How To Refinish Old Beat Up Floors in a Victorian Home

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    A friend asks a question about some wood floors he discovered under his carpeting. The home is pretty old and as you will see the floors are distressed but no large cracks or heavy gashes.

    He says I have never done any flooring work so I have a couple questions.What should I fill the cracks in with? Should I just leave them and let them fill with polyurethane? What kind of sander is best? I’ve heard orbital is a good route to go for a beginner.

    Now the first thing you need to understand about this floor is that two different types of wood are being used. This was done in older homes where it was expected that the owner would install a large area rug in the center of the room. Although refinishing both the oak outside boards and the center less expensive pine boards will provide a period look that is not bad it is not the uniform type of finish that most people see in new homes. The Pine will never stain and look as good as the oak and thats just the way it is.



    With this in mind if our friend decides he wants to keep what he has instead of ripping it out and starting new then the best way to go about this is to start in one corner of the room and pull up every tack from the carpet and use a center punch and hammer to drive any face nails down below the surface of the wood about 1/8th of an inch or a little more. The reason to do all this work on your hands is so when sanding the metal staples, tacks and nails wont rip the sand paper. If you hit one it might cause a tare and require replacement of the sand paper which can be expensive or you might get lucky and the sander will just sand down the nail head .. either way its not a good deal because the board will be loose if the head is ground off.

    Next you want to apply wood filler to any large gaps or damage. Although you may sand off some of it there will be areas that it will remain so you want to match the filler to the type of wood so it will approximate the wood when its stained later.

    Sanding will be tricky because you have the center and the perimeter that are going in different directions and also the different hardness of wood which will require a lot of hand or delicate sanding but you can use a large floor belt sander to get a large portion of the floor done quick.

    Once the floor is sanded you can apply a stain to the entire floor or a better choice would be to treat the center pine boards with sanding sealer because they will absorb stain unevenly. The sanding Sealer will make them a bit more uniform.

    Final Note

    In the range of difficulty this is a pretty difficult job. It will be dirty and dusty and require a lot of effort. On the other hand you have a good chance of making the floor look much better and retaining the original wood which some people just love.

    If you had boards that were damaged beyond repair you might have to find some matching flooring. Often reclaimed supply stores have this material and if not you will have to use new. You can also steal boards out of closets to patch prominent areas.

    The other option and I highly suggest you take it in to consideration is to pull the old floor and lay in a new oak floor that covers the entire floor. It will be easier in the long run but probably take about the same time.

    I really suggest this if you have a room you will be converting to a eat in kitchen by yanking out a wall. Then you will have extra flooring for patching the rest of the house. You could even just lay marble or tile in that large eat in kitchen instead of wood and then you won’t have to worry about matching materials.

    Staining and restoring is not a free proposition so consider what your final floor will look like before you put in a ton of labor.. a new one might be better.




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