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Posts Tagged ‘hardwood floor refinishing’

Go to Lowe’s or Home Depot and ask someone about where to find floor waxing supplies, or worse yet, for advice, I dare you.  Waxing floors is “old-people” knowledge.  To figure out how to do it, ask somebody old how their mother did her wood floors.  It was lost as a common practice decades ago, supplanted by cheap polyurethanes and the desire for a tough, resilient finish.

Restoration of houses is so often plagued by lack of knowledge of historical methods.  Rather than do the real thing, lot’s of renovators would rather use a contemporary method and try to fake the antique look.  Plaster work is another fine example of this.  You’ll never match the real thing.  Ask a remodeling contractor how to do plaster repairs, and the answer is: “tear out the wall and dry wall it, then spray it with texture.”  Which, by the way, typically looks nasty compared to actual lathe and plaster with texture.  As if the builders had a job-site compressor with a hopper full of goop in 1935.  I still haven’t been able to figure out how they actually did it, but I’m guessing they sponged it and did the entire house by hand.  Labor was cheap in the 1930s, and materials were expensive.

When we bought our house, we pulled up the nasty light blue shag carpet to find mostly perfect old growth white oak floors.  According to contractors, hardware stores, neighbors, and the internet, the only option was to sand it all the way down to get all the wax out, and then apply a polyurethane or aluminum oxide coating.  Then the  bids on that came in at nearly $6,000!

But we didn’t even want “perfect floors,” we wanted “antique” floors.  Floors that showed the age of the house, and that had the same beautiful warm glow that these originals had.  I spent hours trying to figure out how to do this myself.  I could rent a sander and try to get the floors refinished myself- not that much of a stretch for me, because I’ve done a little bit of furniture finishing.  I estimated the cost of that process at over $1000- if I ignored all the time and energy that would be spent on cleaning up the unbelievable mess created by sanding 1500+ sq. ft. of wood down an 1/8 of an inch.  I’m not one of those people who thinks that I’m Donald Trump and that I can’t be hassled with doing work or spending time- but getting that much sawdust out of all these textured walls and trim would be an absolute nightmare.

So I took a risk and I pursued waxing the floors.

It's a finesse game, so I never got it.

It’s kind of inherent in my personality to distrust most of what people tell me not to do- especially when they don’t appear to have a good reason.  I’m happy to say that we almost have our entire house done with wax now, and I anticipate cost will easily be under $200.

Here’s what I learned:

1.  Wax: to wax a wood floor, you need a paste wax.  SC Johnson makes a good one for about $5 a can, and a can will do about 400 sq. ft.

2.  Restoration and Cleanup: I used Howard’s Restore-a-Finish and Howard’s Feed and Wax. They’re the highest cost items I bought, but a little goes a long, long way.  Both of these products were absolutely magic on the “golden oak” color of our floors.  Rub your stains and paint splatters out with steel wool and soapy water.  Let it dry.  If the stain lightened the wood, apply the restore a finish- in small amounts.  If it didn’t, then apply the feed and wax.  Always rub with the grain of the wood, and try to stick to one board at a time.  If you don’t, you’ll run the risk of the steel wool catching on a splinter and fraying.  Not a huge risk to the floor, but when you’ve got a lot of floor to do, don’t waste your time trying to pick #0000 steel wool out of splinters.

3. Applying Product to the floor: Apply Feed and Wax to the entire floor with a wide lambskin “stain applicator” on a long pole.  Use the pole to quickly smooth out any uneven application of wax.  Do this enough, and you might achieve a nice shine- but it’s not really important at this state.  Leave the floor alone as much as you can for a few days.  Then, using a rag, apply the SC Johnson Paste Wax with the grain and let it sit for a while.

4. Buffing:  we paid about $30 for 24 hrs. of renting a commercial buffer and buying the wheel.  This thing is like wrangling a roid raging rodeo bull.  Start the buffer in the middle of the room the first time- because it will pretty much tear your arms off.  Go slow, and cover every area you can with it.  Use the lambskin application on the corners.

In general, you should remember that the house you’re renovation may have really “thirsty” floors because it’s been poorly (or in our case: not) maintained.  So don’t rush into just paste wax and buff.  Clean the floor thoroughly and apply a feed and wax and wait. Give it two weeks if you have to.  You’ll probably find that your feed and wax sinks right in and looks like it was never applied.  Apply it again, and repeat a couple times before you apply wax and buffing.  Our first round with the buffer was disappointing because all the wax soaked in after we buffed it.  It looked awesome for a month.

The end result of all this is a finish that I absolutely love- and one that you can repair, not just replace.  Any time the floor gets damaged, I apply steel wool and feed and wax.  Once or twice a year, we’ll have to reapply wax and rent the buffer again.  That’s a lot of work.  But at 10% the cost of the alternatives, and when it looks this good, it’s hard to want a poly finish now.

Just look at how “worn” these floors feel.  It feels like every single board is a slightly different shade of gold.  I didn’t buy an old house to try and make a new house out of it- and if that’s your goal, you’ll find yourself frustrated at every turn in a home renovation.

This project was just another confirmation of our philosphy for the renovation: work with the house, not against it.

-David

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woodfloorsOK, so we have to move into our “mess sweet mess” next week. We’ve been working really hard to make it “acceptable”, but what really matters is that the plumbers and electricians can finish so that the place will be “working” and “usable”. Initially our plan was to rid the home of its ugliness. This means removing wallpaper, prime, paint, remove carpet, tile a few floors, and refinish the floors. Last Friday we came to our senses. This was going to be too much work. We realized that we only had a week of prep time and refinishing the floors would take all of our time. Plus, the “team” hasn’t finished and rumor has it they want to cut up some floors, walls, umm, destroy. After feeling overwhelmed and researching wood floor refinishing online and at every home improvement store in the area (no help at all), we talked to a few neighbors. Many have the same “batch” of floor as we have. A few have refinished and this was time consuming and expensive. Others have done nothing and just live with it, rugs do so much. And another waxes their floors for that hand-rubbed shine. We realized that we can live in a floor that is less than perfect for the time being. We have to prioritize expenses and our time. David sanded down a closet and put a poly coat over it. This looks awful! I really dislike the look of poly and the sanding took the lovely patina out of the floor. We were not going to do this throughout the house.  I bought a can of Minwax Paste Finishing Wax because I always liked the sheen it left on my parent’s Shaker furniture reproductions. I practiced in a closet and it looks “revived”, yet still very rustic. (Hey, I’m working with what I have here). So, our plan is to do this before we move in: wax the floors. We plan on renting a buffer and going to town with this task. We have almost finished all of our painting upstairs and half of downstairs! The place already looks soo different. (I’m working on creating an album). I think clean floors will make a difference, haha. The floors aren’t in the best condition. There are scratches, looks like somebody has been shooting off fireworks in one room, and horrible kitty stains (the worst!). But, we are looking at empty rooms and to be honest most of our furniture will cover this up, rugs, etc. And really, as you can see from the pic, the floors aren’t horrible. I think sometimes we strive for too much perfection. We’ve decided to live with it and eventually have a pro do it in the future. Refinishing floors that are over 70 years old and have had zero maintenance is too much for us right now. We are stressed and have decided to not take on such a big job on top of our other big jobs, well, at least for now. I better go and finish painting over black trim…

-Victoria

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