1 House 100 Years

Preparing For The Centennial Of A Place That Matters

Month: April, 2014

Things That I Have Learned About My Old Floor…Removing The Old Finish

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With an old floor, it’s important to take a close look to see what special conditions and challenges exist. You will likely have to get down close to the floor and do a careful examination. Your old floor will most likely look very different when sitting down on it than when standing up and looking down at it.

“Photograph 1” shows how a long straight board, ruler, and level are used to evaluate the flooring for wear and possible sagging. The level gives an idea of how much the floor slants and in which direction. About 2/8 inch of the wood has been worn away, about 1/8 inch from the tongue portion of the tongue and groove. (In some spots, even more.) Modern methods of sanding and refinishing would not work here.

“Photograph 2” shows a section where a damaged board has been removed. The part that was removed had been worn so badly that the 1/16 inch thickness left had broken away, leaving the tongue of the adjacent board fully exposed. This photograph shows much better the results of years of wear at this particular spot (near the doorway between the kitchen and dining room, a definite highly used part of the floor).

Knowing that standard modern techniques and equipment would not work for my old floors, I remembered one of my favorite French Impressionistic paintings called “The Floor Scrapers” by Gustave Caillebotte.

At the time, this painting was consider by some to be “vulgar” since only peasants and farmers were considered suitable subjects from the working class of that day. Most likely anything that was “Do It Yourself” would have been considered equally “vulgar.”

Although I knew that rediscovering and recreating these old techniques would be a bit beyond my scope, it did prompt me to look for a modern adaptation of what was shown in the painting.

“Photograph 3” shows my solution which is to use a heat gun and ordinary paint scraper. The heat gun helped to loosen (not melt) the old finish and the paint scraper removed it in flakes and sometimes small curls like what you see in the painting. The tip of the scraper also helped to remove dirt, sand, and old pieces of wood filler that had been attempts to minimize the gaps between boards. My goal was not to be as aggressive as heavy duty equipment. Instead I just wanted to remove the old finish for some light sanding and final finishing.

These photographs were taken April 2014.

To learn more about what led up to this point, please check out this post “Stop! Read This Before You Cover, Destroy, Or Otherwise Obliterate That Old Floor!”.

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Stop! Read This Before You Cover, Destroy, Or Otherwise Obliterate That Old Floor!

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If you bought an old house, most likely one of the things that attracted you was the possibility of having old wood floors, beautifully restored and glowing with an inner golden amber warmth.

Maybe the original had been covered with linoleum, vinyl, even shag carpeting, and so you didn’t know exactly how the floorboards looked, but you were willing to take a gamble.

Maybe you thought, “Whatever is under this ratty looking mess has to be better than this.”

Maybe you bought the house, removed all of those floor coverings, and were then disappointed at what you found underneath: saggy looking places, rotting boards, wide gaps between the boards, scratches and gouges, paint splatters, bits of rubbery carpet padding almost melted to the floor, maybe a little insect damage here and there?

Maybe your heart sank.

Before you decide to cover, destroy, or otherwise obliterate that old floor (and all of your beautiful flooring dreams with it), consider this.

Maybe your floor isn’t going to be like those that you see in old houses that have always been meticulously maintained, but there are probably some sections that have the character that you would like for the entire floor to have. Focus on those places. That will help restore your hopes.

Then visit some old buildings that have been restored. Look at how those floors tell a story in all of the imperfections that have been added over the years. Your old floor has a story to tell, and now that it is your old floor, you get to add to that story.

Having been faced with all of the “maybe” circumstances above, the turning point for me was when I started thinking of these boards not as floor but as furniture.

Here’s what I mean.

I asked myself, “What would I do if these boards were a piece of furniture, and not attached to my floor joists?”

Then I asked myself, “What if I looked at these floorboards as the largest single piece of furniture in my house?”

Having decided on this new perspective everything starting to fit together in perfect tongue-and-groove fashion.

The next few posts will elaborate further on what I have learned about rescuing my old floor. It’s unlikely that everything I have to share will apply to your old floor as far as tips and techniques. Hopefully though, you will find some inspiration and encouragement.

My old floor is the largest single piece of solid wood furniture in my house. It’s the only piece of furniture that I get to walk on too! (Socks only, please!)

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The first photograph was taken November 2013. The second photograph was taken April 2014 after the old floor finish was removed, damage repaired, boards sanded and stained lightly to match the color of the aged original flooring, but before any final finish has been used. The threshold has not yet been rescued and provides a good comparison of “before” and “after.” This was just a test area to see what possibilities there are for saving the original floor.