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Refinish varnished floor

Posted by jefsboys (My Page) on
Sun, Jan 16, 11 at 21:39


I have a post in the Old House forum and it was recommended that I bring it here or flooring. I hope this is ok to pick this post up in this forum. If not please let me know.

I have a home built in 1904. I recently spoke with the previous owner and they stated that they the carpet I recently removed from the hardwood floors was put there in about 1970. To the best they can remember the floor was varnished, which agrees with the reading I have done.

The flooring planks are about 2 1/2" wide by 3/8" thick. I don't want to rent a big sander to go over these floors as that will take too much off. I want to keep the older appearance as these floors have been lightly hand sanded to remove the stains of the old carpet padding.

Here I am with an old varnished floor that has any and all surface treatements removed from the floor. I need to recoat the floors.
I have several pics located on this at the Old House forum.

What are my options at this point for refinishing this floor? I don't want to do a big sanding as the floor is too thin. I would like to either varnish or Shellac.

Please give me your thoughts.



Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Refinish varnished floor

First, be certain that you have removed all waxes and surface treatments.

Use shellac as a seal coat. Then use Waterlox Original once the shellac has dried. Sand lightly with 150 grit before and between coats. This ensures a smooth surface. I would do 2 or 3 coats of waterlox, applied with a lambswool applicator. The wood will retain its antique beauty, but the finish will look like new.

RE: Refinish varnished floor

To make sure I have all treatments removed(I noticed some areas still on the floor) I just cleaned a small area with denatured alcohol and steel wool and it cleaned up very nicely.
Is it ok to clean with that if I am going to stain, Shellac and use the Waterlox?

After that I was thinking I should go over the whole floor lightly by hand with some 150.

How does all that sound for preparation?


RE: Refinish varnished floor

When you mentioned stain, that got my attention. I looked at your other post and pics. The floor needs to be sanded down to bare wood. Rent the dang floor sander and get busy!

Stain will not absorb evenly unless the wood is completely bare. Even a gel stain will not look even, since there are spots with old finish and spots that are bare.

1. sand completely to raw wood
2. vacuum all dust thoroughly
3. wipe with denatured alcohol
4. stain of your choice, allow to dry one day.
5. apply first coat of Waterlox Original. Flood it on to saturate the wood completely, but don't leave any puddles.
6. allow to dry one day between coats. Keep the temperature minimum 60F
7. sand with 150 between coats. The paper should create dust, then you know the finish is dry enough.
8. repeat to apply 3 more thin coats of Waterlox Original. If you are after the satin look, only use Waterlox satin on the last coat.
9. Wait 3 days before traffic. If you are going to wax and buff the floor, wait at least 7 days for the varnish to cure.

Waterlox is a traditional varnish that has been used on floors for almost 100 years. Many old Maple gymnasium floors are were finished with it.

RE: Refinish varnished floor

Not to disagree with aidan, because I know next to nothing about floors, but I had a floor re-done without sanding it. Note I had it done by a professional. It could not be sanded because it was a 12 year old engineered (i.e. thin thin veneered) floor and the layer of wood would be sanded off. It was a polyurethane factory finish, which might be very different from your old-fashioned varnished floor. Mine had bigdog toenail grooves in it, also some black spots because it was in the kitchen. So he distressed it to hide those things. This means he deliberately beat it up, he used a sander, a big thing like a mace, and other stuff. He put something on it that stripped off all oil and made the floor receptive to holding stain and new poly. Then he stained it, let that dry, and then he applied polyurethane over that. It looked better than it had new.

However, we sold the house nearly a year later, so I cannot report how long this treatment stayed on. So, whatever it's worth, that is what someone did (and got paid a lot of money for it.)

PS RE: Refinish varnished floor

PS jefsboys, I meant to say never would have done that if there had been enough wood to just sand it down, so I have to say -- just have it refinished. I think that is less money than the "distressing" treatment was. It's a huge mess (have had it done in this house) but the result can be so beautiful.

Best wishes on this project!

RE: Refinish varnished floor

Clean it well with soapy water and a cloth to get water-soluble crud off

Then scrub it with steel wool and mineral spirits to get rid of more crud - wipe it clean.

Then it depends on what you want the color to be. A light scuff sanding and wiping on an oil-based or gel stain stain that is close to the color of the existing wood will refresh the color like a henna rinse on a redhead. Then apply a good semi-gloss floor finish. Or a penetrating floor finish.

If there are scuffed bare spots, they may 'grab" more color. You can wipe the excess off with mineral spirits and a rag if you do it soon.

Take your time with this, and check out several final finishes. There is WaterLox, Velvet Oil, and some other penetrating finishes that are eeasy to retouch.

RE: Refinish varnished floor

Thank you all for your input. I am still in the middle of this and taking advice.
I will show pics of the entire process.

It is a love affair. :-) I don't mind the extra work and want the floor to show the years of use.


RE: Refinish varnished floor

Just below is a link to my post on the finished results of this. The floor is picking up a slight amber tint, which the Waterlox company said it would. We love it.
Click here.

RE: Refinish varnished floor

Jefsboys, I'd love to see your picture of the finished results (since I'm getting ready to have my own wood floors re-done), but when I click on the link, I just get a message that says "You may not edit another member's clippings!"

RE: Refinish varnished floor

Hmmm - Im kind of confused [- what did you end up doing (OP)?

My understanding is that waterlox needs to be applied to bare wood as it is a penetrating oil finish - either new or with finish entirely removed? Is that not correct, or is that what you ended up doing ?

I have kind of a similar situation, where previous people sanded the dickens out of the floor (soft fir) and it just cant be sanded too deeply without splintering the tongue and groove -consequently, there still is some polyurethane in the low spots and embedded in the grain of the wood in some places. So.... I was going to use 1/2 shellac as seal coat (and for color) , then water based poly on top.....?

RE: Refinish varnished floor

kashka-dat, I'm certainly not an expert, but my understanding is that if you do go with a water-based poly (or any kind of poly), then-- even though it may last for a long time-- when it does eventually wear out, you will have no option other than to sand it off . . . which, in your case, will mean replacing the floor, if there is not enough left to sand. That's the huge downside of polyurethane finishes.

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