve the coat below.

It is uncommon now and many (trades)people never having worked with it consider it too tricky to apply so there is much recommendation against it. It is not as durable as poly, though, and it is particularly vulnerable to water. (Though you can wax it - with well-buffed paste wax - to increase its resistance to water. It's very old-fashioned. I don't think it's as fouly stinky as poly. I like the softer, less plastic-y look to it, especially when waxed. It probably takes longer to apply (more coats) than slapping on some poly, which may be partly why it fell out of favor.

Casey usually chimes with good advice about buying it dry and recommends not buying it at big box stores because their stuff is not fresh. One buys the shellac flakes in various tints and mixes with alcohol in situ.

I think it is harder to apply when it is very hot and humid. At least I have more problems with uneven drying which can lead to a cloudiness. (Not fatal, but requiring another coat.)

Try Googling about this. If you get beyond the anti-shellac propaganda, you'll find info and Youtubes of people who have done it.



    Bookmark   July 28, 2013 at 2:08AM
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Circus Peanut

If you're considering Rubio, also look into OSMO, which is a similar German brand beloved by a number of users on this forum. Try googling 'Osmo' and 'Gardenweb' - somewhere in these forums are a number of threads with great photos of rehabbed older oil-finished floors. I recall poring over them when I was trying to decide my own finish (we ultimately went with Waterlox, which was lovely but insanely smelly and not sure I'd recommend).

    Bookmark   July 29, 2013 at 6:57AM
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will definitely explore OSMO and shellac. thanks so much for that info. i am glad to know i have many other options besides for poly!

    Bookmark   July 29, 2013 at 4:33PM
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Hi there, I'm wondering what you ended up going with as I am refinishing similar floors. I love Rubio monocoat (the "smoke" finish is amazing!), but when we tested a piece it did not turn out like we expected. We discovered that our floors are heart pine and Rubio does not do well on them due to the sap in the wood. I'm hoping you found this to be wrong and used Rubio on your heart pine... :-)

    Bookmark   July 3, 2014 at 10:23AM
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Hi jfrzr,
Well I hate to say it but I've not yet finished the floors.
Long story, but we had to do some structural work under the house, so I took the floorboards up, treated them with Bora-Care, and now they are sitting in the garage waiting to be re-installed.
I did a bunch of research on floor finishes though, and right now I'm leaning towards using Pallman Magic Oil.
So maybe if someone reads this thread and has any experience with Pallman they can share it!
Jfrzr did you use the Rubio with the 'smoke' finish or just the clear?

    Bookmark   July 17, 2014 at 9:07PM
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