How do I restore imperfect wood floors?

After removing linoleum in our 1893 Queen Anne’s kitchen, we discovered a maple floor that seems to be the original. Previous homeowners used pine to patch old heating ducts. There are tack marks across the middle of the floor from the seam for the linoleum and water stains near the old sink area. Should we sand and varnish the floor, or should we replace it?


Floored in Fredericksburg

The floors in rooms with running water are often severely compromised. Besides leaks, holes (drilled for pipes and electricity) are usually in the wrong place for the current restoration.

 wood floors

In other words, your refinished floor will not be perfect, but you don’t need to replace it! Here’s why:

• It’s more economical and eco-friendly to restore it.


• The floor is part of your home’s original fabric and should be preserved if possible.


• Due to the wood’s durability and closed pores, maple floors were often specified for kitchens prior to 1910 (later, fir was preferred).


• Patches and marks are part of an old floor’s character. (Massive water stains are problematic; cutting in new wood is advisable.)


• Work with a professional floor finisher who has experience with old houses to get a good idea of how it will look when finished. A mild stain will help even things out, but old and new wood will take stains differently, resulting in uneven shades. Dumping a gallon of dark walnut stain on the wood won’t be a panacea. Consider our tips (at right).


Follow these tips for a successful floor restoration.

1. Try to patch floors with the same width of boards; old boards tend to be wider.


2. Sometimes offending spots can be bleached out, or at least reduced. Depending on the stain, you can use two-part systems that are a combination of lye and hydrogen peroxide, or a poultice of oxalic acid. The floor specialist will help you on this. Note: If you must bleach a spot, remember to neutralize it so that the finish dries hard.


3. Sample the stain on scrap lumber and an area of the old floor that will not be obvious.


4. Specify three coats of finish rather than two, especially in a kitchen or bath.


5. If there’s a particularly bad spot, that’s what area rugs are for.


6. As a last resort, select a stenciled design or floor paint to cover extreme situations.


7. Avoid do-it-yourself floor sanding. Rental sanders are usually not that powerful, usually 110 volts, leaving chatter marks in the wood. Sanding a floor to a smooth surface requires an experienced, deft hand; it’s like plastering. If you make a mistake, it’s really going to show. This is one of those times to hire a professional.


By Dwight Chapel

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