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Back to the Old Drawing Floor!

Updated on September 27, 2014

Old Wood Floors Made New

Hard Wood Mahogany Floor - Circa 1852
Hard Wood Mahogany Floor - Circa 1852

Common Problems with Hardwood Floors

It's no secret that hard wood floors are highly sought after for their durability and natural luster... but what can you do when you run into problems with them and you don't want to replace them? It is especially difficult to replace "old" hardwood floors because they're not making them like they used to. If you do opt to replace an old hardwood floor with something comparable, you may find the expense hard to handle. This article addresses some common issues with wood flooring and offers practical, inexpensive and creative ways to deal with them and hopefully come out the better on the other side.

Victorian Era Mahogany Hardwood

In an older home we remodeled in Stewart County, (Circa 1852) we ran into trouble when we tried to pry carpet off the floor. It had been "glued" down with a tar-like substance and getting it up without marring the 150 year old hardwood was difficult to say the least. We wound up relying on chemicals to strip some parts of the floor, because the owner wanted to keep the original flooring. After treating it with the chemicals and sanding down the original finish to the bare wood we attempted using a dark stain on the floor, but many of the places where the chemicals were used had been "burned", making the floor reluctant to adhere to the stain. We elected in this instance to paint the floor with a mahogany colored paint, use a hand-painted medallion to cover the chemically burned portion of the floor, and then top the whole thing off with a high-gloss polyurethane.

The owner was from an Irish lineage so it made sense to use Irish symbols in the pattern of the medallion. The filigree is a repeating pattern we sketched on paper and used as a focal reference to create the patterns in the outlining grid, The Celtic Knot was hand drawn on the floor, but the Triskelions and Fleur Delis markers were drawn on paper and cut out, then used as stencils. It was a lot of time on the floor, but we think...worth it.

Hand Painted Medallions Can Cover Imperfections

A Day at the Beach

We bought a small cottage in Columbus, Georgia (Circa 1942) and were faced with a house full of ratty, smelly, stained carpet. We immediately began pulling up the carpet and were very pleasantly surprised to find 2-inch thick hardwoods underneath. All went well until we yanked the dining room carpet up. It had been patched in some places and in others had been covered with old tiles applied with a tar-like mixture. Several boards were rotten and had to come up and be patched. Rather than waste money trying to put down expensive flooring when there was no guarantee we'd ever find a match with the beautiful hardwood flooring in the rest of the house, we immediately went down with some subflooring and would decide what to do on top of it later. Tile might even be an option at that point.

HARD wood decisions

Once the hardwood subflooring was down, we liked it so much, we decided to keep it! The house is a small brick and stone cottage near the park district, and due to the size and shape of the home, we had decided to give it a "beach cottage" feel to open and brighten it up. The idea was to keep the subflooring and give it a "beachy" feel.

As we started, we were faced with common issues in using plain 1" plywood. The old floor was covered in that tar so it resisted nails and just getting the plywood down was hard enough, but when you cut plywood, it splinters. Naturally, every place that it splintered, and anywhere that one sheet met another, had to be sealed with wood filler. Once we had it sealed, we sanded it, refilled imperfections and then sanded again. This took a total of about three days just hitting and missing until we could just about sit on the floor and scoot across it or rub our hands over it and not feel any imperfections.

Color Pallet

Once we had the flooring down, we considered floor color. Since we would either be painting or staining the wood, we had a lot to consider. The dining room furniture selected for this room is a Country/French-Provincial suite in shabby chic' white. The walls were a "bumpy/sandy", stucco color with white crown and trim, which already says "beach". We decided at length to paint the floor. Our painted floors have never disappointed in the past.

We used 2-coats of BHG exterior satin paint called "Summer Squash". Now remember, the idea is to "brighten/open" up the space and keep to the "beach" color pallet. Summer Squash is a rather muted version of a sunny day, being more tan than yellow. Knowing from experience that when we coat this floor with polyurethane it will yellow with age, these two concepts work together.

We considered what makes walking on the beach so magical. Of course, you don't want sand on the floor in your house, so what else can we do to mimic beach sand in our pretty yellow floor? Shells and sparkles! We relied once again on the Disney clear coat "All that Glitters" and this time, rather than hand paint the shells, we relied on appliqué, since it would be protected by polyurethane.

"All That Glitters"

After we had the floor painted, we put our appliqué down in places that were very visible, but that would receive almost no foot traffic. Often we dotted a couple of sea shells in corners where the furniture would accent them, and next to the air vent in the floor.

Once all the sea shells were in place, we applied two heavy coats of Disney's "All That Glitter's" Paint. It took two quarts to get an even shimmer on the entire floor. (**NOTE: If you ever decide to use these Disney specialty paints, make sure to read the entire label for proper application and care. A very small, skinny roller must be used in this application and you cannot use the common painting techniques or the glitter will be too heavy in some places and not heavy enough in others, and it will clump and leave ropey lines.)

Mastering the Top Coat

Once the floor had been put down, patched, prepped, sanded, primed, painted, dotted with seashells and coated with the glittery top coat, it was time to protect the finish. As with most of our finishes we chose polyurethane, but in a "low-gloss" formula. This way, it would protect the floor, but not look super shiny. We were shooting for the beach sand "look&feel" that you get in the middle of a sunny day, and gloss would detract from that.

The first poly coat is always the thinnest. We bring to the floor a paint pan (with a throw-away" pan liner), a brush and a roller. (**NOTE: we use a damp cloth to pull the fuzz off the roller before use, or you can use a sponge roller cover. If you have never used polyurethane before, please follow the directions on the can to the letter and carry a damp cloth with you to wipe your hands or feet, or surfaces you may accidentally bump into with the brush or roller.) It is paramount to the overall success of the finish to stay off it between coats, and to make sure all debris, dust and dirt are removed prior to applying the next coat.

After filling the paint pan 2/3 's full with polyurethane, we lightly pushed the poly coat onto the floor with the roller, then used the brush to "paint" the polyurethane in the direction of the wood grain. It was just enough to coat the floor so that it's only got a little on it. Once that was down, we gave it 24 hours to dry. Then we took a black&decker hand sander with 240 grit paper and, applying almost zero pressure on the sander, gently sanded the poly coat. This is very important when coating uneven surfaces. If you sand just a little between coats, it helps the next coat to fill in the places that the first may have missed. Once that's done, we wiped the floor with a damp towel and made sure that all sanding debris and dirt were removed.

We were a little more liberal with the second coat, and gave it 48 hours to dry, set and harden. Then we repeated our sanding technique with 150 grit paper.

Once the third coat was complete, the floor was given another 48 hours to dry, set and harden before putting the furniture back. Always remember that it's a great idea to put small felt circlets on the bottoms of your furniture to keep from digging into all your hard work. These can be purchased in packages of varying sizes, shapes and amounts for a dollar or two from any superstore or bargain outlet that carries household items.

Facelift in Stain for Damaged Hardwood

We're not surgeons by any means, but with necessity often being the mother of invention, we take her advice as often as she'll share it! We ran into a house in Buena Vista, Georgia, (Circa 1965) that people had damaged the hardwoods in. They had never refurbished it, but the bare bones were strong and they wanted to keep them. Unfortunately, there were a lot of pock marks, dings and deep ruts in the floor from over forty years of use. We started by using a walk-behind sander to take off the old stain. (If you don't have one, you can usually rent one for the day for about forty dollars.) Then, over the course of a few weeks, we used a combination of hand sanders and belt sanders to gradually wear down the ruts and pitches in the floors.

After everything was evened out, we once again used the walk-behind sander with alternating coarse, medium and fine sandpapers to even out and soften the wood for stain. We chose Minwax's "Special Walnut" for the wood color. As always, it is important to follow the instructions on the cans, as they will give you the best results. We applied the stain with a 3" angled Purdy brush, in 3' x3' sections of floor. Any excess stain was wiped down after a few moments with a damp cloth, so you'll need to keep a bucket of those handy. (We used terry-cloths.)

After the first couple of applications, we had our homeowners come take a look to approve or disapprove of the coloring. While they liked the direction the coloring had taken, they wanted darker floors in the high traffic areas of the home because there were children and pets in the house. So keeping that in mind we coated those floors with two more coats of the stain before we got an approval. It took two gallons, but bear in mind that we were repairing an entire house full of flooring.

Once we had the color approved, we moved to a heavy-duty, oil based polyurethane in high gloss formula to provide the top coat. Just as with the last examples, it took a total of three coats. We spent a month of painstaking dedication to detail, but the results? Astounding!


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