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Refinishing old wide pine plank flooring in an 1800’s row house.

About 10 years ago I uncovered all the old pine plank flooring in my 1840’s row house. I was just one of those individuals in love with all the old original aspects of my 1800’s home.

I removed the carpeting and then the composite press board that was nailed to the original flooring to support the carpeting. After that I spent months removing 1000’s of nails so that I could prepare the floors for sanding. You would not believe the number of nails this floor had accumulated over the last 150 years.

In addition, the original floors had a bit of shrinkage which left a small gap between the 1” thick pine planks. Apparently at one time someone had attempted to resolve this issue by filling the gaps with a wood putty. This wood putty did not hold up because of its inability to allow for slight contractions and expansions of the wood. So, I had to remove all the wood putty. Scraping out the wood putty took me weeks.

Once I had removed all the nails and the putty, I sanded the floors. The floors turned from dirty black to white with many imperfections. I was very excited because I could finally see the results of many months of hard work. The beautiful rugged white raw floors were amazing and I felt like I was standing on a truck load of raw lumber in the middle of a lumber yard. The whole house was now very bright and I enjoyed the smell of old dry lumber.

The next thing I did was to put a layer of oil based gloss finish of the raw floors. BIG MISTAKE! The pine was a red pine and the oil base finish brought out the dark red tones in the wood. It was awful and I had not even begun to resolve the issue of gaps between the pine planks.

So I sanded the floors again removing the oil based finish. After which I applied a water based gloss finish. Much better! The water base finish did not bring out the red tones in the wood and left the finish very light. However the gloss finish severely brought out all the imperfections in the wood. It almost seemed as though the floors were screaming out at you.

In trying to resolve this off putting appearance, I applied a coat of semi gloss. This improved the situation, however not enough. I needed a flat or matt finish. I called the store in Manhattan where I had purchased the $38 a gallon finish and requested a matt floor varnish. Well they told me there was no such thing. They suggested I call the manufacturer and request some additional ingredient that would flatten the finish, referred to as a flattening agent. I did this and the manufacturer shipped it to me, but I had a hard time mixing the flattening agent into the varnish. So instead I let the varnish settle in the can for a week or two so that the flattening agent would sink to the bottom. I would then scoop off the top layer of material and use the remainder as the final coat. This resulted in somewhat of a matt finish.

Eventually five years subsequent to my floor refinishing, Schreuder comes out with a matt floor finish (above right). Ok now the floors looked great, like one of those old loft spaces in Soho with the rugged open floor plans. It was very exciting.

Now I needed to do something about the gaps between the planks. I used a caulking made by 3M typically used on teak boat decking. The stuff was very flexible and could be sanded and varnished. So I caulked all the floors with this very expensive marina caulking. Caulking a room cost me about $300 in materials and I never did the last sanding after caulking, because I just got plain tired of sanding. This left the caulking not level with the floors.

Here is my advice on restoring or refinishing old wide plank flooring: 1) restore only a few rooms. I know we all just love an old home but having these floors throughout the entire house is a bit much. They are very rugged. On the upside they are rugged and kids can beat the hell out of them and they will still look great. Keep them in a couple of bedrooms or in a home office or even better keep them in your kid’s rooms. This will add an interesting look to your home. 2) Only use a MATT finish with a WATER base and use a good quality product. 3) Seal the gaps in the planks using a MARINA caulking BEFORE you sand the floors.

Good luck! Here are the results of all my hard work. This picture was taken after ten years of my abuse and after 1 year of my daughter’s abuse.

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