fir floors

lisa98112August 24, 2005

I apologize if this posts twice, but I don't see my original post from Monday yet.

Our 1915 Craftsman has Douglas Fir wood floors in the bathrooms and the kitchen. In the kitchen, it was under carpet, pad, plywood, and asphalt with newspaper. The refinisher said he could do them, but it may not look good. My other concern is that it is a softer wood, like pine and may not wear well in a higher traffic room.

If you were me would you refinish the floor or tile over it? We are leaning towards slate if we tile. We currently don't have dogs or children so we'd be more gentle than the average homeowner on the floor.

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Douglas fir from a 90-year old house is old growth wood and is quite tough, and would be very beautiful if refinished properly. If there is any way to restore these floors, do it. Putting tile over this is something you will regret. Also, if you ever think you'll move, these floors will be a significant plus for a buyer. Given the age of the house, the wood is probably quite thick. I'd get an opinion from another refinisher. Someone competent should be able to make these floors look great.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2005 at 10:54PM
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I have fir floors in part of my 160+ year old house. Yes, it has worn, a bit, but not objectionally so. At the threshold of the main (functional) entrance dooor for the farm the floor has worn down some right in the center of the path. This is not the formal entrance, but where everybody has been walking in and out for such a long time; the wear pattern is not something that worries me. In fact to my mind, it adds a charm and warmth that I really appreciate.

I didn't want my floors refinished, so I just cleaned them up by stiff washing and scraping and paint-splatter removal. I think they look fine without any finish, except for an occasional coat of paste wax and periodic washing/stripping to refresh them.

The fir floor is in my kitchen where we also have our main house-heating wood stove with all of its mess and wear, along with being the entry route for everybody, and every creature. And creatures are a big part of life here; aside from cats and dogs, from time to time we may also have chicks or the odd orphan lamb in a pen on the floor, so believe me, my kitchen floor gets a work out!

My take on floors is always to see if you can work with what you have without having to do a resanding which will completely level the floor, expose new wood and remove all evidence of the life of the house. I think modern expanses of perfectly smooth, even, and shiny floors are a mid-20th c. aesthetic. In older houses I prefer to see something more appropriate to the age and life of the structure.

We often get questions about refinishing floors on this forum. We also get people coming here asking about how to get or whether to pay extra to get a floor with "patination". That patination is the very thing that others are paying good money to have sanded off!

Owning an old home is always a trade-off in terms on where to invest financial resources, so I'm always looking for ways that preserve the materials and patterns of life and also save money. Cleaning, not sanding down and refinishing your floors is one way of doing exactly that. It is also reversible so if someone later doesn't like your choice, nothing is lost.

Good luck!


    Bookmark   August 25, 2005 at 1:25PM
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Well, the third sub came today and said he could do it. He just warned that it would look rustic, and showed us pictures of a similar project he did to give us a good idea of what "rustic" means. The color isn't uniform and you can see some knots and scratches, but that's totally fine with us. Now we just have to see what his bid comes in at to see if we can afford him.

They need to be sanded some to get rid of the black asphalt type stuff and layer of newspaper the PO put under the plywood. We also have a bathroom with flooring in the same condition that we're trying to save. Might want to seal that though to avoid water damage.

Thanks for your input. Our families and friends don't understand why we would want wood floors in a kitchen or bath. I just think they are so much warmer (both physically and asthetically) than tile. And easier to clean and maintain.

Now that this is decided, I can go ahead and order my cabinets.

    Bookmark   August 26, 2005 at 11:57PM
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I have old fir floors throughout my house and when I recently moved the kitchen to a new addition, I was really happy to no longer have a kitchen with a fir floor. I found that the working part of the kitchen got very messy very quickly. I would recommend that you have a large rug in the working part of the kitchen. The table area was a mess from the chairs even though I had felt pads on them - I couldn't keep up with replacing them. The new kitchen has an oak floor. The old kitchen became the dining room. I refinished the floor and replaced some of the boards in the old kitchen work area with boards I salvaged from a closet. The floor looks great but I made sure to get a large area rug (multicolored that goes with all the food groups) for under the table and chairs.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2005 at 9:04PM
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Fir floors usually are referring to douglas fir, which is actually harder than most hardwoods, expecially after it ages. (Other kinds of fir are softer, though still harder than pine.) Doug fir does have a distinct 2 color grain, but not necessarily a rustic look. My daughter took off the ugly vinyl a previous owner put in her kitchen (1920s tudor style bungalow), and then just let the wood stay exposed for a couple of years. By that time it was all the same color, and she just sanded lightly and polyed it. Looks really nice.

Or, you can stain it and skip the part about leaving it exposed for two years. I've done that.

Dayle Ann

    Bookmark   September 2, 2005 at 8:12PM
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We refinished the Douglas fir floors in our 1918 farmhouse and I think they are one of the best parts of our house! They certainly get a lot of comments from visitors, many of which have no idea from whence they came. Like many of you, the floors were covered with layers of scabby carpeting, grody crumbling linoleum, and thick black advesive. I'm a firm believer in "patina" and "character". I always understood that I would still see the effects of its many years after cleaning, sanding, and refinishing.

I spent time at the house the day that the crew was here sanding and I was literally moved to tears to see what was unfolding before my eyes. I saw beautiful fresh yellow wood exposed from under thick black adhesive. The smell of newly exposed wood from boards that had been in this house for over 85 years is something I can still recall. I almost felt as if I was observing something being born (or reborn in this case) and imagined the house heaving a huge a sigh of relief as it inhaled much deserved fresh air.

Our floors did not have knots, but there is certainly a variation in color from board to board (and in many cases within the same board) from the grain of Douglas fir. We did not add stain to the floor after sanding, but proceeded directly to a polyurethane finish (:ducks to avoid being hit by objects thrown by anti-poly posters:). The overall tone of the floor tends to be medium--it's not light (like unstained maple) and its not dark (like aged cherry). It's must be Baby Bear's floor--it's just right! And it looks great against the refinished southern yellow pine woodwork.

Now, don't be mistaken in thinking that the floors look new, because they don't. There are rows of small holes where tacking strips penetrated the wood, small burn marks from who knows what, and all manor of marks, discolorations, gouges, and such that only make me LOVE the result even more! This is an old house--we aren't here to erase its history, we are only hoping to increase its longevity.

Your refinishing project may already be well underway or even completed, but I hope your results are just as satisfying and that you embrace its imperfections as being the perfect fit to an old home!

    Bookmark   September 7, 2005 at 12:24PM
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I live in a house built in the 1940's, with beautiful hardwood floors. Over the last several years my office got so cluttered with so many pictures splattered over the walls, I decided it was time for a total overhaul. I took everything out (find that I can throw things out more easily when I tajke itout of the room first).

Anyhow my wife and I struggled with what to do with the floor which had been bare and covered with scratches, black tar like splotches and was darker on the edges then the middle. A friend of mne had just done his 100 year old floor himself by the book, with the full sanding, and made it smooth as it could be. When I started my floor another friend told me to do the same, to get it "as smooth as possible, ect..

So I started out using a 3x21 belt sander which I borrowed using a 50 grit paper. I was half done with it and I liked way it looked ever though it was not anything close to smooth. My friend loked at it and said "so you are going to smooth it all off right?"

When I went to start again the next day I did another light sanding, but It was still uneven everywhere, with dark and light spots, (especially near a window where the rain came in and curved tha wood. I realized that I would need a full fledged sander to make it as smooth as his floor.

That's when (with a very sore sholder) I stopped, and wondered how it would look if I just stopped and polyed it.

Here's a link to a few pixs of the floor before and after the poly.

I realized it has a great rustic look that reflected the age of the house, and am so glad I didnt go the full route with a perfectly even floor. Seeing the comments here made me feel better that I didn't want that "new floor" look. I know some dont like the polyed look , but I felt it helped make the floor color more even and gave it a warmer look.

Thanks for a great message board! Any feedback would be apprec!

- Pete

Here is a link that might be useful: Sanded Floor before and after

    Bookmark   October 18, 2007 at 1:00PM
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Our 100 year old floors are a soft fir. In my husband's office I can tell where he rolls his chair by the indentations in the wood. That said, we love the floors. When we redid the bathroom, we planed the floors down, sanded and put two coats of spar varnish on them. They are beautiful. I expect to see dings and knots on an old floor - that is the beauty of them. It is easy to check the hardness of the floor, just run a pencil over them. If you decide to tile over them, you will probably need to add a subfloor for stability.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2007 at 4:10PM
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Tile was a popular floor in Craftsman kitchens. It was thought more hygenic and easier on the housewife. I've never heard of slate being used in the kitchen of an ordinary Craftsman home but slate was a popular floor in Crafstman sun rooms, conservatories, and for terraces. It would be no stretch of the Craftsman ethos to have slate in your kitchen.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2007 at 4:47AM
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We live in a 1929 bungalow in Colorado. The original floors are fir (probably douglas fir, since that is a native wood.) We have been through THREE carpets because refinishing the original floors looked so daunting to those of us born without the handyman gene. There are nicks and gouges in the floor and areas of gray filler smeared on the floor. We are not after perfection, and love the nicks, gouges, and history represented by the rustic look of the floor. We have two dogs, a Scottish Terrier and a "Schnorgie" (corgie/schnauzer mix) as well as two cats. If we do have the original fir floors refinished, what effect will the pitter patter of little animal feet have on the floor? Is there anyone out there who has refinished vintage fir floors who is also an animal lover?

    Bookmark   August 9, 2008 at 2:03PM
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vek2mjs... I have soft fir floors in my home in FL. I have had the floors refinished twice. The first time the floor guy stained the floor separately then applied several coats of sealer. The second time it was stained with Minwax polyshades followed by a coat of sealer.

With the numerous dogs and cats we have had over the years (currently 4 cats), the floor that was stained separately did not show as many scratches as the current finsh that was done with polyshades. Applying the stain separately soaks into the wood - polyshade just adds color to the surface.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2008 at 3:27PM
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I have douglas fir floors in the upper level of my bungalow. One thing I will mention is that vintage df develops a nice reddish patina that is lost if you sand it. If you can refinish the floors w/p sanding this would retain the patina and solve the blotchy color problem that comes with staining this type of wood. Ditto the comments about the old growth being quite hard. Mine has no finish on it and has survivied 80+ yrs intact :-)

    Bookmark   December 9, 2008 at 11:37PM
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athomedads, are you sure your floors aren't oak? a couple of the planks had the sideways sparkly-iridescent radiating rays (don't know how else to describe them)that I associate with quartersawn oak. Whatever it is, you done AWESOME! (OP, sorry for the hijack, I tried to keep it brief).

    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 12:07PM
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I have to agree with slateberry51--Pete's (athomedads) floor looks like oak to me. It looks like the floor in one my rooms.

And to further agree with slateberry51, that floor looks AWESOME. :-) You did a fabulous job.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2008 at 12:39PM
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I am picking up the sander to do our living room floor today. The floor is fir and approximately 100 years old. The stone house is about 200 years old and has given us fits when trying to level and hand sheet rock. Rock is done, taped, mudded and sanded. The floor needed patching. We took out a wall that was not original and where the wall and floor grates were pieced in glued hardwood boards that had the same width as the tongue and groove. I have been researching tips on sanding and one suggestion was to sand the 1st pass at a diagonal since the floor boards are heavily cupped. Has anyone done this? Second, the floor splinters a lot, is this going to be a problem when sanding? The plan is to poly with Varathane waterbased. Was recommended a few times on-line. Will post pics. Hope to get a response.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2009 at 1:08PM
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swalgin - you should start a new post for your topic.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 1:54PM
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Have you lived in this house long enough to know if the cupping is seasonal or permanent? Before sanding, you really want to make sure that you have any moisture or humidity problems solved. It doesn't do much good to go through all the work of refinishing if there is an underlying problem that is going to reappear seasonally.

As for the diagonal sanding, I've seen people do it but haven't done it myself. They made a rough pass to level and then moved on to normal sanding with the grain.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2009 at 2:43PM
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i have recently acquired a small lot of old growth doug fir flooring w/clear vertical grain. the wood was reclaimed between 1905 and 1920. the tighter growth rings comes from the heartwood. the wood must have at least 9 growth rings per inch to be old growth. this is very rare, beautiful and valuable wood. a lot of it goes the china or japan and can sell for $45 per square foot or more. Don't cover it up.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2011 at 3:13PM
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**They need to be sanded some to get rid of the black asphalt type stuff and layer of newspaper the PO put under the plywood.**

BE CAREFUL. That "black asphalt type stuff" might be asbestos-containing adhesive put down under some previous flooring. If it is asbestos--and you can scrape some up and have it tested for about $20--you ABSOLUTELY MUST NOT sand it. Sanding it puts asbestos dust in the air and all over your house. You and your family then breathe asbestos. Not good.

From what I understand, you can remove asbestos-containing adhesive from wood by using a wallpaper steamer very carefully on your floor. You steam a small area, scrape it up and wipe the goo onto a rag which you then throw in the trash, and continue until the whole floor is clean. Doing only a small area at a time prevents you from letting water (from the steam) sit on your wood floor.

It might not be asbestos at all, but you should test it to be sure so you know how best to remove it.

    Bookmark   January 8, 2011 at 5:11PM
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In refinishing the floors of our house, my husband tried the diagonal method. It did work well for evening out. And those boards are incredibly thick, so don't worry about taking too much off. The floor in the kitchen had also been covered with layers of (asbestos) linoleum over the years, which we also removed. As homeowners, you can remove asbestos from your home without issue or testing. If you decide to scrape, then wet the floor with 50/50 dish soap and water. As long as the particles don't become airborne, they're of little health risk. And while we're on the subject, asbestosis is not caused by a couple home improvement projects, but a lifetime of working with insulation or in shipyards coupled with smoking for many years. Just double bag the remains and take them to the dump.

Our kitchen floors look significantly more rustic than the lovely narrow clear Douglas fir in the living areas, but I find them more aesthetically "warm" than tile. In addition to the added savings of not having to tile! We used an oil based poly, which has a honey colored tone to it, and it highlighted any areas of imperfection with sanding. I have heard that the water based poly is more clear and thus hides sanding sins more readily. Best of luck!

    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 3:15AM
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I didn't read this thread but I would like to say that the sanding of floors is a professional task and should never be attempted by amateurs under any circumstances. Trust me, I know what I am talking about.

    Bookmark   January 13, 2011 at 8:47PM
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This post is old, but I too have old Douglas Fir flooring that we just refinished in our 1940's house.

Our Fir is in the Dining Room, hallway and downstairs bedroom. We did the hallway a few years ago - the DR and hall had carpet over bright orange tiles that were tarred down by a previous owner in the 1960's.

We used paint stripper to remove the tar and then sanded the floor (hand sander in the hall years ago; a rented stand-up belt sander in the DR).

Most floor refinishers REFUSED to sand down the tar, so we did it ourselves. It left a lot of stains, and in the DR there were also stains from pet accidents over the years and stains left from the carpet tacks.

We stained it English Chestnut and then Tung Oiled it (8 coats). I think the hallway only had one coat of stain, but the dogs' claws scuffed it really bad over the years, and since the DR was so badly stained in spots, I just second-coated the stain and am currently waiting for it to dry - the stains are hardly noticeable now.

When we expanded the house the idiots broke the first two planks of Fir when they put in the header between the new kitchen and Dining Room (when I went nuts yelling at them they said "You are going to replace this ugly old floor, aren't you?" My reply: "Are you NUTS?!?! This floor is irreplaceable!") and so we had to get three new planks, and luckily our local lumberyard carries a lot of traditional building supplies like rough-sawn siding, and they actually carried Douglas Fir flooring in many different widths! None of the flooring places carried it. The three new planks fit the t&g, but they were a lot lower than the old, so the old was sanded down to match the height. The new planks also are going to take AT LEAST one extra coat of stain to be equally dark (old wood always absorbs more finish than new wood).

I like the Fir natural, but the stains on mine were just awful. Also, it meets up with the new Sassafrass in the kitchen / family room, and that is a similar color to the natural Fir, but a totally different grain, so it would look really weird where they meet. Also, the dark floor looks really dramatic in the Dining Room. We are DEFINITELY putting a rug under the table / chairs to prevent scratches, though!

As for wood floors in kitchens, we put Sassafrass in ours, and that is a fairly soft wood, but loaded with character. We have neoprene mats for in front of the sink and stove. I wouldn't personally put anything other than ceramic or porcelain or glass tile in a full bathroom though (even natural stone needs to be re-sealed every year).

Athomedads, the floor in your pics is OAK! We refinished all our old oak in the entry / living room by hand sanding and 8 coats of tung Oil and they are GORGEOUS!

All I can say is that having refinished both really OLD wood floors, and also finished new wood floors, I HATE NEW WOOD!!! Old wood floors sand down easily and soak up stain and / or tung oil really quickly. New wood takes WEEKS to absorb 8 coats of tung oil, and a LOT of steel wool in between. The old floors were completed in one week with 8 coats; the new took over a month! You MUST allow each coat to dry fully before the next or the entire finish is destroyed and you must sand it down and start over (TRUST ME ON THIS - I learned that the hard way - don't rush it!).

As for sanding you own floors - it truly depends. Personally, I cannot handle a real floor sander (I'm a 125 pound female), but my brother rented and used the stand-up belt-sander with no problems. I would NOT trust him with one of those huge stand-up orbitals, though! On our old oak floors that just needed a light sanding, I did that myself with an orbital and it was fine. The only problem is being on your hands and knees for so long - invest in a good pair of knee pads!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2012 at 11:12AM
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