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

by projectbuddy


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!”.