Please help me guess species of floor

slateberryJanuary 26, 2010

I moved a cabinet in my kitchen this weekend and discovered what is probably the original wood floor, under 2 layers of linoleum, plywood, paint, and a lot of wax buildup (and even some old newspaper!).

I don't need guarantees; any and all speculation welcome!

This one is just for scale/reference:

Here is a closeup of the grain:

Here is one with mineral spirits spread over the wood:

And here is one more closeup of the grain. Sorry for the newspaper, but there is a good section of grain detail in one corner.

Thanks in advance for your comments. I'd love to know what this might be.

House is 120 year old victorian in greater Boston area, kitchen is in original location.

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Stained white oak.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2010 at 11:52PM
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Do you mean stained as in blotchy and dirty looking, or stained as in, it looks like white oak with a dark/reddish stain on it? Because the wood looked bare to me after I stripped it (see second picture); the picture where it looks stained is just where I put on mineral spirits to reveal the grain and color of the wood (the third picture).

Any other possibilities? Not that I wouldn't be thrilled with oak, given that I was expecting rough pine. I was planning on putting in a cork floor when I redo the kitchen, but now I'll definitely be using this instead. Ka-ching!

The only reason I don't think it's oak is that it's got these tiny grain pores that are much smaller than what I'm used to seeing on oak. Some of the larger grain patterns are like oak, but not as pronounced/high contrast as oak. Also the wood feels more uniformly hard and silky.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2010 at 5:14PM
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Sorry for going off on a tangent (don't know what kind of wood it is), but I was pretty intrigued by the fragment of story that you can still read in the newspaper!

    Bookmark   January 27, 2010 at 6:14PM
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Red Birch. 85% certain.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2010 at 6:44PM
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Gatineau, I took down the text of the story in case it could help me date when the floor was painted. (why? I don't know--as Steve Martin says in the Pink Panther, it's a cleueue!)

So here it is, as best as I could make out:

Page Six
Court Ponders Over Where...ovan When Light Went Out

The question of "Where was Donovan when the light went out" was decided yesterday by Judge James...municipal court....he was on...proprietor hit him with a black belt...a waiter laid on with an iron pipe, and the chef baptised him...scalding water....Constas replied that Dono...elected for merely brea....lights...

As usual, all the interesting stuff happens when I'm not around! Even with the missing text fragments, it was clearly a hot time in the old town.

But I love what the newspaper fragment says about the general laid back attitude back in the day. I mean, if I were painting a kitchen floor, and I dropped a newspaper in my work, I'd pull it out. But this person, decades ago, just let it be. I could cultivate some of that.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2010 at 8:56PM
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Knowing where the house is will make guesses closer.

I live in the Mid West(Kansas City) and we never see birch. Loads of white oak in older houses, tho.

There is a bit of a strange grain pattern for white oak that would be closer to a birch/alder type wood.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2010 at 11:02PM
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Whether the wood is oak or birch (my guess too) it can be finished the same way. Stained or natural. Any imperfections add to the character. White birch was commonly used here in Toronto in the 19th and early 19th century, especially in kitchens where it's higher density made it more resistant to water than oak. Or at least that's what the flooring guys who came across it all the time used to tell me.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2010 at 11:36PM
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Christopher Nelson Wallcovering and Painting

Most kitchen floors were done in yellow pine and that is sure what yours looks like, not oak for sure and I have never heard of birch used for old flooring.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2010 at 5:16AM
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House is 120 year old victorian in greater Boston area, kitchen is in original location according to blueprints.

Yeah, we figured it had to be pine too. But the large grain striations do not have the high contrast you get with pine, or even oak. Maybe just because it's older, it doesn't look/feel like modern woods I'm comparing it to, even though it's the same species.

After I uncovered it, I went around my house feeling around on the oak floors. They were screened and poly'd before we moved in, but I can definitely feel a lot of grain and texture. The kitchen floor, on the other hand, is as smooth as a baby's bottom. You can see the grain but not feel it. Really surprised me. That's what got me posting here.

The house was designed to have a ballroom on the third floor. It really is a beautiful space; 3/4 of the 3rd floor is one room, and then 1/4 is a servant's room (not now, sadly, I don't have any servants.) Rumor was there was a mahogany floor up there. So, we closed on the house, and ran up with our tools and started spelunking. Holy cow: carpet, 1/2 plywood, linoleum, more plywood--and face-nailed pine boards. We tried in 4 places--no mahogany. Some rumor.

On the second floor, all of the bedroom doors open into the center of the room, instead of towards the nearest side wall. It's very awkward. We are gradually reversing them, but when the carpenter came to hang the door, he couldn't believe they had always been hung backward from the original construction of the house. He looked at the jamb, figured from the mortises that it was indeed original, and finally had to admit that all the doors had been hung the wrong way.

When I was a kid, we stayed at a hotel where the lights flipped backward and the hot and cold water were reversed. My father said that the workers had been treated unfairly during the construction, and done these things in retaliation. I always think about this when I swing open a door, step back, and walk around it to get out of a room. Who got cheesed when my house was built, and why? (and more chillingly, what else did they do?) So now this kitchen floor: did they switch the specs for the ballroom and kitchen flooring? It would explain why one is nicer than expected, and the other is made out of servant's area materials.

I understand that it's impossible to identify most wood species from a picture. A carpenter had to cut across an extra trim piece just to figure out the species of the trim throughout our house. His guess: mahogany. Turned out to be: really nicely stained poplar. That was a happy moment for me, because I can add matching trim wherever I want to very cheaply. Mahogany would have broken the bank. But I digress. What I was trying to say is, I appreciate all the speculation and theories, especially Worthy's bit about birch and density; I don't know how I would have found that out on my own.

Thank you all.

    Bookmark   January 28, 2010 at 8:57AM
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Slate the issue with trying to compare to modern wood is that old wood was truly OLD wood. They would cut down a tree and often just use the center pieces up to about ten to twelve feet, letting the rest go because they wanted the best and there was so much available.

Your grain looks to me like my pine floors in the dining and smoking parlor. Mine are sub floors and the wild cherry were ripped up unfortunately when it was a surgery in the 20's and 30's. Apparently parquet stains when blood drips on it :p

We can tell ours were a subfloor because there's a step down from the hall and that wouldn't have been the case in this type of home.

Our woods are often missnamed. No one expects cherry here in a victorian because it just wasn't often used. When you get into the bigger and grander homes (ie snobs like you with a ball room) sometimes you have folks who imported details so what was most often used is not what might have been used in your house. In our town we have two homes with wild (our house and another) at one time in a shipping venture which afforded them the ability to bring the cherry around the horn. It looks NOTHING like the new cherry kitchen we just put in the other house. Not at all.

Funny thing about those servants quarters huh? I keep hollaring up into mine and the danged servants never come down!!!! Lazy help.....heh heh

    Bookmark   January 30, 2010 at 2:04AM
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In a New England home that old, it could be Elm. Installed before the Dutch elm disease destroyed most elm trees.

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   January 30, 2010 at 2:17PM
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I agree...that wood was harvested nearby where the building was constructed. Elm is a good guess. The curly grain I see in one of the boards leads me to thing elm also.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2010 at 8:12AM
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My guess is that the paper was laid there on purpose. That was often the case that long ago. When we demolished my kitchen there were newspapers from Dec. 1950. They were having a blizzard that paralized Chicago. I started my demo on the first day of a blizzard in 2010. I put those newspapers back in the time capsule I made and added current papers including the Sunday glossy ads. Maybe when the next owner tears my beautiful kitchen apart they will do it by hand and find my time capsule packed in a plastic kitty litter bucket;-)

    Bookmark   May 6, 2010 at 10:43PM
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